House and Schrödinger’s Queerbait

I’m pretty confident in saying that House changed my life.

A bit uninspiringly, House didn’t change my life with any life lessons. What changed my life was House and Wilson’s dynamic, and its undeniable gay subtext.

Is it queerbait? Queerbait is defined as cis, straight creators manufacturing a relationship between two people of the same gender that seems to be going beyond friendship as a way to attract an LGBT audience, but never committing to it, as it would alienate the cis, straight part of their audience.

There were plenty of straight cis people involved in the creation of House and Wilson’s dynamic, which never goes anywhere beyond two dysfunctional best friends But there are also two writers, Liz Freidman and Sara Hess, both of whom are women-loving women and who wrote some of the most subtext-heavy episodes in House. The actor who played House, Hugh Laurie, spoke favorably of a romantic interpretation, and one of the producers, Katie Jacobs, was known in the LiveJournal days as the patron saint of House/Wilson.

So what happened there? Was it all a ploy to attract a gay audience, or was it genuine subtext that never came to fruition because of restrictions? I’m more of one to think it was the latter. House was the most viewed TV show in the world in 2008. The idea of making the titular Dr. House openly a bisexual man would’ve ruffled a lot of feathers.

But the hints are still there.

Perhaps one of the most egregious examples would be the episode The Down Low, written by Sara Hess and Liz Freidman. Right after House and Wilson buy an apartment together, their neighbor is convinced that they’re a couple. Wilson, interested in her, tries to prove her wrong, while House plays up the part of being gay to bother Wilson (and also as an elaborate plan to also get in their neighbor’s pants). This goes on with various things—from House buying an A Chorus Line poster to talking about interior decorating. This episode’s B plot finishes off with Wilson ending House’s shenanigans by… proposing to him.

Yes, there’s an entire fake dating episode that ends with Wilson fake proposing to House. Even notorious queerbait shows like Supernatural (which since November 2020 isn’t queerbait but bury your gays, but I digress) don’t have a fake dating episode, much less one written by two women-loving women.

Another moment that’s turned a lot of heads is when, in season four, Wilson dates a woman who tried to work for House, Amber, who is referred to as the “female House”, which ends up with House describing her personality to Wilson until he says, horrified, “oh my God… you’re sleeping with me!“.

Then there’s the show’s ending—which I’m getting to, hang on. You could wax poetic about a twenty years long friendship ending in tragedy and how they clearly were pining for each other and were in love, and I have. It’s a gorgeous thing to look at, away from what canon wants you to think, and that’s why the fandom for this TV show still lives on in small corners of the Internet, even after nine years since its ending.

I believe that the last few episodes of House are some of the things that most solidified the nature of House and Wilson’s relationship for many viewers. Wilson gets cancer, and House has a mental breakdown out of grief that causes him to nearly kill a patient. But surely, that’s a normal reaction to having your friend be dying. Then they have a frankly heartbreaking scene in Wilson’s car, where Wilson says he wants to know that his life was worthwhile, and that—”I want you to tell me that you love me”. The first time I watched that scene, it felt like the world had stopped spinning on its own axis.

The actual end of the show hits hard as well. House fakes his death for Wilson, and the show’s last episode ends with them riding motorbikes into the sunset together. House threw away all of his life for Wilson—he ruined everything he could’ve had just to spend the last six months of Wilson’s life with him. The romantic overtones of this gesture which is nothing but Romeo and Juliet-esque, are really hard to ignore, even for the average straight and cis viewer.

It isn’t hard to watch House through a queer lens. The beats of a romance are all there. Fandom has seen this and taken it to heart, with the lively days in LiveJournal running mostly on House/Wilson to the small circles in Tumblr and Twitter of LGBT teenagers that are all too young to have watched the show while it was airing—like me.

Pop an episode of House on; I’m sure you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

David Salazar (he/xe/she) is a teenage writer from Chile. Xe is nonbinary, bisexual and autistic. He can be found most often rambling about hs special interests or writing self-indulgent nonsense. You can find him on Twitter at @smalllredboy.

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