By Angeli Rambukpota
Queer hearts alike were broken everywhere when a stray bullet pierced the abdomen of Commander Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) of popular sci-fi drama The 100 early March, leaving a trail of tears and anger in its wake. While the death was sad, it did what any TV show does: killed off a main character. And yet this particular death was met with a frenzy of angry emails and letters to the writers of the show, and many took to Twitter and other forms of social media to vent their frustrations as well.
So what made this death so special? This answer lies behind the increasingly popular tv trope: Bury Your Gays.
Bury Your Gays is a tv trope formed after countless lesbian or bisexual-identified women have been killed off on TV, usually following a happy event. While characters often die in fiction, it’s important to note the difference from Anyone Can Die tropes in which death is part of the norm (eg. Soap operas, Game of Thrones), as audiences are more familiar with the fatal nature of the show. Queer mortality therefore presents an issue in shows that are not a part of the Anybody Can Die trope, but in ‘normal’ shows where death plays a minor role.
According to LGBT pop-culture site Autostraddle, only 11% of the 18,000+ characters on TV are lesbian or bisexual, and of those characters, 65% are killed off and only 11% have an happy ending. In 2016 alone, 10 queer-identifying women have already been killed off on shows such as CW’s Jane the Virgin, The Vampire Diaries, ABC’s The Catch, and many more – in less than half of the year.
Queer women in TV often die after a happy event. In many cases, it’s after they consummate their relationship with their implied love interest. In Jason Rothenberg’s The 100, Lexa is shot by a stray bullet meant for her lover a mere scene after they sleep together for the first time. In Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Tara (Amber Benson) is again shot by a stray bullet shortly after being shown in bed with her on-off girlfriend Willow (Alyson Hannigan). And in Allan Heinberg’s The Catch, Felicity is killed again with a bullet – this time intended for her – by a man she slept with after betraying information about his con-artist sister (Sonya Walger), who she was involved with as well.
The list of dead queer characters in TV has reached 156 and counting.
“You always need drama”, said a student from the University of Sheffield, “and death is a common way of creating that shock-factor”. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the university student explains how Tara’s death allowed for Willow’s villainous story arch to take place along with furthering the plot for the straight main characters. “So as supporting characters, queer women are always killed off to ‘support’ and deepen the plotline of the main character.
After years of watching fictional women die in trivial manners, real-life women have started fundraisers and campaigns to promote awareness for the lesbian death trope. Movements such as LGBT Fans Deserve Better raised $125,000 for LGBT suicide prevention and mental health organisation The Trevor Project, while more writers are beginning to instill the Lexa Pledge in attempts to reconcile and learn from the damages of The 100’s major character death.
The overwhelming amount of responses online has also forced major entertainment websites to report on the issues of queer women and representation in media, which has allowed for the topic to become an issue that can no longer be ignored by society itself.
Stories have, and continue to, shape a fundamental part of human nature. Borrowing the words of the late great actor Alan Rickman, “stories are an ancient need“ – a means to identify and understand ourselves. As minorities, queer women are rarely represented in TV, and in the rare chances they play a supporting or leading role, they are either killed off or punished for accepting their sexuality.
What happens in fiction doesn’t stay in a fictional universe but rather, has repercussions in reality. It’s no coincidence that same-sex marriage became more accepted as more TV shows portrayed loving and healthy LGBT relationships. So when TV continues to massacre queer women, what does that say about society’s message to LGBT people?
As the university student suggests,”It’s ok to be gay, as long as you realise that life will be inevitably harder for you as a queer person. You should also probably invest in a bulletproof vest”.