Queer Death in Media: Drawing Attention to the Bloodshed

The world we live in has taken great strides towards the acceptance of queer people. Gay marriage is legal in most countries in the Western hemisphere, and canonically queer characters exist in fictional media! Representation of queer characters in media leaves a lot to be desired, with a shocking amount of canonically queer characters (who are series regulars) end up dead, usually in brutal and violent ways. Many of them are shot or murdered simply to further the plot of heterosexual characters. While we have made strides in the recent decade, it’s important to analyze our past history of representation to really see that things could be much better.

The History

Nightwood Djuna Barnes cover

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

For those who have not read Nightwood, it’s a story of a love square between four characters, three of whom are queer women, and one outside observer. The book itself was published in 1936 during the Modernist era of American literature, a time where authors were experimenting with new ways of writing and representation. During this time female characters were being written and represented as powerful and autonomous characters capable of making their own decisions. This section of time was when women had gained the right to file for divorce and the right to vote, and many yearned for some sort of autonomy for themselves.

Djuna Barnes wrote Nightwood in some way to gain some catharsis following her relationship with Thelma Wood while living in Paris. The character of Nora in the novel occupies the majority of Barnes’ abstract narrative, and Nora frequently visits the character of Dr. Matthew O’Connor, a man who openly expresses his desire to be a woman, and dresses in traditional women’s night clothes during the time of Nora’s visit about midway through the novel. Matthew’s monologues offer to the reader some explanation of Nora, Jenny, and Felix’s feelings. Nightwood is one of the most open and honest portrayals of queer relationships in Modernist era literature, and Barnes does all this through a sometimes-confusing abstract narrative.

Roger Austen noted that Nightwood was among the best written novels of the 1930’s concerning gay themes, but that American readers were confounded by the notion that Matthew was neither portrayed as a “scamp or mongrel” nor does he suffer a “suitable penalty” for leading a “life of depravity.” Sure gives a queer person hope, that critics want something bad to happen to the LGBTQ+ characters in the novel, huh?

Despite these criticisms, Barnes portrays none of the queer or transgender characters in the novel as good or bad, but simply as human. And, as important for the rest of this article, none of them die by the end of the novel (although Robin does somewhat lose her mind, and pretends to be a dog.)

So what “suitable penalty” did Roger Austen have in mind for the character of Matthew O’Connor? If it’s anything like we’ve seen in recent fiction, the answer is “death,” and lots of it.

Of course, in our world’s history, there has been a lot of death in regards to the queer community, specifically the AIDS virus.

The AIDS virus ran rampant in the 1980’s, and initial review suggested that it only targeted gay men. It was perpetuated as a “gay plague” of divine intervention to wipe out the queer population of the world. The idea was that gay men were so depraved in their behavior to be able to create lasting relationships like heterosexual couples was too much, so God sent down his divine judgment to rid the world of them.

Randy Shilts’ 1987 book, And the Band Played On, suggests that the Ronald Reagan administration dragged their feet in dealing with the AIDS epidemic. This was largely in part due to blatant homophobia that was perpetuated by the gay community’s distrust of news reports and information being given to them. The first confirmed cases of the AIDS virus were in 1981, and Reagan didn’t speak out about the epidemic until 1987, after which over 20,000 people had already died as a result of the disease.

The Present

Lexa of The 100
Lexa of The 100

In our world today, you’ll nary find a critic like Roger Austen who believes that some divine punishment should befall a queer character in media. But it still happens so often. The audience is consistently given queer characters to enjoy and see as representation of themselves, and it is so quickly robbed away from them without a second thought, and many times it’s not even good writing! The character’s death means nothing more than a means to fuel the protagonists into hunting down the bad guy or solving the murder. Additionally, queer characters who are killed are usually one half of a relationship, leading to even more sadness and angst for queer characters who believe that they can never be happy.

Statistics show that an alarming 31% of lesbian or bisexual women on television between 1976 and 2016 end up dead. Another 38% are written off with no resolution or are guest characters, whilst only 10% receive a “happy ending.” While these statistics don’t include gay men or asexual or intersex characters, it is a shocking statistic that shows just how broken the representation system in our media is.

Here you’ll find some examples of queer characters’ deaths that just hit a little too hard to handle, and just felt out of place in the grand scheme of things.

Maya st. germain pll
Maya St. Germain

Maya St. Germain, Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars has come to be one of those shows I just watch to see what ridiculous thing ends up happening next. Who is A? Are you A? Am I A? Is that baby A? It’s just always interesting to see what conclusions the girls will jump to on a whim.

Emily Fields is one of the four titular Liars in the series, getting swept up in a murderous mystery that threatens her town of Rosewood. From the beginning, she’s a closeted lesbian, but as she gradually opens up and comes out to herself and her friends, her life begins to improve. She even gets a girlfriend!

Maya was the best thing to ever happen to Emily–she came along and turned Emily’s world upside down, in a good way of course, not in the murder-y mystery way. Maya is eventually hunted down and killed by an ex-boyfriend for choosing Emily over him.

Maya’s death in no way serves the story–Lyndon had no connection to A whatsoever, and was just a psychopath who let his jealousy and anger take him to a place he couldn’t come back from. Lyndon even tries to in some twisted way replace Maya in Emily’s life by stalking her and trying to date her. When Lyndon attacks Emily, she kills him in self-defense and avenges Maya’s death, and Maya is never mentioned again.

Emily PLL
Emily hardly ever looks happy anymore.

In a town like Rosewood, where a sociopath who goes by “A” is repeatedly tormenting you and your friends, it’s hard to find happiness and peace, and Emily really found that with Maya. Although Emily moves on and ends up with Paige, they break up too, and as of the current season Emily is still single and going through a really rough time. It really suggests to the audience and fans that lesbians are in no way deserving of happiness, or even living.

Elias HarperQuantico

Elias Harper Quantico
Elias Harper, federal analyst

Quantico tells a story from two perspectives, the past and the present. In the present, FBI agent Alex Parrish has been framed for the bombing of Grant Central Station and desperately tries to solve the mystery to clear her own name. The past tells the story of Parrish and her fellow trainees during their tenure at the FBI academy.

Elias Harper works as an analyst, and he falls for the seemingly-gay Simon Asher. After studying Simon for a while, Simon eventually comes clean and tells Elias that his “gay” persona is a way for him to cope with all the terrible things he did in the Middle East–that constructing and living as this persona, who happens to be gay, helps him ward the dark thoughts at bay.

It’s some heavy queer baiting, and Elias doesn’t take it well. The FBI eventually arranges a mission where there is seemingly a bomb in the FBI training academy–Simon works quickly to defuse the bomb, and tells everyone who doesn’t want to die to leave quickly. Elias leaves, and after Simon defuses the “bomb” Elias and the audience learns it was a simulation. Elias is dismissed from the FBI academy for failing to live up to their “ride or die” standards.

Elias resurfaces during the Fall finale as an “informant” for Alex to help her uncover who perpetrated the bombing. Alex works with him briefly before she realizes a discrepancy in his story. She makes Elias confess, and he admits that the Big Bad of the season has blackmailed him to commit the Grand Central bombing, but that there’s another bomb and he doesn’t know where it is. Alex releases him, and refusing to be arrested, Elias jumps out a window to his death.

As the only openly gay character on the show, it really sucked to see Elias go. He figuratively died when he was dismissed from the academy, and then really died when he jumped to his death. The queer-baiting with Simon left a bad taste in my mouth as well. He was unhappy AND he died at the end.

Delphine CormierOrphan Black

Delphine Cormier
Delphine Cormier, Cosima’s love interest

Delphine was meant to be a double-agent to get close to Cosima as her Monitor. Delphine initially played her role quite well, but ended up actually falling for Cosima and developing a relationship with her.

Cosima and Delphine have a very loving relationship on the show, but eventually they break up. Delphine knows she is still in love with Cosima, but before she can do anything to make up with her, Delphine is shot and presumably dies in a parking garage. The creators of the show have teased that she’s still alive somehow in Season 4, but ultimately her fate as of now is as a lonely lesbian who died to fuel sadness in the main protagonists.

Tara Maclay
Tara Maclay, Willow’s love interest

Tara MaclayBuffy the Vampire Slayer

Tara and Willow’s relationship was one of the most progressive queer relationships depicted in main-series television at the turn of the new millennium. Their relationship was also the most natural and based on love, but alas it could not last.

The Buffy universe is one of many supernatural horrors, and Willow and Tara weathered apocalypse, demons, vampires, the wrath of a God, and all other supernatural entities without issue. And then Tara dies to a gunshot, with a bullet meant for Buffy.

To have come so far and survived so much, the fanbase felt robbed to have Tara die to a silly gunshot. Her death of course fueled Willow’s already existing angst and ends up being one of many reasons why Willow “goes dark” so to speak in a later season.

Thelma, Maya, and TomHex

While I’ve never personally seen the show, it is unique in that of the four canonically queer characters the show has, all of them are dead! Although death is not a permanent end in the Hex universe, with many of the characters appearing as ghosts. Thelma is introduced as the main character’s lesbian best friend, but she is quickly murdered by a demon. At her funeral, the priest talks about how Thelma’s death was because she so “individual” as a person that it left her isolated and alone. Lovely.

Maya is introduced later as a woman killed by the villain to give Thelma a girlfriend. Thelma and Maya quickly hit it off, but because the villain has been keeping tabs on the good guys through Maya, the main character is forced to kill her. Thelma is of course upset.

Tom is killed at the hands of the man he fancies within an episode of being identified as gay.

#TheLexaPledge

In March of 2016, The 100 took a turn for the worse (as far as queer fans are concerned) when on-again off-again lovers Clarke and Lexa’s relationship was forever changed when Lexa was killed. It was particularly hard to accept when Clarke and Lexa had just consummated and had made efforts to repair their relationship. Leading an entire clan can get stressful on a young woman’s nerves, and Lexa’s death did nothing to help Clarke.

Fans on social media made a rallying cry in refusal of Lexa’s death. They argued Lexa’s death was for little more reason than to culminate angst in Clarke. Lexa was also one of six lesbian and bisexual women killed in mainstream television during the 2015-2016 schedule.

A group of women, many of whom work on the Canadian medical drama Saving Hope started #TheLexaPledge in honor of the character of Lexa. The hashtag was started by Noelle Carbone, Sonia Hosko, Gina Tass and Michelle Mama. They argued for and created a list of rules that they themselves vowed to follow and be held accountable for in their representation of queer characters in television. They also encouraged other show-runners and producers to adopt their rules, and hold themselves and each other accountable in order to ensure LGBTQ+ people are accurately represented in a way that doesn’t involve their only form of representation being killed off to further the plot.

In addition to their vows to ensure that queer characters are not killed off to further to plot of straight ones, and promising to consult sources within the LGBT community such as The Trevor Project, the promises made under #TheLexaPledge banner vow to ensure that fans are never baited or misled through social media or any other outlet, as well as “[to] ensure the queer community is properly and fairly represented on T.V.”

The Future

It’s not just in television either. Lynn, a minor character in Insurgent, comes out of the closet after being fatally wounded. Christian Nation features a televised stoning of a gay character, the bombing of Castro, a predominantly gay neighborhood in San Francisco, and the execution of a gay married couple during a wedding. The Book of Lost Things features gay knight Roland trying to uncover what happened to his lover Raphael. Raphael is of course dead, and Roland goes to join him once he discovers this.

We must of course consider the impact we’re making when gay characters are dying en masse on our television screens, in our books, and in film and art. Understandably gay characters aren’t the only characters who die, but predominantly their deaths feel meaningless.

Whether consciously or not, our consumption of film, television, and literature that perpetuates the idea that all gay characters die, or all gay characters end up unhappy. We’re living in a post-modern era, and we are also creating art and media that can break free from these ideals. We can show gay characters who end up happy, who have loving and lasting relationships. We can demand those things of producers of media now. And of course not all media perpetuates these notions. There are very good pieces of media that showcase wonderful portrayals of queer relationships between people who are neither dead nor unhappy.

Can we trust television’s writers and producers to make change when we ourselves do not hold them accountable? #TheLexaPledge hashtag united many fans under one banner and paved the way for a list of guidelines to be presented. In order to ensure that real change happens, we as the fans and consumers of media must be willing and able to say “I will no longer accept unnecessary queer death in media,” and understanding the difference between a well-thought out plot for a queer character, and one that perpetuates stereotypes and the toxic “Bury Your Gays” trope.

As the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world.

Works Cited

Bury Your Gays – TV Tropes.

Shilts, Randy And the Band Played On.

Austen, Roger (1977). Playing the Game: The Homosexual Novel in America (1st ed.). Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company. ISBN 978-0-672-52287-1.

#TheLexaPledge Could Change the Future of Lesbian and Bisexual Representation on T.V. The Mary Sue.

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71 Comments

  1. Mule
    0

    As a gay man, I find this issue silly at best. A happy ending for LGBT characters on a genre TV show does not and frankly should not affect the value I place on myself, my relationships, or the success thereof.

    • Nayr1230

      I wrote this article as a gay man, and from the perspective of being a closeted 14-15 year old kid and seeing myself in a character on show who dies without an inkling of a happy ending, I can tell you that it’s not silly for everyone. And while it does not have much bearing on my successes or the value I place in myself now, it would still be nice to not have to see characters like myself killed on my television screen every week. I respect your comment and your opinion, but I also adamantly disagree.

  2. deal
    0

    Thanks for the article, it’s been a point of frustration for many of us that enjoy TV and see the same thing happen so consistently to gay women characters. The argumentation that “it happens to all characters” would be valid if it happened with the same percentages. It just doesn’t.

    • Nayr1230

      Thank you for your comment! It is frustrating, and the exact percentages aren’t exact I’m sure, but you’re correct, it just doesn’t happen in the same capacity to “all” characters.

  3. Paola
    0

    Really i’m just sick of these showrunners getting paid so much and being so goddamn unoriginal.

    • Nayr1230

      As long as television has gone on, there’s bound to be some overlap, but in recent years it seems as if television writers have gotten rather lazy and bored with their work.

  4. Emily Deibler

    Thanks for this article. I’m really hoping the trend of treating queer characters as expendable or endlessly tragic ends, although it’s been going on for decades. This time though, writers don’t really have the excuse of “we need to make the lesbian die or marry a man because if we don’t the ratings board won’t allow us to show our work.” Same with characters of color.

    And yeah, whenever a queer character dies, someone will always go, “Well, [insert straight character here] died too” or “So you think LGBT can’t die?” No, that’s not it; it’s when the ONLY queer representation dies or ends in some other tragic way. I can see countless movies and shows for dynamic straight or cisgender characters–normally way more than one in the cast. It’s not that a queer character can never die, but when the plot magically propels a bullet in them for an insta-kill that defies logic…well, that’s pretty disrespectful. And then it erases (normally) the ONLY representation, which makes it feel like the character was always thought of as disposable or at least not worth regard. And it hurts when that character is the primary source of relatability. It’s like watching your reflection die over and over.

    • Nayr1230

      I completely agree. The accountability afforded by #TheLexaPledge on Twitter did create a bit of a stir for a while, but the hashtag began around mid-March and I haven’t heard anything concerning it in a few weeks. I am hoping that it didn’t lose steam just because people have forgotten Lexa already.

  5. Munjeera

    Thanks for pointing this out and calling out this vehicle. I must confess that I did not ever notice this tendency but now have become aware and will be on the lookout for it. I have to admit I am a little surprised that Hollywood would perpetuate the expendable gay character. I would have thought that the writers would be wanting to push the envelope rather than take away from this issue.

    • Nayr1230

      It’s definitely something you wouldn’t see unless you specifically paid attention to it, as a gay man I admit that I didn’t notice it until I watched three shows back to back where the queer characters died. Raising awareness about an issue is the first step to creating change in the world, and the hope I had writing this article is that there will be continued accountability. As long as you continue to notice the issue and raise questions to show-runners and writers continuing the trend, we can begin to see real effective change for the following generations 🙂

  6. The first time I came across this trope was actually a link from the “Woman in Refrigerators” list. It is a common thing that happens in comic books, and I found out it happens to LGBTQ+ characters in comic too. It’s an epidemic. The late Perry Moore, who wrote my favourite superhero book with a gay lead, compiled a list called “Who cares about the death of a gay superhero anyway?” with over 70 deaths of gay superheroes. It’s disgusting and horrible, and I think you are completely right when you say their deaths feel meaningless. Hopefully these writers and artists will eventually see that we do care about their deaths, and we’ll never stop caring. Maybe one day they won’t die for the sake of dying.

  7. LExie
    0

    I’m bisexual, and I’m actually getting sick of the LGBT community begging for special treatment. A character is more than their sexuality, and not killing off a character that is in a position where they are likely to die just because they’re gay, bi, etc. is wrong.

    • Nayr1230

      No where in the article does it say that LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t die. The article just points toward the staggering statistic that nearly 70% of LGBTQ+ characters on television don’t end up with happy endings or resolutions, and we should be willing to effect change in our consumption of media.

  8. Cornelius
    0

    Excellent piece! Thank you.

  9. Royce Albertson
    0

    Gay Lives Matter, oh wait, forget I said that. Please don’t trend.

  10. Bobbi
    0

    When I was in college I noticed on an advertisement in the college newspaper, I forgot what they were selling, where it depicted a couple hundred diverse college students posed like a class picture buddy-buddy hands over each other shoulders smiling to the camera. The oddity was the only Asian male in the picture was to the side by himself sitting on a chair with a stack of books on his lap.

  11. Delvalle
    0

    It’s not just about lgbt characters being killed off, it’s about the ways in which they are killed off. Even though the numbers of lgbt deaths are disproportionate to that of heterosexual characters, the problem also lies in the message often promoted by the kind of deaths that we are given.

    • Nayr1230

      Yes, agreed. Many of the character deaths are violent and brutal for the sake of being shocking.

  12. Rosa
    0

    If the goal of the LGBT community is to be treated as equals, character death comes with the territory. Straight characters die on tv shows every week. Why should LGBT characters be bullet(or, arrow) proof?!

    • Nayr1230

      Again, no where in the article does it say LGBTQ+ characters should be immune to death, but that fans should be willing to fight for LGBTQ+ characters to receive more than 10% of happy endings or resolutions for their characters that don’t involve death. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say television shows have one character each that represents YOU. When you see the on screen, or when they interact with other characters, you feel even more deeply what happens on the show. Then, at least 70% of the time, give or take for some discrepancy, you have to watch that character die, or be written off, given no resolution, or the writers refuse to give the character anything to do. Would you not want change, too?

    • peak
      0

      No one is saying LGBT characters can’t be killed at all, but there are hardly any to choose from and most (85%) get tragic or even pointless deaths, usually just to advance the plot-line for straight protagonists.

  13. karon
    0

    Hollywood tv studios care about 2 things: Ratings and Ad revenue. A group that makes up less than 10% of the population isn’t their focus, nor should it be. Servicing the 90% is far more important to their bottom line.

    • Nayr1230

      That mentality is exactly why minorities constantly have to fight for recognition and representation.

  14. Noriko
    0

    It’s worth noting that The 100, in particular, doesn’t seem at all hesitant to kill off some of their more popular and likeable characters, often shockingly so which inflicts more pain on the surviving character(s) in the brutal dystopian world of The 100.

    • Nayr1230

      Lexa’s death was definitely within the margins of the dystopia that is The 100, and while I’m not a fan of the show and haven’t watched it, I’ve spoken with friends and acquaintances who do, and I think the major issue they have had across the board was that Clarke and Lexa had just gotten back together and consummated their relationship, both as two people who have lost before, and so it makes Lexa’s death all the more unfair.

      I understand in the real-world actors and actresses sometimes leave shows or sign other contracts and it’s difficult to balance, but her storyline could have been resolved in a way that didn’t involve her death, especially considering that they were broken up before.

      • Andrea
        0

        In addition to the fact that Clarke and Lexa had literally just consummated their relationship for the first time the scene before Lexa died, queer fans had also spent the entirety of the hiatus between season two and three engaging with writers from the show about their worries of Lexa dying violently due to the aforementioned trope (in fact, due to the availability and shooting schedule of the actress playing Lexa, fans accurately guessed the exact episode she would die prior to the season airing.) Time and time again, those writers told fans that their fears were unfounded, and bordered on paranoia.

        Not so, it seems. The writers needed queer fans to raise awareness of the show and engage in free advertising; they got exactly what they wanted. If you’d like to learn more about exactly what went down behind the scenes of this particular mess, I encourage you to check out wedeservedbetter.com. It’s a rather stunning case study in how not to engage in social media.

        That said, I’m not a fan of the creation of the Lexa Pledge. It’s basically just free publicity for shows and showrunners — writers get positive publicity for signing, but the terms of the pledge are so broad that it’s borderline laughable, and there’s no actual way to enforce any type of punishment for breaking the pledge. Yes, the existence of it means that there is evidence for knowledge of the trope amongst those who sign it and therefore those who perpetuate it (and the lack of knowledge excuse has been trotted out in defence for a number of the deaths this year including Lexa’s), but the lack of punishment for anyone involved in the debacle of The 100 — in spite of all the evidence gathered of wrongdoings — indicates that evidence means absolutely nothing. Indeed, one of the people who signed the pledge broke it literally the day after. She’s the one who had to issue a statement about it, and has been absolved of any wrongdoing by the very people who created the pledge to prevent that type of behaviour from happening.

        I acknowledge that it’s an attempt to create some measure of awareness of the trope, but I’d argue that Mo Ryan writing so significantly and succinctly in Variety (as well as numerous articles in The Hollywood Reporter by other industry critics) do a much better job of that. Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter are de facto required reading in Hollywood circles, and Mo Ryan is an extremely well respected writer and critic — if one works in Hollywood and admits to not having read Variety or The Hollywood Reporter, they are either admitting they are a liar or admitting they are ignorant of the industry they’re working in. In contrast, the pledge has secured exactly one whole writer beyond the initial signatories in the first week, most of whom work for the same show. The pledge has failed before it has even begun in the most fundamental of ways.

        • Nayr1230

          Thank you for your comment. I’m not a follower of The 100, so I was unaware of the social media baiting perpetuated by show runners, or about the number of signatures on the pledge.

          My hope with this article is that it will point fans and people who want answers back to it, and we can get these issues addressed before the 2016-2017 Fall line-up. At least then maybe we can see improvements in 2017’s Winter programming.

          • Andrea
            0

            It’s a worthwhile article. I doubt the issues will be addressed next season, or even in the next couple of seasons, because Hollywood needs a tangible reason (read: monetary) to stop using a harmful trope before they will actively change. Stagnancy and complacency are the name of the game. Because so many of the producers, writers and showrunners still in place are people who don’t readily know what the issue actually is (much like some of the people in these comments), they won’t understand why it needs to change until fans hit them hard and consistently in their profits.

            That’s not to say it shouldn’t be written about, or that it won’t change, just that it’s going to take a while yet. If we can at least have significant producers, writers and showrunners acknowledge there is a problem at all within the next year, I’ll take that as a massive win.

  15. Craft
    0

    Very informative and well written article.

  16. Fleck
    0

    I fully support the representation of the LGBT community in all aspects of media. Especially with The 100, it is refreshing seeing the female characters as such strong leaders. You don’t see that in many television shows very often and I think it’s fantastic.

    That being said, I believe that the actress who plays Lexa signed a long term contract with Fear the Walking Dead, which films on another part of the country, and she made the decision to stick with FTWD instead of The 100. Unfortunately the showrunners decided to kill her character off this season so she could pursue a different show.

    In the case of Denise on the Walking Dead (you should have included this character in your article), it is unfortunate that they decided to kill off a lesbian character with probably the most valuable skill set, being the community doctor, but I think it should also be noted there are currently 3 other homosexual characters still living on the show. One of them being a fan favorite in Aaron. Given the death rate on TWD, I suppose one of their deaths was bound to happen eventually.

    The timing of these two character deaths shines a light on LGBT representation in television for good reason, and I’m glad it allows us to discuss in greater depth, but I also personally appreciate that these types of characters exist more frequently in mainstream shows.

  17. Karyn Little

    I was very sad to see Denise (one of few LGBT characters) die on the current season of The Walking Dead. What bothered me the most was that she was killed in place of Abraham, who actually dies the same way in the original comics. I loved her character because she was an absolute badass, but at the same time I wasn’t sure how upset to be because this is a show where EVERYONE dies. I had to remind myself that tons and tons of straight people died before her, and that in her world who dies next is extremely unpredictable.
    On the plus side, her girlfriend Tara is still on the show and was actually the very first LGBT character to be introduced. I’m praying that they keep her around for a while. From the sounds of it, there’s a lot more of her story to be told. The show runners really listen to their fans, so hopefully they have paid attention to everything regarding this debate and we will see Tara thrive for a while longer.
    Here’s hoping this serves as a wake up call. Great article!

  18. As someone who is a lesbian i do agree with you on some aspects of your piece of writing; i think the media is handling how to put queer characters out there on Film and TV the best way they know how. Majority of the show-runners that have TV shows out there are all for the most part in their mid to late 50’s and 60’s, some even older. When i do watch those shows like pretty little liars i don’t think “oh this Emily Character should be stay with Maya”;each progression of each character adds something to the story line. This also stands to any other queer character out there.

    • Nayr1230

      They very well could be handling queer characters “the best way they know how,” the problem is that’s not good enough for a large number of queer people who tune into programming. They need to listen to their viewership, or a section of their viewership, however small they think it might be, and address the concerns.

  19. Lyon
    0

    This pattern needs to stop, and to do that more people need to be aware of it. It’s very easy to be ignorant of or dismiss the importance of representation when you aren’t without it. But it does matter. Society wide, and in terms of personal identity. Just awful that it’s the most vulnerable who are without and worse, so often exploited, manipulated and misrepresented by it. To finally see yourself on screen, but know there is something like a 50% chance of death, and 90% chance of tragedy in some form, no matter the genre, is more than disparaging. Hopefully more people will continue to listen, enquire and have some critical thought, maybe we can see some change in the near future.

  20. Thomas Chaney
    0

    Thank you for your article.

  21. Denese
    0

    Great article, unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee people will understand what they read before spouting off from their “privileged” perspective.

  22. Wonderful article! I don’t understand why writers believe killing queer characters is effective for shock value when it’s become so mainstream.

  23. great article. I’m kind of sick of the media using “shock value”.

  24. This is an issue that has bothered me for such a long time. I just want to see people like me in media who don’t end up dead, or otherwise in unpleasant situations. Quite honestly, it’s frustrating, and I wish creators as a whole knew better by now.

  25. Ayana Hitt
    0

    Thank you so much for this article! It’s so awesome that mainstream media has started to cover lgbt issues in media. Brace yourself for the inevitable pushback from straight fans who aren’t willing to even try to understand. The lgbt community has your back!

    • Nayr1230

      You can see it just from the comments of the article that people think it’s a non-issue, some from self-addressed gay or lesbian individuals. While that is their opinion and they are entitled to it, it’s just that–an opinion. Fact states that there is a social media following paying attention to this issue and wanting accountability from show runners and writers. Fact states that there are multiple websites pointing to queer character deaths and compiling lists and statistics. It is important.

  26. Briar

    Thank you for this article! It isn’t new to me as I’m pretty involved in queer politics these days but it’s so good to see this issue being talked about more and more and I’m impressed with how you’ve been handling issues in the comments.

    I fully agree with you on the pervasiveness of the “Bury your gays” trope and to be honest I can’t really think of any examples in adult media with positive, non-angsty representation.

    However given that you’re writing on “queer death” it might have been nice to mention trans people at least in passing in the intro. Not a complaint or anything, just maybe something to think about.

    Hopefully things will keep improving with time though! And thanks for writing on an issue that’s affected so many people (myself included)

    • Nayr1230

      You’re right, I should have included something about transgender or intersex individuals in the opening, though honestly even now I’m hard-pressed to find transgender representation on television.

      Off the top of my head I can think of two transgender characters on television, one was a young pre-teen transgender boy who’s parents continued to address him as and dress him as a girl on Private Practice. The end of the episode, at the urging of three doctors and another child, his parents finally agree to at least listen to his concerns, but the issue is never addressed again.

      On Grey’s Anatomy, Ben Warren’s sister comes out as transgender and asks to be called Rosalind. She is having medical issues related to black market hormone therapy she has been taking. The show sets up Ben’s contention with his sister’s transition, but the story line was set up one-two seasons ago and hasn’t been addressed again.

      I should have addressed transgender, intersex, and asexual people in the opening as well, and I am sorry that I didn’t. To be honest, the opening addresses strides in pop culture and laws around the world afforded to queer individuals, and I know that we still have a long way to go for trans and intersex people. I know just from inability to even produce examples that the statistics for trans and intersex people are even less than queer individuals appearing on television, so their representation is few and far between. This is something that also needs to be addressed. People claim that trans people only make up 1% of the population, but 1% of 7 billion is still 70 million.

      For asexual people, I know it’s especially hard to find representation because the only way it would be brought up is if the character mentioned it explicitly, and so far I haven’t found any in television.

      • Briar

        Hey thanks so much for the thoughtful response I Really appreciate it. It’s so good to see how much gay voices are starting to be heard

  27. Great work! As a film studies student, I have noticed this unfortunate trend of the expendable queer character in both television and film. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching the documentary “The Celluloid Closet” based on the book by Vito Russo. Historically, the earliest examples of LGBTQ characters in cinema have been depicted as bloodthirsty monsters, tragic figures who end up dead, or both.

    In the recent case of The Walking Dead (mentioned above), it is upsetting in my opinion that the death of Denise was the result of an adaptation change from the source material. As soon as her relationship with Tara is beginning to flourish (a relationship that does not occur in the comics), she is suddenly killed off to further the plot of several heterosexual characters. And the worst part is: the show-runners never included a scene of Tara grieving for Denise! She is curiously absent and it’s frustrating, as if their relationship never happened.

    • Nayr1230

      I’ll look into that documentary! Seems interesting.

      I’ve seen a few episodes of The Walking Dead, and I think I would be more willing to buy into the comments mentioned above of “everyone dies” more if there was equal representation of grief. I know it’s been mentioned a few times that there are still gay and lesbian characters on the show, but if I remember the timeline correctly, the first openly gay character on the show was a lesbian working with the Governor and she died during the fight between Rick’s group.

      There have been a few other characters since then, mainly Aaron and his boyfriend, but I remember a huge outcry on social media when Aaron was introduced that people didn’t want “faggots” on the show.

      The Walking Dead fanbase is made up of mostly “dudebros” and so it stands to reason that heterosexual men who have antiquated ideals about lesbian woman (ex. that these women are putting on a show for them, or that it’s free pornography) whereas they have no interest in the story of two gay men in a zombie apocalypse, despite the fact that, unless the zombie mutation specifically targeted gay men, there would be some still alive in the world for sure.

      As you mentioned, Tara doesn’t grieve at all for Denise. I think this also happens when the lesbian woman working for the Governor dies as well; no grieving whatsoever. Whereas we get season-long arcs about how Rick is still grieving Lori, Michonne grieves her boyfriend and son, etc.

      In a world of so much death, queer people would be grieving MORE when their partner dies because the world we live in it’s already so uncertain to find someone who makes you happy and feel loved, even more so in an apocalypse.

      So I think I would more buy into “everyone dies” if there was equal representation of grief across the board for all characters. Because the absence of grief happens in other television shows as well, a gay or lesbian character dies and life goes on.

  28. Honestly, this article is so important. The “Bury Your Gays” trope has been around everywhere and I’ve definitely seen it influence both my personal thoughts and the thoughts of others on the subject of queer happiness/happy endings. As a queer writer and an activist, something I try very hard to do is be aware of tropes and tools of oppression like these so that I can make conscious decisions about the fates of my characters-knowing when my impulse to kill this character is nothing but a contribution to this trope and when it’s actually part of the message of my piece is important, lest I blindly kill characters off for reasons that have only been subconsciously planted within me.

  29. Nice article and an important topic. There are so many tropes that need to be gotten rid of and the “bury your gays” one is a good example.

  30. Benedict Hadley

    I think this is such an important debate, and you make some valid points about the representation of queer characters in mainstream media. As you stated western society has progressed significantly in it’s views towards gay relationships in the western world, but unfortunately a lot of outmoded views are still widespread. TV and Film is a valuable tool to combat this, and not enough is being done.

    That said, I haven’t noticed the ‘queer death’ tendency myself, and believe that positive representations of gay and lesbian characters are breaking through (Doctor Who, Transparent).

  31. Carl
    0

    Great article! Very insightful.

  32. I’m definitely all for including more homosexual characters in media, however it is important these characters are fleshed out so they can be identifiable-neither too good nor too bad, and just make them normal, everyday characters with relatable flaws. I think we also have a problem with including more homosexual characters in media in that homosexuality is sadly still outlawed in other countries-like Russia and China. While certain countries may be ready for this, other countries aren’t, and it could seriously hurt certain entertainment companies that make a lot of money overseas.

    • Nayr1230

      Are you implying that television producers and companies should avoid portraying homosexual characters on television because country’s have made being gay illegal? Just because being gay is illegal in those places doesn’t mean gay people don’t exist in those places. If anything, by that logic it just alienates them even more. In a perfect world, I know all gay people would live in countries and states accepting of them, but some people don’t have the means to move somewhere else. When we advocate for change, even on television, it affects world policies, because people are watching and seeing it every day. Shame on you for saying that gay people should just disappear from television screens in countries where being gay is illegal.

  33. No, I didn’t mean that at all. I probably wasn’t clear enough. I absolutely did not mean to imply that I think “gay people should just disappear from television screens.” I meant to say that I think it is a shame that in other countries it is still illegal, and that it could have an impact on the portrayal. did not imply they should disappear just because it is illegal elsewhere. I did say that I am definitely all for it if the characters are fleshed out and dimensional. I truly apologize if I offended you, it was not my intention to do so at all. but I think it was unfair to automatically assume I am against the notion. I have friends who are gay/lesbian, and they are some of the genuinely kindest and funniest people I met. Please do not think I am against this notion at all.

    • Nayr1230

      You are right, it was unfair of me to automatically assume, and I apologize. As someone who is queer, and the area I live in I receive a lot of opposition to my “lifestyle” and I admit that it got to me when I read your comment, and it is no excuse and I am really sorry for my assumption.

      It is definitely a shame to outlaw being queer in other countries. I wholeheartedly believe that it is difficult being gay in the United States, but I don’t think I would be able to handle living in fear of my life and safety in a country such as Russia. It is more than a shame, I just don’t have the words necessary to describe it or how I feel about it.

      There is always the hope that ideology and assumptions about people will change for the better, sooner the better.

  34. Great article. I think it is important to understand the trope of an expendable LGBT character, even when such a character is treated as something more than a queer character, like Delphine Cormier. While she was brilliant and strong, and her sexuality was just something else about her, it’s important to not ignore that even characters like her are still devalued by being a disposable LGBT character. It’s the subtlety which concerns me, as well as the out-right exploitation.

    • Nayr1230

      Exactly right. I think that’s something that a lot of people miss as well in thinking about this article, is that despite a character’s strengths or usefulness to the cast, as queer characters there’s always that risk of being expendable in relation to a toxic trope.

  35. Nayr1230

    In the wake of the recent shooting in Orlando that left 50 LGBTQ+ people dead and at least 53 injured, which is statistically the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, I feel as if I must remind everyone what I was trying to point out when I wrote this article to begin with.

    Queer people are dying on television screens everyday. It is not coincidental, as now over a hundred people injured or dead simply for being who they were and being in a safe space created for them.

    Please keep this in mind when (for U.S. readers) voting in politics and for candidates invested in affording protections for queer individuals. It would mean a lot if this would be kept in mind. Thank you.

  36. Thank you for this article. My heart goes for the lost souls. I was reading your article the other day. Then I heard the news about mass killing. I don’t know what triggers this extremism. A few months ago the editor of the only gay magazine in our country was hacked to death. This came to me as a shock because gay people in our country don’t even come out of the closet and they still fear in expressing their thoughts. Why would you kill a person when he doesn’t have any influence on you or doesn’t harm you in any way? Being a Muslim I faced s lot of criticism and hatred for supporting LGBT issue. This is still a taboo in our country. I strongly believe the phrase ‘Live and let live’. I don’t know by killing people how they are thinking to please God. Why can’t we stand together just as human? I felt really terrible when I heard the news on TV.

    Now back on the topic. There is still one show that depicts queer characters as important as the main characters. I’m talking about ‘How to get away with murder’. There’s this queer couple Connor & Oliver. I love them very much. I don’t think any people in the right mind can hate them. They might be the ideal couple not only for the LGBT ones but also for all the straight couples out there. Also the main character Viola Devis once had a relationship with her best friend. Though they broke up, their feelings for each other still remains the same. I love this show because the characters here are true and faulty. Shonda Rhymes showed us the true human nature when it comes to work, competition, relationship and even to murder. But yes. The media doesn’t represent queers as they should be. I really hope this situation changes very soon. Also the negative image about queer people that has been portraying around the world for centuries should come to an end.

  37. Derek

    Fantastic article! I have to admit that my knowledge of Queer Lit. is embarrassingly sparse (recommendations are welcome!), but this puts into words something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    With reference to the recent Queerphobic attacks in the US, I think that this rally-cry for Queer characters being depicted as humans rather than plot devices is so important. Thank you for the piece!

  38. This article really stuck with me! This was a fascinating read. Thank you for writing a great article that asks some very important questions about what we ask of our media and queer representation.

  39. Tigey

    Nayr1230,

    So what’s H’wood’s angle? How does it benefit from writing in this way? Viewership=$, so there’s the obvious, but I can’t connect it to gay bloodshed and death. Help a straight brother out here.

  40. Tigey

    I forgot to add this: Gay folks have a lot of the same issues as straight people plus the crush of oppression. Wouldn’t that reality make for a more interesting and, more importantly, relatable backdrop for stories? I think I just answered my previous question: If Breaking Bad weren’t so edge-of-the-seat dramatic, would it still a huge audience? “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

    • Nayr1230

      As outlined in the piece, there’s a system of oppression present in the world, and the death of queer characters in fictional media helps reinforce this system. Queer people live in a world where majority of religions, world leaders and politicians, and the everyday person is vocalizing that queer relationships and feelings are less than those of heterosexual cisgender people.

      So how does queer death in media fit into this? Stick with me here, I’m going to try and answer your questions as best I can. As a straight man, most of everything Hollywood produces is catered to you, because in their minds, straight white men are the majority of consumers. I’m not assuming you are white, I’m just trying to outline Hollywood’s line of thinking here.

      So Hollywood feels that to make the most money, they need to focus what they produce to their largest audience i.e. the straight white male. It’s why when a white man is cast in a role in an autobiographical or “based on a true story” films for a person of color, that people of color come together in outcry. It’s like if Nelson Mandela had been played by Brad Pitt. These types of casting alienate people of color, but hey, Hollywood doesn’t care, they’re going to make the best buck either way because they’re focused on the majority. Except that production company might have made more money catering to the marginalized group, so that the representation was accurate and had been done correctly, straight white men might’ve still gone to the film and been like “Wow! Even though a pasty white man didn’t play Michael Jackson, it was still a great film!”

      There are white people who argue when the reverse happens. For example, the 1997 version of Cinderella starring Brandy. There are people who will say “but Cinderella was white!!!” well, for one, she’s a fictional character, and two there aren’t nearly as many roles for PoC characters as there for white people. There are probably a million white roles to every one role for a person of color, and even that role will probably be snatched by a white person.

      So that’s the race issue with Hollywood, and you asked about how it fits in to queer people. It’s really more of the same, except there’s even less representation for queer people. What’s worse is that we’re seeing all of our representation being killed off or subverted for the sake of the main heterosexual storyline. Just the same as you, we want to be able to see ourselves on television and on film screens. By watching our representation be killed on television, it reinforces the rhetoric that already exists that queer people are less than. That queer people aren’t even deserving of life, much less of fulfilling relationships.

      The issue with casting straight and cisgender actors to play queer people comes up all the time in media as well. The actor who plays Cam on Modern Family is a straight man, and in my opinion he so often is playing a stereotype, but that’s a separate discussion.

      I understand that all Hollywood sees is money. But catering to the majority is not going to earn them the most money when the queer and PoC communities are boycotting their films for casting straight white men in roles that could go to them. As I stated before, Hollywood production companies actually might earn more money if they were willing to cast their roles in the correct way (i.e. PoC roles going to PoC actors, etc.) because representation matters.

      Also, while queer people may have some issues that overlap with straight people’s issues (i.e. relationships, jobs, quality of life, familial issues, etc.) a majority of it is amplified by being queer. There will never be a straight character who is ejected from their home for being straight, or losing their job for being straight. It’s not the same comparison. While queer people want so badly to be seen as just like everyone else, and not as stereotypes that people may have used to fill in the blanks, many of our issues are not the same as everyone else’s.

  41. Tigey

    I understand their shotgun approach to reach the largest audience, but my question is how does it benefit them to off gay characters? My guess is that super dramatic stuff sells better than the average American gay family next door.

    By the way, thanks for such a quick and thorough response.

    • Nayr1230

      I’m not sure how it benefits them in the long run except by possibly securing the viewership of homophobic people who would prefer not to see queer character in their media. As for their reason of doing it? As you said, it could be for the attempted shock factor, and that like many people in the public eye, producers and show runners see queer people and the queer characters they create as being less-than the cisgender and heterosexual people/characters that are the majority. I am of the opinion that unless we hold producers and show runners responsible, our television screens will never accurately reflect what it means to be queer.

      You are most certainly welcome! I hope that I was able to answer any questions you might have had about it.

  42. I agree wholeheartedly. There is nothing wrong about killing off characters, but there is something wrong with permanently silencing queer people. This problem occurs when a show decides to kill off one of the only LGBTQA+ characters they have, with little reason more than shock value. When you silence these characters, you silence representation and the voices of millions of people who desperately need to be heard.

    • Nayr1230

      Representation matters, and when producers and show runners are killing off the one LGBTQ+/queer character on their show they are alienating an entire group of people, and showing them that all they deserve in that universe is death.

  43. Wonderfully written and such an important topic. We see so many gay, lesbian, and transgender characters today on prime time television shows. However, they do get “killed” off or “written” off more often than not. For example, on Grey’s Anatomy Callie one of the main characters for the last 9 seasons was suddenly written off last season. It came as such a shock to the fans. Now, Shonda Rhymes is known for her scripts to have openly gay and lesbian characters, but more often than not they get written off. There was two other lesbian characters on Grey’s in the last 12 seasons that have also been written off for no good reason. It makes me wonder which means it makes so many other wonder..are we just pretending to take steps forward in this equal rights battle? For once I would like to see a gay or lesbian character stay on a prime time show in its entirety just like their heterosexual counterparts.

  44. I love this article. As a queer girl (very closeted to the point where I didn’t realize it myself for a long time), the two most important moments in my development were watching Santana and Brittany kiss publicly in season 3 of Glee, and watching Paige break down and telling Emily why she isn’t out. Queer representation is so, so crucial for LGBTQ+ kids and I’m very glad that people are addressing it. Thank you.

    • Nayr1230

      Thanks you for your kind words on the topic, and thank you for in your own words saying just how important representation was to you when you were coming to terms with being queer. Most people think that when queer people come to terms, one day they’re just fine, but being able to see characters like us live happy and healthy lives makes all the difference in our world.

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