In the last couple of months the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope has garnered a lot of attention, both within the entertainment industry and from a broader media perspective. This is a great step forward and I am happy to see that more and more writers/ showrunners are beginning to understand the influence that positive LGBT representation can have on society as a whole. On multiple occasions I’ve seen writers embrace the fact that writing about minorities comes with an ethic responsibility, as it can either humanize us to a wider audience or marginalize us further. More recently The Lexa Pledge has been joined in the conversation not only in the media but also in discussions within writers rooms and writer interviews. After keeping up with these conversations and reflecting upon them, one conclusion can be drawn from what writers were saying, and continue to say about the Pledge. There seems to be a big misunderstanding regarding The Lexa Pledge and what it specifically asks for. I feel that it is important to clear up. Not only so writers can sign in good conscience but also to ensure we are on the same page moving forward, so we can work together.
The most common reason writers and showrunners have given for not signing the pledge, is the unwillingness to give up creative liberties. This statement elicits a lot of frustration from us. For some people within the LGBT community it seems selfish for them to think of their own creative process and story, when real life people are deeply hurt. While I understand this frustration and partly share the sentiment, it is important from our perspective as fans to acknowledge why writers feel this way. When writing a story there are many elements to juggle and any limitation makes original stories harder to tell because they may get hammered down into repeating storylines.
Would the Lexa pledge actually do this? Is the Pledge so limiting, that the flexibility in storytelling suffers? I would argue it does not and I will explain why. The Lexa Pledge was created by executive producer Noelle Carbone and producers Sonia Hosko & Michelle Mama in cooperation with Gina Tass. This means that the wording of the pledge was carefully considered. So while I respect the apprehension about giving up creative freedom, I would implore any writers that might read this to keep an open mind and ultimately give feedback so that we can work together on something that we all care about.
You can kill LGBT characters.
It is important to recognize exactly what the Lexa pledge asks from writers, since I think this is where writers are misunderstanding our intentions. The Pledge does not ask writers to never kill a LGBT character again, it does not even ask for completely happy endings every time. What it does ask for, is not fridging a character, treating LGBT characters with respect and giving them agency if they are killed. The major harm in the trope doesn’t necessarily stem from the fact that we get killed, (although seeing yourself die disproportionately takes a certain toll) it is the way that LGBT characters get killed. For instance killing off LGBT characters after a positive development, ultimately linking those two events together. Turning the character into a tool, an object to be used, by using them so that the story of the straight character moves forward. This effectively makes their death not about the LGBT character but about the other person, enforcing the idea further that our stories don’t matter.
Effectively this means that as a writer it is possible to kill off an LGBT character. However it also means that when an LGBT character dies, it shouldn’t be portrayed as a direct consequence of their new found happiness. The other requirement is for the character to have agency, give them some kind of control and ownership of their death. Which ultimately is something I think is writers strive for; well developed characters. Why integrate a character that only reacts to what is happening and doesn’t act by himself/herself, wouldn’t that make him/her a plot device instead of a character? So ultimately the Pledge doesn’t limit creative options as much as it seems writers feel it does, it merely takes some options for death off the table.
Which brings me to my next point, self-limitation.
As a writer I am sure there are things that you wouldn’t do, things that wouldn’t even be considered in most writers rooms. When writers have decided that a certain character should die, there is leeway in how that should happen. An example being avoiding obvious parallels with the holocaust. Specifically because it is a sensitive subject and it could be uncomfortable for both the writer and the audience. So if a writer points out obvious discomfort at those parallels, the storyline would surely be adjusted, not in a way that would allow that character to live but to change the circumstances of that character’s death to prevent emotionally harming their audience. So for writers there are certain scenarios that are off the table and rightly so.
My question is, what makes the creative limitations of The Lexa Pledge any different to these self-imposed creative limitations that already exist for writers? What makes the limitations on certain types of deaths for LGBT characters different to any other harmful real life scenario? The real life experiences of the LGBT community are more often than not, incredibly negative and seeing these scenarios play out on screen we are subjected to serious emotional harm.
In my opinion avoiding direct association between death and a positive development wouldn’t create a big obstacle to overcome when telling a story. It asks for only a couple of adjustments, not a change of the plot or story arc, just more careful consideration and empathy when coming up with LGBT stories.
Over the last few months LGBT fans have created awareness about the trope and I’m glad to see writers recognize this as an issue. The very presence of a trope however signifies that there isn’t as much originality and diversity in the stories of LGBT characters as there should be. Writers tend to walk the road most traveled with these characters. The Pledge simply asks for a detour from that road, asks that the writers explore and create new roads, new stories and most importantly, new endings with these characters.
When writers cite the need for creative freedom, what they’re actually saying is that they want to walk that same already explored path instead of creating those new and exciting stories. To me it seems that that particular argument against The Lexa Pledge is in contrast with the stories currently being written, because even with the creative freedom we’re seeing the same tragic stories being told over and over again. The Pledge could even be a nice way to provide incentive for writers to put their creative minds to work and tell a story with positive LGBT representation instead. It should be noted that I have personally reached out to ask some of the writers to elaborate on this statement because I genuinely wanted to understand but I’ve yet to receive an answer.
The lack of answers has left me to fill in the gap for myself and while I think I may be on the right track, confirmation on this will be a step forward in working together. From what I gathered by reading between the lines and logical thinking is that ultimately the networks decide if a storyline gets approved. I’ve read about networks scrapping entire storylines because they don’t think it’s commercially attractive. This seems quite limiting to me and I applaud writers who are able to bend their stories to achieve the plot they want while still pleasing network heads. Which implores me to ask the question: does that not mean this limitation actually encourages writers to use creative thinking, rather than limiting it? When a goal can’t be achieved in the regular way one needs to craft another, this is the essence of creative thinking.
In the end I think that the Pledge not only allows enough leeway for writers to be able to do what they want without causing unnecessary harm to the LGBT community but offers an incentive to explore storylines that steer away from the bury your gays trope as well. As a fan I want to be surprised and I understand that stories shouldn’t always follow the road i’d like. However there is a difference between seeing something I don’t like, while still leaving me satisfied in the end and portraying something that deeply hurts my community and myself. In my opinion the Lexa pledge finds a nice middle ground between allowing writers to explore storylines they want and providing a more positive representation for the LGBT community.
The end goal here is better representation and we as a community have had the heaviest load to carry while asking for it. While we are happy to do so, every single person that wishes to help us reach that goal is a welcome addition to the cause. As I stated before I suspect that there is a deeper issue at play here and it is that networks have the ultimate power of approval. This can obviously lead to situations where writers hands are tied and they simply won’t be able to uphold the pledge. Should this be the case I understand there may be hesitation among people that ultimately want to work together but can’t in good conscience make a promise they may not be able to keep. However I strongly urge these people to talk about this and engage in conversation so we can work with one another.
Together we can get the stories we deserve and build towards a more inclusive media industry. In order to do this however, it is vital we keep listening to each other, which is why genuine discussions should be held and we should listen to each other’s views. I wrote this piece because I heard a disconnect that needed to be cleared up. I was happy to clarify our point of view, and I’ll be happy to do so in the future. I stepped out of my bubble to see the writer’s point of views and understand their actions. All I ask is that writers do so as well. Listen and respond but most of all step out of their comfort zone and attempt to understand The Lexa Pledge and the Bury Your Gays trope from our perspective, because as of now I feel that very few of them have. Hopefully in doing so they be able to overcome the obstacles they have and sign the Lexa Pledge to help ensure a better future for both fans and creators.