Like most cultural trends, this morphed and mutated and led to the situation we find ourselves in today, in which the most common end for a lesbian or bisexual female character in a TV show is dying. Despite the fact that queer relationships are both legal and growing more and more accepted, the trend of lesbians dying in media never slowed down. If anything, it’s going stronger than ever. In fact, between the time when I began researching this article and finished writing it, it happened again, with Denise on The Walking Dead dying. In a way disconcertingly similar to the way Lexa died. And, while we’re on the subject, the way Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer died.
Claim: Things are bad for (name an underrepresented group), too.
Retort: And that’s terrible. But it’s not a competition. The more positive and truthful portrayals of all underrepresented groups, the better. The only people who benefit from limiting exposure of and full humanization of any minority group are the people who are accustomed to seeing themselves fully realized on screen already.
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been three weeks since The 100, the CW’s popular, dystopian science fiction series, went from being a show known for its inclusion of LGBT characters to a definitive cautionary tale in how not to tell LGBT stories or interact with a queer audience.
After three weeks of fan outcry over the death of Lexa, out lesbian and leader of the 13 clans, after countless trending topics, articles from major news outlets, tweets from actors and writers, and even after a few interviews from showrunner, Jason Rothenberg himself, fans heard something they’d been demanding of Rothenberg from the start — an apology.
It wasn’t enough. And if we’re being honest, necessary though the apology was, it was never going to be enough.
Stories exist in imaginary worlds but they are consumed in the real world, where, just this week, North Carolina passed sweeping and unprecedented anti-LGBT legislation. And where three presidential candidates don’t believe gay people should have the right to get married. And where a gay person can be fired simply for being gay in most states. And where LGBT youth homelessness is rampant. And where LGBT bullying occurs with alarming regularity in schools.
We need hope in stories. We need light in stories. And we need stories to work their magic in the lives of the people who would oppress and persecute us because we’re gay. Stories are fatal to bigotry.
To care about story isn’t to ignore the darkness of the real world; to care about story is to put your hope in something that changes the real world, more than anything else. There’s a reason all religious texts are made up mostly of stories. There’s a reason the same-sex marriage approval rating in the U.S. rose in direct proportion to the number of gay characters on television. Story gets inside us and changes the alchemy of who we are.
Another week, another stray projectile, and another death that torpedoes LGBT representation on television.
Frustration from LGBT fans intensified this week when Denise (Merritt Wever) was killed on The Walking Dead. Denise was one half of a lesbian relationship and shortly after she’d decided to buck up tell her girlfriend, Tara (Alanna Masterson), that she loved her, she was accidentally shot by an arrow. Her death was painfully familiar for fans still mourning the loss of one of the most significant queer female characters in recent memory, and one whom you’ve probably read about by now: Commander Lexa on The CW’s The 100.
It’s been a few weeks now since the death of the character Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) on The 100 and the topic has become a social media storm. From fans trending topics in support of Debnam-Carey to “LGBT fans deserve better” and beyond, the storm rages on. If The 100’s showrunner Jason Rothenberg honestly thought LGBT fans would be able to see his bigger picture and be accepting, he was naive.
The 100 — a CW show about humanity’s struggle to survive after a nuclear apocalypse — is known for its high body count. The series’ ruthless approach to the dystopian genre is exactly what set it apart from the network’s traditionally lighter fare and helped it gain traction among its younger demographic and TV critics alike.
But when The 100 decided to kill off one of its most beloved characters seven episodes into its third season, the uproar was swift, punishing, and furious.
Rothenberg insists that he wasn’t engaging The Dead Lesbian Trope, but that’s precisely the insidious nature of tropes. Showrunners and movie directors don’t engage them intentionally.
They knew of the trope. It was discussed in the writers’ room. Regardless of what Rothenberg may say about “listening,” or “understanding,” he clearly does not. To fans or to his writing staff.
No one gets to tell the LGBT community how to feel or react. We know a homophobic pattern when we see it, regardless of whatever label he wishes to place on his artistic vision. Auteur theory is old school and based in tired, misogynist notions about the nature of art and the artist. Everybody knows a work lives or dies by audience reception. Artists don’t create in a vacuum, especially not in a popular, collaborative medium like television.
Pop Culture Fix: Is Lexa’s Death on “The 100” the Beginning of a Lesbian TV Revolution? [AUTOSTRADDLE]
In the three weeks since Lexa died on The 100, the conversation about lesbian and bisexual characters on TV has taken a turn I never expected. Bury Your Gays is a trope queer fans and TV critics have been fighting against for decades. We comprise such a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the total number of TV characters in existence, and continue to fight daily against stigmatism and oppression in the real world, so when TV writers casually toss another dead body onto the pile (that already includes 147 other dead lesbian and bisexual characters), it’s almost impossible not to feel victimized by it. Especially because one of the main things that makes us human is our need to project ourselves into stories and onto fictional characters to work out the narratives of our own lives. Queer women have so few quality stories to choose from, and when we find one that resonates, and then find ourselves on the receiving end of a stray bullet again, it starts to take an emotional toll.
It has been four weeks since episode “Thirteen” of CW’s The 100 aired. A lot can be done in four weeks. It takes about that time for the Moon to orbit around the Earth. It took me just as long to sign up for and then cancel my gym membership. But, as it turns out, four weeks are not nearly enough to fully grasp the astonishing fallout of what happened to be the last episode of The 100 many fans will ever watch.
In what follows, I do my best to capture a fragment of what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting cases of fan backlash in recent history.
A wave of queer female character deaths has fans fighting to remake TV. LGBT fandom is having a definitive Howard Beale moment.
Queer TV watchers, particularly its female fans, are simply mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. But instead of merely ripping open the window and howling out into the inky darkness like that iconic Network moment, LGBT fans are organizing and coordinating to use their might to shed light on an ongoing and damaging issue.
In the past 30 days, four lesbian or bisexual female characters have been killed off on their respective TV shows. It began Feb. 22 on The CW’s Jane the Virgin with the murder of Rose (Bridget Regan). Then it continued with the high-profile killing of Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) on The CW’s The 100, next came Kira on Syfy’s The Magicians and Sunday night witnessed the pointed demise of Denise (Merritt Wever) on AMC’s The Walking Dead.
While no character should be untouchable because of race, gender, sexuality or any other characteristic, pop culture doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and positive representations of minorities that manage to buck stereotypes and harmful tropes are still depressingly few and far between. (Don’t believe that this is an issue? Here’s a list of 145 dead lesbian and bisexual female characters on TV, including the often excessively cruel ways they’ve been killed.)
Do I think “The 100” or “The Walking Dead” are homophobic or sexist? No. Perhaps the writers felt like Denise had outlived her usefulness to the plot (or perhaps she was too useful, given that Alexandria will certainly need a doctor once Negan comes calling), but I would argue that there’s far more narrative value in exploring a realistic lesbian relationship in a zombie apocalypse than tossing another dead homosexual character onto TV’s growing pile, especially given that the show has completely sidelined Aaron and his boyfriend Eric this season. (New character Jesus is also gay, but this show isn’t a nightclub that needs a “one in, one out” rule. There’s no maximum capacity for diverse characters, even if “TWD” sometimes seems to believe otherwise.)
Fans of The 100 are still reeling from the death of Lexa – a popular lesbian character who died after being accidentally shot – so the killing of another LGBT fan favorite on Sunday night couldn’t have come at a worse time.
A few weeks ago on the CW sci-fi drama The 100 a character named Lexa (played by Fear the Walking Dead star Alycia Debnam-Carey) died shortly after consummating her relationship with series lead Clarke (Eliza Taylor). This sparked massive outcry from the The 100 fandom who accused the show’s writers of falling back in a well-established trope known as “Bury Your Gays” or “Dead Lesbian Syndrome.” (The names are pretty self-explanatory, but you can go here for a pretty complete history of the trope in film, TV, literature, and more.) Now The Walking Dead has killed off one of their two lesbian characters, Dr. Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever), with a nasty arrow to the eye. Another lesbian bites the dust. The timing couldn’t be worse, but the circumstances around Denise’s death only exacerbate the problem.
There have been numerous articles covering the fallout of Commander Lexa’s death on The 100—most notably on the exploitation of the fanbase, the social media manipulation game and the cold way the episode was hyped to a largely LGBTQ fanbase only for that very episode to feature every young, vulnerable LGBTQ teen’s nightmare: the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope. I don’t really want to write about how badly it was done.
What I did touch on, very briefly, was the very real humanity behind the movement wheeled into motion after Lexa’s death. I also touched on, briefly again, the very real and worrying harassment and discrimination LGBTQ teenagers/young adults/people of any age face in a society that thinks itself to be progressive but in many ways has not reached that peak yet. I spoke a little about the demo of The 100, of how I believed it to be teenagers or young adults—vulnerable ones too—and speculated that some certainly happily lost themselves in Lexa, a great character, and a horrible loss, for an hour’s blissful escapism.
(Blastr) – Characters who happen to be gay have become a brand new form of tokenism. They are not, themselves, token characters – their characterization exists outside of their gayness – but they are being used to appeal to a certain demographic. Rather than serving the role of traditional token characters, Trini and LeFou do not support tired stereotypes or to allow the creators an out for borderline jokes at their expense. But, much like their token predecessors, these characters also do not exist because said creators think representation is important or meaningful. They get butts in seats, they stir…
(Vox) – Murphy recently appeared on the debut episode of Vox culture critic Todd VanDerWerff’s new podcast, I Think You’re Interesting, and he related a painful and personal story about the obstacles and homophobia he had to face before he could represent queer characters onscreen. […] They were interested in gay people who were tragic. They were interested if you were gay and you would kill yourself. Or if you would try and commit suicide. They weren’t interested in gay sensibility, or the language of being gay, which is sometimes not just gay characters.
GLAAD Report: 2016 Was A Year Of Representation But Also, Mostly, Murder For Lesbians On TV [AUTOSTRADDLE]
(Autostraddle) – I think one of the reasons Lexa’s death caused so much outrage is that she seemed like the ultimate symbol of queer women having arrived. She hadn’t come onto The 100 as a Queer Character; her relationship with Clarke evolved naturally, the way it would between any straight characters. She was complicated and layered and beloved. Her death, and the landslide of lesbian/bi deaths that came after it, were crushing because they shook the hope out of us. And it was more than just a feeling. One of the bleakest things about this year’s Where We Are On TV…
(Vanity Fair) – There are more L.G.B.T.Q. characters on TV than ever, on a wider range of platforms, and playing a huge array of roles. It’s never been a better time to be a queer person looking to see yourself on TV—that is, unless you’re a lesbian. GLAAD’s annual report on L.G.B.T.Q. representation is out for the 2016–2017 season, and as always, it’s a mixed bag of good news and bad news. Nearly 5 percent of all TV characters are L.G.B.T.Q.; trans representation alone has more than doubled. But the report also confirms that Dead Lesbian Syndrome has been very…
There are more LGBTQ characters on television than ever, but GLAAD says TV ‘failed queer women’ [WASHINGTON POST]
(Washington Post) – GLAAD cites record-high LGBTQ representation in its annual report on television diversity, but the media advocacy group says that television “failed queer women” this year, killing off a staggering number of lesbian and bisexual female characters.