LGBTQ Characters In Media
One of the most prominent mistakes in LGBTQ television storylines is known as the “bury your gays” trope or as “dead lesbian syndrome. ” This trope describes an unfortunately common occurrence in TV shows where a gay or lesbian couple that seems to be in a healthy, happy relationship abruptly ends because one of the characters in the relationship dies or is murdered. Their death is often untimely, unforeseen, and unwarranted. One show that received immense backlash from show writers’ use of this trope is the CW Network sci-fi drama The 100.
The premise of the show, which first aired in 2014, is as follows: “97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends 100 juvenile delinquents back to Earth, in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet” (The 100, n. d. ). Once the teenagers reach the ground, they quickly realize that there are others who managed to survive the apocalypse. These “grounders” fight the “sky people” for land, resources, power, sovereignty, and vengeance. The leader of the grounder clan is a powerful, calculated, seemingly apathetic, young woman named Lexa. The leader of the “sky people” is a confident, tenacious, passionate, young woman named Clarke. Although these two characters are on opposite sides of the battles for most of the show, they develop a mutual sense of admiration for each other which culminates into a short-lived romantic and physical relationship. “Clexa,” as their fans affectionately call them, officially express their feelings for each other in season 3, episode 7 when they consummate their relationship. The next scene is all the more heartbreaking then when Lexa is mistakenly shot in the stomach by one of her subjects.
Although countless other characters on the show survived more life-threatening wounds, Lexa dies within minutes of being shot. This scene played into not only the “bury your gays” trope but also the trope that the lesbians that die are killed by a “stray bullet. ” Other popular shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Walking Dead killed their lesbian characters in the same way (“We Deserved Better,” 2016). After watching the episode, fans were outraged and devastated by yet another lesbian character being killed on a TV series. Lexa’s death on The 100 sparked an uproarious reaction in the media immediately after the episode aired. The hashtags #LGBTFansDeservedBetter, #WeDeservedBetter, and #LexaDeservedBetter began trending on Twitter worldwide. Along with feeling angry about Lexa’s death in general, fans felt that such a strong, well-rounded, lesbian character had been given an inferior and unoriginal death that left her without any dignity. She was a fierce warrior and leader, and, rather than dying bravely in battle defending her people, was killed in her nightgown by an accidental bullet to the abdomen.
The LGBTQ community was furious by her unjust end (Karlan, 2017). The writers and producers of the show received such backlash from the fans that, two weeks after the airing, the executive producer issued an apology and an explanation for the character’s demise. Among other things, he wrote: The thinking behind having the ultimate tragedy follow the ultimate joy was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life. But the end result became something else entirely–the perpetuation of the disturbing “Bury Your Gays” trope. [. . . ] There are several reasons why this particular episode played out the way it did: practical (an actress was leaving the show), creative (it’s a story about reincarnation) and thematic (it’s a show about survival). Despite my reasons, I still write and produce television for the real world where negative and hurtful tropes exist. And I am very sorry for not recognizing this as fully as I should have.
Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently. ” (Rothenberg, 2016). Even though his response seemed genuine, it did not make up for the suffering that the viewers felt while witnessing Lexa’s death. Some LGBTQ viewers of the show continued to protest while others rallied together and created two positive and powerful projects from their pain. The “bury your gays” trope subtly implies to its LGBTQ viewers that their death is inevitable and their life is expendable. To combat this implication, members of the community raised money for the Trevor Project in Lexa’s honor. The Trevor Project is “the only national organization providing suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth in crisis” (Tass, 2016). Other fans started an annual event called “Clexacon” which is “the largest multi-fandom event for LGBTQ women and allies [that celebrates] LGBTQ women and characters in TV, film, web series, comics, books, and more” (“Clexacon,” 2017).
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