Why Queer Women in Media Always Die

If you have been on Twitter or Tumblr recently, you may have seen some things tagged with “Lexa Deserved Better” or “Boycott The 100.” You may have seen people talking about tropes and the killing of queer female characters. You may have thought to yourself, “Okay, so what? Writers kill people off all the time. What’s so special about this time?” That’s a great question, but it stems from a misunderstanding of what representation needs to look like to actually achieve equality. So many queer characters have been killed off of TV shows that there is actually a trope called “Bury your gays” because of it.

Picture from traitspourtraits.tumblr.com

This trope actually comes out of the history of coding queer characters as evil, perverted, and villainous. Queer, female characters were especially promiscuous. We’ve come a long way since this idea of “all queers are evil” began, but in terms of progress, we’re still watching our representation being not-so-slowly killed off, one-by-one.

So, who is Lexa and why is she so important to this fight?

Lexa happens to be the latest in a long line of queer, female casualties. She played a young commander on “The 100”, a CW show about a dystopian future. She had made it into the third season and was in an on again, off-again relationship (if you could call it that, in a world where you might die any second) with the main protagonist, Clarke. They were both strong, female characters, both leaders in their own right. They were passionate, called upon to make hard decisions as leaders, and also deeply wounded by the fact that love seemed to be constantly stolen from them. While it seemed at first like maybe they would last and be able to find solace in one another, the queer community was stunned when exactly the opposite of that happened.

By the time Lexa died in season 3, episode 7, it seemed that that would be the only takeaway for queer people: love is always meant to end in tragedy. I remember the last time I felt completely hopeless as a queer kid. The final season of the British series “Skins” had just come out, and I was a fan of Naomily (the ship name for characters Emily and Naomi.) They had made it through two seasons of cheating, lies, coming out to friends and family, and then, happiness. I thought I would get to see this relationship wrap up nicely, as the final season consisted of only one episode per character. I didn’t think so much could go so horribly, horribly wrong in just 45 minutes. I didn’t know that it only took 45 minutes to completely crush any sense of hope that young, queer women could live happily ever after. I didn’t know that it took only 45 minutes for a character to develop cancer, to be to afraid to tell her girlfriend about it, and then to die while her lover watched on helplessly. And, of course, it only took 45 minutes for the same coup de grace to be dealt to the queer women watching “The 100.” The sad part about this is that in almost every single show featuring a queer female, she dies. Even in “The L Word,” a show consisting mainly of lesbians, the last episode includes an unresolved murder of one of the female characters. Another dies early on in the series from cancer. And as that final blow was dealt to queer women everywhere with that stray bullet killing Lexa, we can only remember how many characters we’ve lost- 143 of the to be exact, but the list continues to grow (there are 29 characters on the list of queer female characters who got happy endings.)

Picture from Nonadraws.tumblr.com

From this list we can infer only that the media cares not for the queer females of the world. They are but consumers and money-makers. They invest in characters that are meant to represent them and show them that they can be happy, but all that these characters show is that they are meant to die tragically by stray bullets or disease. They are plot twists, characters that never got the chance to develop, and mere shock-value. They are killed off one by one and then asked why there is outrage. There is outrage because they deserve better. They deserve to see themselves portrayed as happy, as loved, as worthy of a future.

Critic and blogger Nicola Choi wrote in her article: “What would happen if every straight, white, male character got inexplicably and deplorably killed off in every show you watched just to further the plot?” Choi wrote. “To a point where you see a straight character and immediately think: ‘Yep, he’s gonna die when he walks into a room without a bulletproof vest.’… What message do you send out, when you write these cheap deaths? That LGBT fans do not deserve to love who they love? That they should fear every door they open?”

After “The 100” killed off Lexa, many young, queer women have spoken about not only what the character meant to them, but how the death was ultimately a huge blow to what was once a growing confidence in their identities. How many more queer women do we need to kill? How many more young queer girls will feel like they’re bound to end in tragedy? The answers to these questions actually keep people up at night because they have implications in the real world. This article lists some queer, female character deaths by how hard they hit home. While it is meant to be a lighthearted article, it isn’t so far off from what actually happens. After Lexa died, many young women voiced not only their disappointment but suicidal thoughts, worsening depression, fear, and anxiety. Many of the older women in the community took it upon themselves to create a Tumblr post in which they talk about how they found happiness and love. Many people in the community have also banded together to fundraise. Chief TV critic for “Variety” writes, “There has been one positive development out of the Lexa debacle; fans have coordinated a campaign to raise more than $40,000 for the Trevor Project, a charity that assists LGBTQ teens in crisis. It’s a worthy cause and disgruntled fans of “The 100” are to be commended for channeling their ire in such a positive direction.” The $50,000 goal may have seemed quite steep at first, but people have donated over $47,000 since the fundraiser went live. Some people decided to keep up the positivity and make some funny memes, but they also demonstrated the growing frustration with a trope that kills off characters with stray bullets, giving them meaningless deaths.

Picture from blood-will-not-have-blood.tumblr.com

Picture from @agronskyswift

Now we’re at the point when most people ask, “Well, why can’t you just be happy with the representation you have? Straight people are killed off all the time.” True as it may be that straight characters die, as well, no queer person should simply be happy that they are getting representation. Representation is not the same as equality. In this BuzzFeed video, it is noted that GLAAD found that only 2% of over 11,000 characters in films, TV shows, and digital series were either gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Exactly 0 of them were transgender. Remember that representation doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Nearly 2/3 of those 2 percent were gay or bisexual men, meaning that only 1/3 of the queer characters you might come across are women. This isn’t merely an issue of being represented as a community, but an issue of the individuals being portrayed and how they should be reflective of the complex, unique people who identify as queer. Bad representation is not just a disservice but is ultimately insulting to those who are constantly told “it gets better” and yet have no proof of that.

That is why I am making a pledge right now to be the proof. I want to be able to do more for the people in my community, whether that means I am writing articles, boycotting shows that were poor representation, or donating to The Trevor Project. Even though not every queer person identifies with the same things, we must realize that action should be taken as a whole to make sure everyone in our community feels accepted and safe. These characters are not just entertainment. Many times they have been a source of comfort, a reason to finally come out, a hope for the future. If a writer kills a character and cannot offer anything, we must be the ones who offer it to the younger people within our community. We must share our stories, we must share where we are now, and we have to keep reminding them that it not only gets better, but it becomes joyful.

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