Recently, an episode of The 100 aired where (spoilers), high-profile lesbian character, Commander Lexa, was killed off. Like any popular television show, fans of Lexa, and the Clexa ship, kicked off. While I’ve never actually seen an episode of The 100, it is clear that the death of Lexa, a lesbian character who holds a lot of power in the eyes of her people, holds a lot more weight than the average fictional death. And it’s obvious why.
TV Tropes describes the Bury Your Gays trope as (emphasis mine):
Often, especially in older works (to the extent that they are found in older works, of course), gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple, often the one who was more aggressive in pursuing a relationship, thus “perverting” the other one, has to die at the end. Of course, it can also happen to gay characters who aren’t in relationships, particularly if they’re psycho lesbians or depraved homosexuals.
So here’s the thing – characters die all the time. That’s normal. However, even in 2016 an overwhelming majority of characters within film and television are straight, while much of the LGBTQ representation that is available is mostly white gay men. While as a society we have (for the most part) moved on from explicitly killing a queer character for being queer, the few queer characters that do appear are killed off at a much more alarming rate than their straight counterparts, suggesting that Western society isn’t as on board with homosexuality – or anything that isn’t heterosexuality – as it likes to think.
“But SO MANY MORE straight characters die so it doesn’t matter!!” Okay, I see your point, and raise you this – there are many straight characters that die – but there are so many more that live, because straight characters are so much more common. However LGBT characters, particularly lesbians, are fewer and farther between. So when of them dies, especially in very dubious circumstances (I’m looking at you, Orphan Black), especially as part of a society that reinforces the idea that straight is the default, the ideal (nothing is made in a vacuum), it reinforces the very much alive and kicking notion that LGBTQ+ people are not worthy of happiness, or are destined to die. Which can have some pretty severe knock-on effects.
It is pretty much common knowledge by now that members of the LGBTQ+ community already face higher rates of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and suicide, than our straight counterparts.So much so that Stonewall, one of the leading LGBTQ+ charities in the UK, have a huge portion of their website dedicated to LGBT mental health and wellbeing. Media that markets itself on positive LGBT representation that then allows its queer characters to be the main subject of 80%+ of its angst, maybe even killing them, reinforces the idea that queer people are not meant to live happy lives; that they will die young and that all their efforts are for nothing. It is very easy for straight people who have never experienced such things to say “it’s just a TV show/film/webseries/book/etc., its not real life and it means nothing” but for so many people within the LGBT community, it is our lives. And when there’s so little representation of yourself on screen, its so hard to not put every part of your heart and soul into it. Shows that pride themselves on such positive representation of queer communities, such as The 100 and Orphan Black should know this, and should already be aware of such tropes that surround queer characters that, if shown on screen after talking about how “gay friendly” they are, will have a colossal impact on their audiences.
It is not enough for queer people, especially queer women, to just be seen on screen anymore. Any representation in 2016 that is worth having should be good, positive representation that shows queer characters being happy and not being killed by stray bullets. We need to be shown and portrayed and written with the same respect that straight men and women are, otherwise we will be stuck eternally disappointed, treated badly and adding our favourite queer ladies to an already-long, ever growing list of buried gay women. And that is unacceptable.