It’s time to stop burying our gays

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.

[…] Also known as Dead Lesbian Syndrome. This trope can also be seen as a head-on collision between Sex Is Evil andAll Gays Are Promiscuous.

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.

Kendall Jenner and the importance of LGBTQ+ celebrities

Every time there’s any mention of LGBTQ+ celebrity’s sexuality in any story about them, there’s always at least one good-intentioned straight person who comments “why does their sexuality matter? we’re all equal now!”, and there’s always at least one not so good intentioned comment that says “being gay is a fad now.” The second comment is pretty easy to refute – it’s not so much a “fad” or a “trend” as it is that in today’s society, it’s becoming increasingly safe for people within the LGBTQ+ community to come out without fear of violence or negative responses. Despite this more positive climate for us LGBTQ+ folk, however, there are many homophobic, biphobic and transphobic biases that still remain, often without realising, that are a result of Western society still being very much a heteronormative, cissexist society. Which is why we still need celebrity coming out stories in 2016.

Earlier this week, not long after what was perceived as a romantic getaway between reality star and model Kendall Jenner and One Directioner Harry Styles, the internet went crazy over rumours from an anonymous source that Jenner is in fact a lesbian. According to an article on Sugarscape, the US magazine OK! quotes their source saying that Jenner is a lesbian who has recently only come out to her inner circle.

Let’s just talk about this for a minute. Firstly, this is still just a rumour and neither Kendall Jenner, the Jenner-Kardashian family or any of their representatives seem to have said anything on this. But secondly and most importantly should this turn out to be true, Kendall Jenner, who has allegedly only told a select few people about this, has just been outed to the entire world without her consent. This is a HUGE problem: coming out is a terrifying and constant process that never really ends -as a queer person, when you meet someone new you have to weigh up the pros and cons of telling them, and you can never really help but be worried about a negative response, and to be outed without your consent only heightens this anxiety, as well as making you vulnerable to discriminatory remarks and even violence. The “source” making this public and claiming Kendall has only told her inner circle makes me feel bad for her, as there’s seemingly someone in her circle she can’t trust as much as she thought.

Should these rumours be true, however, and should Kendall make the announcement herself, this is still a big deal. As much as I would love to live in a society where being part of the LGBTQ+ umbrella was considered as “normal” and being straight and cisgender, we do not. Homophobia did not end with same-sex marriage, and biphobia and transphobia are just as common, sometimes even more so, and this is especially true for queer people of colour. Something a greater representation of LGBTQ+ people on our screens and by celebrities can help remedy.

Stonewall’s 2013 report, Gay in Britain outlines some pretty scary statistics about the worries of LGBTQ+ people across many different sectors, but specifically within the media over half (57%) of LGB people questioned said there was “too little” representation of the commuity on screen, with that percentage being higher for younger people (68%), lesbians (77%) and bisexual women (70%), with 77% of those people agreeing that much of this representation relies on lazy stereotypes. Similar statistics for transgender people within the UK are harder to come by, but trans representation is even fewer and farther between – the most high profile trans character in the UK (not including American imports and online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime) that I am aware of was Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street, who was played by a cisgender actress. Eastenders are planning to follow suit, however, with a transgender character actually played by a trans man.

When a celebrity comes out as a member of the LGBT+ community, it gives children and younger people who may be struggling with their sexual or gender identity a person they can relate to. Growing up being very unsure of my bisexuality and my attraction to women, it was rare (and still is) to see, so when the third season of Skins came out and Emily and Naomi were struggling with much of the same thing, it let me know I wasn’t the only one. When Tom Daley publicly came out as bisexual in 2013, even though I’d come out to many of my friends by that point, it was reassuring to know that my multiple-gender attraction was valid, and not weird or a delusion.

Regardless of your opinion on the Kardashian-Jenner clan, you can’t deny that many young people look up to them, or at the very least keep up with them (awful pun intended). Last April, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman, with both her famous Vanity Fair cover and I Am Cait docu-series premiering in July. Even in spite of her comments on gay marriage and transphobic remarks, her presence as a trans woman in the media, and specifically in one of the most talked about families in the world, will and does serve as an inspiration to many. Should it turn out Caitlyn’s daughter is a lesbian, we could expect much of the same. Shows like Orange is the New Black have a similar effect in that being LGBTQ+ is not only accepted, both normalised and shown in a very honest way, especially where race and sexuality might intersect, is encouraging.

It is no surprise that suicide, self-harm and depression are more common within the LGBTQ+ community.  Knowing someone – anyone- out there understands what you’re going through can be such a relief, especially someone in the spotlight, even if they can problematic (we are all human, after all). And that is why we still need celebrity coming out stories, and specifically celebrity coming out stories that are the sole choice of the celebrity in question, not the choice of anonymous sources looking for a quick buck, or a gossip magazine looking for their next big story. The only way we can become a society where being queer truly is no big deal is by showing the world we exist, in all our different ways, and ensuring that we can exist without the fear of anger or violence. Until that day, celebrity coming out stories can quite literally be the difference between life and death.