Harmful Television Tropes: Bury Your Gays

AUTHOR: Ashley Benedict

What is this infamous Bury Your Gays trope? How is it harmful to the LGBTQIA community? How is it harmful to women in particular? To racial/ethnic minorities?

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Image credit: nonadraws.tumblr.com

 

In 2016, lesbian women constituted 17% of the LGBTQIA+ community on television, a sharp decline from the previous 33% in 2015. Bisexual representation rose 25-30% and transgender representation grew hardly at all. However, bisexual characters are often misrepresented as “untrustworthy, lacking morality, and manipulators.” There are a host of harmful stereotypes television shows continue to use with LGBTQIA+ characters, as well as other minority groups. The representation of queer WOC (women of color), and queer POC in general, is still seriously lacking – the LGBTQIA+ community on television shows remains at 71-72% white. Even when we do get this rare representation, it is more likely that these characters will end up killed or dead.

In the year 2016 alone, over 20 queer women on TV shows died, where death-by-murder was the most common occurrence. The worst part of it is that their deaths almost always have no meaning. They are used as catalysts to “move the story along” and further the more central character’s (who is usually cisgender, heterosexual, and white) narrative or put their partner through horrible devastation.

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Image credit: nonadraws.tumblr.com

Ever since the death of Lexa (The 100) last year, me and others like myself have opened our eyes to this appalling Bury Your Gays trope, where queer women can never get their happy endings, or they die soon after achieving them. If you’ve watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is what happened to Tara. I saw this with Poussey Washington (Orange is the New Black) last summer, as well. I’ve seen it with far too many queer characters in far too many shows. I saw Rachel (Scream) die for absolutely no reason. She had no connection to the main character, Emma, so why did she die? There was Rose (Jane the Virgin) along with Sara Lance (Arrow), who died and then, miraculously, came back to life. And it got me wondering if those writers had ever meant to bring these characters back in the first place, or if they’d seen the [rightful] outrage towards other shows and changed their minds.

LGBTQIA+ characters should not be used as scapegoats, or catalysts, or tools to be used to further the main character’s story-line. These identities should not be minimized, or stereotyped, or seen as Trophies.

A lot of people don’t understand the outrage, or the hurt that comes with losing a piece of yourself because of this trope. They see one queer character in a show and deem it “enough” to satisfy the famished bellies of the LGBTQIA+ community. But they don’t understand, because they see themselves everywhere. They haven’t fought tooth and nail, through blood and tears, over years and years of snail-like progress to see just the barest image of themselves portrayed on screen. It is much more common to see a white heterosexual character than anything else.

As a writer, it boggles my mind to see this harmful trope being recycled over and over again (I mean,  you’d think they would notice it’s commonality and avoid it in trying to be “unique”) as if my community hasn’t been marginalized enough in our history. Myself and others like me escape to fictional stories because often, we don’t want to deal with the real world. But then we arrive in these crafted worlds only to see that same reality thrown back in our faces.

It’s exhausting watching so many people in my community be hurt yet again because a character they could finally relate to pointlessly dies. It’s exhausting watching these queer women be introduced only to have that relentless thought in the back of my head telling me to “not get too attached,” because I know what the most likely outcome will be.

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Image credit: Autostraddle

Only 16 shows in history have ever given queer women a happy ending. I’m tired of seeing a character who is meant to represent me be treated as though they don’t matter. The message it sends to the queer community is damaging. Women as a whole are already marginalized in the television world (making up about only 40% of recurring characters), but add queerness (and any other disenfranchised label) to their identity and the results are tragic.

I’m not saying that writers should never kill their queer characters, just that if they do, it better be for a good reason. Our representation is something we’ve fought hard for; it’s not some cheap toy you can mess around with and break without a thought. In a world where queer women characters only constitute 2% of speaking characters on television, but account for 10% of deaths (as opposed to 3% for queer male characters), there is quite obviously a deeper issue here. Television writers need to recognize the power they wield. With 173 openly queer women characters dead (and counting), something needs to be done.

However, there is hope for the future. I believe that, with time, these harmful tropes will die down in popularity. Hopefully the day will come where queer women will live long enough to have their stories told, and television will be a place of acceptance and diversity, as it should be.

Note: This is a post addressing specific violence against queer women in television. As a whole, the LGBTQIA+ community is mistreated far more frequently in media than straight characters. Other marginalized groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities and people who have disabilities are also underrepresented and mistreated. It’s time that this issue is addressed and changed once and for all.

Share any comments, thoughts, or questions you have down below! This is a topic that needs to be discussed, and it’s important that we figure out ways to counteract the harmful ways in which minority groups are written in media. How can script writers do better in the future? How can we, as a society, cultivate a more diverse media? Let us know!

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