What’s up, queer friends and allies? Are you ready for some more eduGAYtion? :) Unfortunately, today’s topic is going to be kind of frustrating. I’m here to discuss queer representation in the media. More specifically, I’m going to rant a little about something called the queer death trope. If you’re part of the queer community, you probably already know what this is. If you’re not part of the queer community, or are unaware that this is a thing (which is totally okay, but just prepare to have your dreams crushed), this week’s ☠Queer 101☠ will quickly outline what the death trope is, why we should care about it, and why so many people are talking about it now. So throw on your mourning clothes and join me in my fictional graveyard as we explore one of the most unfair tropes in books, television, and other forms of media. Welcome, ladies, gents, and non-binary folks, to the land of the dead queers.
So What’s the Queer Death Trope?
The queer death trope is when a (usually but not exclusively) female character who canonically identifies as queer is killed off a TV show, book, movie, etc. Her death is mostly pointless, unless you count Tear-Jerkers For Straight Viewers™ or Making A Bisexual Character Fall Into The Arms Of A Straight Male™ as valid storytelling goals. Also, she often fails to survive circumstances that typically aren’t fatal, especially when canonically straight characters have lived through all sorts of bullshit that should’ve killed them three episodes ago.
Why Does This Matter?
First of all, queer representation in network television especially is pretty abysmal. A report by GLAAD in 2014 claimed that “out of 183 primetime broadcast scripted series regulars, 32 will be LGBT this year.” Thirty-two! Out of 183! And think about how many of them are probably dead now, if any of them were female to begin with. So, if we don’t have much representation anyways and that representation is further removed as writers continuously and repeatedly kill off queer female characters when it isn’t necessary or beneficial to their show’s storyline, what kind of message does that send to the queer community? Perhaps it’s something along the lines of, “hello, if you are a lady who likes ladies your life will be miserable until you inevitably die of some unlikely cause, kthanksbye.” Another thing to consider is the fact that most of these queer female characters are white. If a queer WOC even exists on a show or in a book/movie, she’s probably going to die as well. So that’s three times the discrimination you’ve started out with, which makes a lot of people wonder why this is still a thing.
So Why Is This Still A Thing?
Previously, the media hadn’t been paying very much attention to this issue. Most of the discussions surrounding the death trope occurred exclusively within the queer community. Therefore, writers were able to get away with playing into the trope without suffering from a decrease in views/readers/what have you. Also, there hadn’t been a queer female character on a popular network television show who has lived long enough for scores of viewers to fall in love with until…
Lexa (And Others)
Even if you haven’t watched The 100, there’s a pretty decent chance you’ve heard about Lexa. If not, I’ll break it down for you really quickly. She was well-written, she was powerful, she was a stellar role model, and (is this real life?) she was canonically queer. LGBTQ+ fans of The 100 rejoiced as she graced their television screens every week, kicking ass, taking names, and not suffering from a queer identity crisis (or just not suffering in general). Not only did her presence bring a canonically queer character onto a popular network television show, but she also led to the revelation that this show’s protagonist is also a canonically queer woman. In fact, she’s bisexual (wow!). Long story short, everything was fine and great until the writer decided that Lexa needed to die. After this (completely unnecessary) occurrence, there was an uproar from queer fans, straight fans, and even people who had never watched the show before. Never before had the media paid this much attention to the queer death trope. Actors on the show showed their support through Twitter and interviews. The writer who killed Lexa issued a (crappy) non-apology. And now, news about this revolution (I honestly don’t know what else to call it) has spread far beyond the sphere of The 100 and its fanbase. It’s really exciting that people are actually starting to pay attention, but it’s hard to say if this media uproar will last.
So Now What?
It might be too optimistic to say that this explosion from the queer community will put an end to the death trope. At least more people are aware of its existence. Fans have raised over $100,000 for the Trevor Project in honor of Lexa and are remaining vocal over social media. The ratings for The 100 have continued to drop ever since her death. I’m really curious to see whether or not this causes more queer women to find a place on movie and television screens. Hopefully, future writers will remember the importance of representation and we’ll be able to see ourselves reflected more often in the books, movies, and TV shows we love.