“All 173 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV, And How They Died”, and “All 29 Lesbian and Bisexual TV Characters Who Got Happy Endings”. These are the titles of two Autostraddle articles (not written by me) which are pretty indicative of how women who love women (or “wlw’s") are represented in television media. Both of these articles were posted in March of 2016 in response to a particular television event – the death of the character Lexa on the CW series The 100.
The relationship between Lexa and Clarke, the show’s protagonist, was praised by fans not only for allowing a series on a major television network to represent the LGBT community, but also for presenting that relationship as believable and emotionally meaningful. That is, until in Episode 7 of Season 3 (“Thirteen”), when Lexa is shot and killed by a stray bullet meant for Clarke. For many LGBT viewers, insult was added to injury by the fact that her death occurred in the same episode in which she and Clarke consummate their relationship for the first and only time. Let me break it down for you: from the moment the scene fades from in their bed to Clarke going into the next room, one minute and five seconds pass before Lexa is shot. She is dead just under five minutes later. That’s roughly six minutes between bed and death.
This upset me on a personal level because the character Lexa was a 5’7”-tall lesbian with brown hair and green eyes, and as a 5’7”-tall lesbian with brown hair and green eyes it felt like I was watching myself die on television. And since I live in an open-carry state, you bet your ass I still get really nervous the moment I see anybody with a gun. But of course, Lexa’s death mattered to many more people than just myself, and had implications for the LGBT community at large.
Charles W. Socarides, an American psychiatrist known for his research regarding and attempts to revert homosexuality, is recorded saying the following in Mike Wallace’s 1967 CBS Report titled The Homosexuals: “The fact that somebody’s homosexual – a true, obligatory homosexual – automatically rules out the possibility that he will remain happy for long…The whole idea of saying ‘the happy homosexual’ is to create a mythology about the nature of homosexuality.” While it is true that the position of the LGBT community has improved dramatically in the last fifty years, television of the last decade continues to reinforce the idea that homosexuals can’t, or even shouldn’t, be happy. To repeatedly couple an expression of love with a character death is to remind us of our history, that to show our feelings and to be queer is a death sentence.
We want more representation of ourselves on the screens where we have watched straight couples achieve happy endings throughout the history of cinema, but some of us grow apprehensive as we see a greater percentage of our characters killed off than we see make it to riding off into the rainbow. When straight people see straight characters die on television or in film, they have a plethora of other shows they can jump to for representation. We don’t; we have a small selection of niche shows that don’t always appeal to everyone, and so we have to take what we can get.
Mercifully, our people know how to fight and some good has come from this unfortunate writing choice. Over $120,000 was raised in Lexa’s name for The Trevor Project, an organization which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBT youth. The “Bury Your Gays” media trope, which has been in film and television for decades and despite changing moral attitudes seems to be in full force, was brought to light in earnest (prompting the first article I mentioned above). In response to this, some television showrunners signed what is being called “The Lexa Pledge” in which they promise to not kill off LGBT characters simply to further the plot of a show, that if they die it is for a significant and meaningful purpose to the story, and that fans of the show will not be misled about its course through social media (something of which several The 100 writers are INCREDIBLY guilty, but I don’t have room for that in this blog post).
While many would probably correctly say this pledge goes too far, that writers should have the creative freedom to take storylines and character arcs where they feel they need to go, I can see the sense in such a document until the climate of LGBT representation changes. Maybe when writers show that they care about and listen to their audiences, we can start to relinquish that canary-like narrative death sense some of us wlw’s are starting to develop.
Sarah Becker is a contributing member to The Movie Gang Podcast, Animania, ang Geek Space 9 to hear more from her head to Itunes/ Stitcher/ or Google Play and download the Tuscan Shed Media network Catalog.