Friday, March 18, 2016

LGBTQ Characters - Happiness is a Death Sentence

If you’ve been connected to the internet at all over the past week, you will have seen a lot of fan reaction to the death of Lexa on The 100. Emotions have been… high. Twitter hashtags #LexaDeservesBetter and #LGBTFansDeserveBetter have both been full of outpourings of pain and anger over this death. A lot of people are very angry, especially LGBTQ fans of the show who, for a brief moment, allowed themselves to hope.

It seems, yet again, that we should have known better - the media teaches us harsh lessons against hope for LGBTQ happiness time and time again

In many ways, Lexa’s death on The 100 is especially painful because the show has a bisexual protagonist (and CW shows with LGBTQ protagonists are RARE. Well, shows with LGBTQ protagonists at all are rare - of the 108 shows we’ve watched we’ve seen 4 LGBTQ protagonists and 4 LGBTQ dual protagonists - and many are lacking) and genuinely seemed to be a show whose writers had a clue or at least were trying. I mean, they weren’t perfect - they told us no-one in the world of The 100 cared about sexuality but then had no LGBTQ characters until the very end of the second season (it took that long to reveal Clarke was bisexual in this homophobia free world). And Miller and Bryan bro-hugging goodbye. But, still, it was rare, it was unique, it was hopeful - and it’s that level of hope that fans, especially LGBTQ fans, invested in the show that made Lexa’s death so devastating and enraging. They expected better, they were given every reason to expect better

Since Alycia Debnam-Carey is contracted with Fear The Walking Dead, we knew that she wasn’t going to stay on the show for much longer - so removing her from the show in some way was definitely something the writers were faced with. But there were so many ways they could have done this differently.

They could have had Lexa die in a way that was actually remotely respectful for her, showing her power, her importance - rather than a stray bullet meant for Clarke (a death which eerily echoes the death of Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer which, really, is a comparison the writers should have taken pains to avoid). Or they could have stepped away from Clarke/Lexa relationship since they knew that it couldn’t possibly have a long life - especially since they had story reasons for the two not to want to get close again. Both could have worked together, found other relationships and we could have had grief without the endless tragedy

They could have simply had other/more prominent LGBTQ relationships. It wouldn’t match the power of the protagonist’s relationship, but it would have had something.

Or they could have had Lexa’s death not follow mere minutes after Clarke and Lexa had sex. After a season of potential growth, they finally came together - Clarke and Lexa were finally  couple, finally, clearly in love and DEATH. I can’t even think of worst timing for this, or a more cruel way to depict this relationship and its tragedy. It’s also not the first time they’ve teased this relationship before cruelly slapping it down. At the end of season 2 they teased LGBTQ fans with the kiss between Lexa and Clarke followed almost instantly by Lexa’s betrayal at Camp Weather driving them apart. Now we have hope being raised again - and cruelly slapped down, but much more permanently.

Also that week we had The Magicians killing off Elliot’s short lived love interest Mike. Again we see the same patterns - a LGBTQ character seemed to be finding happiness, was introduced to a love interest, began to form a relationship aaaaand…. Death. Again, the death was exacerbated by how distastefully it was portrayed. With Elliot and Mike’s treatment with Margot and the Djinn, the terrible GB trope - and Mike turning evil and running towards inevitable death seconds after the relationship starts to get meaningful (and Elliot shared his secret past with him). As soon as this relationship was established as an actual relationship, it had to end. For an added, sickening gut punch, Elliot is the one who killed his love. Just so we have maximum pain and despair - but why do I think Elliot isn’t going to exactly dominate the next few episodes?

The Magicians even doubled down on this terrible trope the very next episode - introducing a Black, disabled Lesbian or Bisexual woman in order to give a straight, white able bodied woman a Life Lesson before shuffling off her mortal coil. Yes, she was introduced for another character's development and then killed in the same episode - one week after the terrible death of Mike. At this point you kind of wonder if they're TRYING to be terrible?

Let’s be clear, both shows will continue to have LGBTQ characters - but they’re fraught and problematic. The Magicians continues with a tragic, horrendously stereotyped Elliot while The 100 has Clarke who now has All The Pain with vanishingly minor characters Miller and Bryan already at odds. We have LGBTQ characters, but they can’t be happy and the can’t have relationships - and this is something we’ve seen a lot on our shows:

True Blood killed off Jesus when he and Lafayette were becoming a couple and killed off Tara when it looked like she and Pam were actually building a relationship (Pam and Lafayette’s tragedy and usefulness managed to get them through this show - seriously there were a lot of dead LGBTQs over the seasons). Hemlock Grove decided to go The 100 route and have Johann killed off just as he found a real relationship (that’ll teach you to be happy!) doubling down on Clementine’s previous gaydeath. The Originals punished Josh and Aiden’s relationship with death, no mourning and Josh returning as a good GBF (that’ll teach you Josh!). Orphan Black killed off Delphine when it seemed she and Cosima were finding a connection after a very very rocky road. Dracula threw in 2 gay men in a relationship expressly for them to die tragically before we followed the tragic story of tragic Mina and her tragic unrequited love. Penny Dreadful disposes of Angelique as soon as her relationship with Dorian became dull to the writers and Stahma is forced to kill Kenya on Defiance (is this another pattern? LGBTQ people having to outright murder the people they’re supposed to care about?) If so, does Hex count having to bit part gay man killed by the straight guy he had a crush on? On Dominion, Arika lost Uriel (who died off screen) and then Daria (who just disappeared/ceased being important/is sideline) which is even more salt in the wounds as neither character seems to be someone Arika even cared over much about. And on Game of Thrones Renly not only died (after precious little characterisation) leaving Loras tragic alone, but his next love interest testified against him for the gross homophobic trial storyline. On top of that, Oberyn died (after a few episodes of all swashbucking sex all the time) leaving behind a tragic bisexual love interest, Ellaria Sand.

LGBTQ death rates are extremely high in general: as I’ve said before, I’m still not over Charlie’s death on Supernatural and the tearing down and killing of Lykos on Olympus was appalling and, yes, I’m still furious about the treatment of Luke on Vampire Diaries. Bury Your Gays is a trope for a reason. But if you want your LGBTQ character to play the odds and have a moderate chance of survival the LGBTQ character better not have a relationship, devote themselves to supporting their straight friends and, preferably, be amusing comic relief. If they do have a relationship (as opposed to a random, anonymous hook up, possibly off screen), they better hope that it’s their love interest that dies so they can either be yet another tragic LGBTQ character (perhaps competing with In the Flesh for the prize of Most Tragic Ever) or, often even more offensive, they will get over it quickly and slot back into the amusing, comic relief, best friend role (the safest place for any LGBT character to occupy). It’s a lesson Original Cindy from Dark Angel learned (after her love interest died in the same episode she was introduced) and that Felix in Orphan Black has mastered. Defiance’s Dr. Yewel even came with a pre-dead love interest to firmly put her in her place and spare her more dead lovers.

I seem to have rambled a long time here - but this is important. The fury over death of Lexa on The 100 is only understandable when you look at the context. My having a complete, undignified tantrum over The 100 and Magicians is only understood when you look at this ridiculously long list. It’s necessary to see why start carving names on gravestones every time someone like us starts to find happiness on screen. It’s necessary because we seem to always be asked to choose between shows that kill us, shows that erase us or shows that make us into happy, funny servants. It’s necessary because 44% of LGBTQ youth have considered suicide, LGBTQ youth are 4 times as likely to commit suicide than cis, het youth. Because a horrendous number of us self-harm and, even as the media improves, we’re still continually fed a message of tragedy and hopelessness that is, without even an ounce of hyperbole, killing us, killing our self worth and killing our hope for a future.