Last semester I chose to research in depth about the issue of how lesbian and bisexual women were treated in television shows. I chose this topic because of the frequency of deaths or unhappy exits those characters faced that spring. I noted the issue because my Tumblr dash and Twitter time line were flooded with angry posts from viewers of various shows. Upon research I found out that this unsettling occurrence was a trope and has been consistent in media productions. It is called “Bury your Gays”. According to tvtropes.com, “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…has to die at the end”. These include characters that are coded as LGB (many being villains), not just ones that expressly say they are interested in the same sex. It is the frequency and degree to which these characters are killed that really leaves a toll on viewers. Their narratives are removed thus excluding knowledge of their experience besides stereotypes.
Indicative of this trope is the television adaptation of the book The 100 by Kass Morgan. We are introduced to Lexa, fearless leader of Trikru in the 2nd season of the show. She was one of the commanders of the post-apocalyptic earth presented in the show. Throughout her recurring appearance in the series she was shown as a decisive and strong leader. Soon after her introduction, she and Clarke; a main character in the show, began a romantic relationship which excited viewers. By season 3, Clarke and Lexa had been through many trials that tested their loyalty to each other and their respective groups, somewhat showing the complexities of their relationship in the context of violent upheaval. The relationship was short lived though. Lexa died on the 7th episode of the 3rd season after being physically intimate with Clarke.
I can note more violent deaths of LGB characters but the impression left by Lexa’s death is interesting to dissect. She died by a stray bullet shot by her teacher/advisor though it was aimed for Clarke. It is important to note how she died and what was happening leading up to her death. Firstly, Lexa being shot in front of Clarke was very meaningful. To see that happen someone you love would be traumatic. I expect to see Clarke’s character stricken with pain for the remainder of the season. This shows that there is never peace in being a woman who loves other women. Secondly, many people think that physical intimacy is the ultimate proof of love so Lexa dying so soon after her and Clarke were intimate symbolizes punishment for acting on a those feeling. As for Lexa’s impact, for someone that played such a dynamic role, her death was a non-issue. It was something that was brushed under the rug to focus more on other plots. The following episode did not even feature much of her death. It was more of a stepping stone to something than an actual event. The act of removing this character at the height of her power leaves viewers with the impression that her life was not significant enough to make it more affective to the plot. To be realistic, it is relevant to note that the actress; Alycia Debnam Carey accepted a role as a main character in another program thus leaving the writers of The 100 to figure out an exit for Lexa. Many would say what they chose was poorly executed.
Lexa’s death was such a disheartening event that many wanted to boycott the show. This reaction was emblematic of the fact that in any representation of identities that do not get much screen time, inclusion is not enough. People deserve to see their identities reflected in a positive light. This issue highlights the fact that we as viewers need to look at who is telling these stories and how they choose to execute narratives they themselves do not live. Additional questions I want to address include, what are the deaths/exits saying about lesbian and bisexual women and their relationships and how portrayals have changed over time.