However, a persistent problem with these female/female pairings, and the stories of the characters as individuals, is that they often suffer one of two fates: bad writing or really gruesome endings. The latest tragedy comes from the popular CW show, The 100, where (spoiler alert!), queer lady Commander Lexa, leader of the 12 Grounder Clans, badass warrior, dies not valiantly in battle but because of a stray bullet. The Dead Lesbian trope strikes again!
Some argue that death and suffering are just the nature of whatever show these characters are on. That may be true, but it’s become so prominent that it’s been a trope (“Bury Your Gays”) for decades (the rationale decades ago being that if a book featured a queer character, the queer character had to die or somehow be punished at the end in order to sell or be deemed acceptable). To emphasize how pervasive this issue is, AfterEllen has articles titled “Please Stop Killing Us! The state of lesbians and bi women on TV” and “The 35 Most Horrifying Lesbian/Bi Character Deaths on Television” (the sad part is that the latter article was written about 2 years ago and even more women who love women [wlw] characters have been killed since then).
The fictional dead lesbian body count is really high and, if they live, oftentimes, they continue to live miserably or with confused and inconsistent writing. This treatment is often worse compared to how queer male couples are treated on the same shows (I could compare how, on Glee, Kurt and Blaine as queer men were treated better than Brittany and Santana, two queer women, but that’s a whole other topic for another blog post).
Media representation comes with a great weight of responsibility. Writers need to be more cognizant of the impact that their writing has. When I was growing up, I saw very little of myself as a queer female represented on television. Representation of underrepresented, oppressed minorities is so important. I have had the privilege of growing up in urban, progressive areas with supportive family so that coming out was not as much of an issue. But the queer girl in rural America who can’t come out to anyone is lonely and craves to see people like her, and sometimes television is the only thing that can reach her.
But what happens when television is just as glum as reality?
What kind of message does that send to queer women viewers? It signals to us that we’re unworthy of being represented in a mainstream narrative on the same level as heterosexuals and gay men. When we are represented, we die. The even more gruesome part of this when it comes to Lexa’s death is that the way the episode was edited, her death scene immediately followed a scene where we saw her happy and expressing her love for the show’s (female) protagonist, Clarke. Again, what kind of message does this send to queer women viewers? It signals to us that, sure, perhaps you find happiness one day as a queer woman. And then something terrible happens immediately after and you die. The high prevalence of depression and mental illness among queer women is not a shock in an atmosphere such as this one. Such a persistent mental and emotional crippling of queer women everywhere inhibits these women from thriving and making change in society at large.
All of this comes after queer female fans of show repeatedly made the writers of The 100 aware of the dead lesbian trope for several months, and yet the creator, Jason Rothenberg, insisted that queer female fans should keep tuning in because he intended to treat Clarke and Lexa differently than the tropes we were used to. One review of the show, titled, “The 100 let down a great character and a vulnerable queer audience,” sums up the issue perfectly:
Lexa’s intricate slow-burning relationship with Clarke was something that queer viewers — many of them young and seeing a queer relationship of this magnitude for the first time — latched onto as hope that maybe they had finally found the well-written, well-developed representation they were looking for. Maybe Clarke and Lexa, who were set up as two people destined to come together, would be one of a very small handful of engaging queer stories that didn’t end in tragedy. The more the writers discussed in interviews themes of love, hope, and forgiveness around Clarke and Lexa, the more it seemed a female/female couple would actually be the most prominent pairing on a show, and that it would receive the attention, care, and promotion that popular heterosexual couples regularly receive.The sarcasm, defeat, and hopelessness in that last line perfectly captures the mood that queer women must carry with them every time the Dead Lesbian trope strikes. It happens often and yet it never gets easier.
So much for that.