I’m getting straight to the point tonight. If you’ve ever watched any television show ever, you’ve probably seen a lesbian unnecessarily killed off. It happens time and time again to the point where it’s now classed as a ‘syndrome’ and I am VEXED.
Television shows exist to show us different worlds. These worlds range from normalcy to full on post-apocalyptic, and yet the surest way to die in any of them? Be a lesbian – preferably in a committed relationship.
Yes, these are world’s where death could come at any moment, and in some shows, any character is sure to die at any moment. But the lesbian being killed off, and usually in a brutal way, has happened time and time again in any setting, any universe.
Last night the fourteenth episode of The Walking Dead’s sixth season, Twice as Far aired, and to any fan of the show you’ll know why this brought some bad news. In the fourteenth episode of the fourth season, young sisters Mika and Lizzie were killed quite brutally; and the fourteenth episode of the fifth series was also the end for Aiden and Noah. So episode fourteen has held some sort of reputation for killing characters off. Nevertheless, it came to a shock to many when (spoilers) that death was given to Dr Denise Cloyd, played by Merritt Wever.
Okay. It’s one death? That happened in an episode that’s notorious for deaths? What’s the big deal?
It’s so much more than one death. It’s one less LGBTQ+ character in The Walking Dead, but most importantly, one less LGBTQ+ character in television in general. And it’s a rapidly decreasing number. The problem isn’t just that gay characters are killed off: the problem is the tendency that gay characters are killed off way more often than straight characters, or are even killed off because they are gay.
Two weeks ago the fan base behind the hit show The 100 fought back after female character Lexa (played by Alycia Debnam-Carey) was killed shortly after consummating her relationship with series lead Clarke, also female. This had been such a promising relationship for so long, and was a fan-favourite ‘ship’ that helped raked in the many viewers the show received.
This disturbing television trend has become known as the ‘Dead Lesbian Syndrome‘, or ‘Bury Your Gays’.
A study from 2014 showed that at the time, there had been 138 lesbian and bisexual character deaths ever. Among these 138, the leading cause of death was gunshot, with 30 characters. Second is murder, with 29 deaths; followed by 13 illness related deaths, 11 by explosion, 10 by suicide, 10 by poison, 8 by car accident and 5 by head injury. The 22 remaining were all miscellaneous.
This left only 26 lesbian and bisexual characters with a happy ending.
As for statistics for this year; the total number of LGBT women killed on television shows to date now stands at 148. Twice as Far aired on the eightieth day of 2016. Denise Cloyd was the eighth gay woman to die on primetime television this year. That cuts down to a non-straight woman dying every ten days on our screens in 2016.
These eight LGBT women killed off represents around 28% of the LGBT women currently on network television shows. It might not seem a big number to everyone, but the equivalent percentage applied to straight characters would mean 384 of them had been killed off so far in 2016. Three hundred and eighty four. Just three months into the year.
But this disturbing trend is anything but new – as long as LGBTQ+ characters have existed on our television screens they’ve had horrible deaths.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a list:
(the year indicates when the character died)
(and this list is ABRIDGED)
(it’s worth noting that Delphine was shot, and may actually be alive)
You can see a full compiled list here of all 148 lesbian and bisexual characters in television history, as well as what killed them off.
It’s just sad above all else really. It just deprives LGBTQ+ viewers of the opportunity of seeing characters like them on screen, and privileging heterosexual narratives and therefore contributing to misogyny in popular culture by using a woman’s death as a means of manipulating audience emotions. I’m not saying that all LGBTQ+ characters should be immortal but the ratio of them to straight characters surviving is beyond ridiculous.
The problem is present to the same extent in cinema too. Most films featuring a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character eventually show them to suffer and die; Milk, The Hours, Brokeback Mountain, Black Swan, A Single Man, Monster etc, etc. It’s this trope that reminds viewers that any deviancy from heterosexuality will ultimately result in death by suicide, murder or AIDs.
Hollywood’s sad ending policy for LGBTQ+ characters has been ever present after studio executives would only permit a film to be made if the characters didn’t get a happy ever after – which was deemed a compromise for even allowing non-straight characters to be in films. That was then. But it’s 2016 and we shouldn’t still be here.
Every time a LGBTQ+ character is introduced to a screen, audiences around the world grab hold it them and see them as a representation of an aspect of themselves, and the someone they desperately needed to relate to. This desire from fans is especially for female characters, as the majority of the rest of media representation and indeed social projection of lesbian and bisexual people is over sexualised.
Television and film is an escape. People turn to it to seek escapism, for help, to relate to and see themselves in. That’s why people can connect to characters so greatly, and that’s why representation is important.
Hopefully this time, the outcry will cause an end to this trend.
Big old thank you to:
@RyanWhittingham on twitter
shayera on tumblr
for providing me with some useful statistics for today’s post
(you know how I love a good stat)
Sorry that this post took a week to arrive, but do rest assured I was very angry about this all week.