“The girls are never supposed to end up together.
I watched that movie with Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat, the roller-skating movie, the one where Ellen and Alia are best friends, each other’s only comforts in their podunk town. They need each other, and they hug, and they dance, and they tell each other I Love You, and Ellen meets a skinny boy who plays in a band. It doesn’t even work out with the boy, but that’s almost tangential. The girl was never a real option.
I think that’s why it’s really difficult for girls.
We follow narratives. Our fingertips trace the contours of the stories we love. We long to escape within the confines of our own lives. Meet your boyfriend in the pouring rain and yank down his mask and kiss him upside down. Run with your boyfriend to the front of the boat and throw your arms out to the side and scream, ‘I’m king of the world!’
If you are a girl in love with a boy, your possibilities are infinite.
If there is a special girl in your life, you love her as a friend. You love her as a friend, but she becomes less important to you as you grow, and you leave her behind for a boy. She might even stand next to you when you marry the boy, and she might catch the bouquet of flowers that you throw to her. You’re giving her permission to move on, move away from you. It’s a ceremony of separation.
But if you should fall in love with a girl – and loving and falling in love are two very distinct things – the first kiss is the end.
You’ve all seen the movie. Or the television show. Or the after-school special, or you’ve read the book that was banned from your school’s library for containing Sexual Content.
The point of your story is not to fall in love.
The point of your story is to struggle.
Your story begins with a lie and climaxes in a truth and ends with a kiss. In the movie of your life, forty-five minutes are devoted to you figuring out how to say that you want to kiss girls, and another half-hour is devoted to people’s objections, and maybe the last fifteen minutes is you kissing the girl.
Maybe you don’t even get to kiss the girl.
Maybe she tells you that she’s flattered, but she doesn’t bat for your team.
The critics swoon; it’s realistic, they say, so realistic, to depict the struggle of the modern teen, the heartbreak of irresolvable incompatibility. Isn’t that always what celebrities cite in their divorces? ‘Irreconciliable differences.’
And so you’re lying on the floor of your bathroom, your knees curled to your chest, or you’re on your sofa with a pint of ice cream, or you’re in bed watching your favorite sad movie on Netflix, and the collective weight of all that you consume settles on your shoulders, leans in, and whispers, ‘You were never meant to fall in love.’
You were never meant to fall in love.
Your story ends in tears or it ends in death.
Jack Twist was bludgeoned to death with a tire iron and Ennis Del Mar was left alone in his closet to dance with an empty shirt.
Alby Grant found Dale Tomasson swinging by a noose in the apartment that had been their safehouse, their respite, and he sank to his knees and cradled Dale’s bare feet and he cried.
The Motion Picture Association of America axed Lana Tisdel and Brandon Teena’s sex scenes, but they didn’t have a problem with the extended shot of Lana cradling Brandon’s corpse in her fragile arms and falling asleep next to his body.
Love and intimacy are ours only in death, or so it would seem.
I don’t want to die.
Isn’t that a very human experience? Not wanting to die?
When does anyone who looks like me get to grow old and raise grandchildren and hold her wife’s hand as the skin wrinkles, turns translucent?
Sometimes my father asks me if I’ll ever date a man.
Sometimes he doesn’t ask.
‘You are attracted to men, and you dream about falling in love with men,’ he says, as if he can will his imaginary daughter into existence merely by speaking about her.
Or maybe he is just looking out for my safety.
He’s seen the movies too, after all.
He loves me.
He doesn’t want me to die.”
I grow up with no stories about queer women. I read my first novel with a lesbian protagonist at thirteen and come out to myself in the months afterward. I scavenge the library for more stories. I begin to notice that most of them end tragically. I write my own stories where girls like me get happy endings.
As I get more involved in writing and fandom, I start to research the history of LGBTQ+ fiction, and what I find is disheartening: There are so few happy endings for us in books and movies and TV shows. I learn that authors in the early twentieth century who wrote about LGBTQ+ characters were unable to get their books published unless they killed off those characters, or had them locked up in a mental institution, or broke their heart. This was done under the guise of “morals,” with the intent being that we’d learn our lesson. That we’d know our place.
We even have our own trope: Bury Your Gays.
There are variations on this trope. Sometimes the Magical Queer dies in a Heroic Sacrifice to save the straight characters. Sometimes we’re killed off in order to cause emotional pain to the straight characters, or to expose them to the realities of homophobia that they somehow didn’t realize existed. Sometimes our deaths are pity porn. Sometimes they serve as inspiration for straight characters to fight harder against the forces of evil.
TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the images used in this post contain graphic depictions of violence. If that makes you uncomfortable, feel free to stop reading whenever it gets to be too much – but I’m trying to make a point. I’m trying to shake
straight people out of their complacency and get them to realize what it’s like to see a never-ending parade of dead lesbians onscreen and in the pages of books.
This post contains spoilers for series seven of Doctor Who, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season ten of Supernatural, season three of The 100, season six of The Walking Dead, and season one of Jessica Jones.
The first onscreen example of Bury Your Gays that I see is on Doctor Who. To be honest, it’s somewhat subverted, but I don’t really understand why Jenny had to die and come back to life twice in the same episode. That episode has me on the edge of my seat, hoping she’ll come back, and she does. But I still don’t see why that was necessary.
2012, 2013, 2014. Innumerable friends recommend Supernatural to me, saying that it seems like my kind of thing. And it is. Kind of. There are elements of it that appeal to me, and I toy with the idea of watching it, but the writers queerbait the boys so badly. “There’s a lesbian character named Charlie on it, and she reminds me of you,” they say. I still don’t watch it. I’m worried she might die. I’m apprehensive about spending that much time binge-watching a show that will probably let me down in the end.
May 2015. Charlie dies, thanks to a classic case of the Magical Queer saving a straight character in a fatal Heroic Sacrifice. I’m not even surprised. I don’t cry or anything. I just feel exhausted. Emotionally drained.
I spend the next few weeks correcting people who say her death isn’t an example of this trope because “everyone dies on Supernatural!” – I say that it does not somehow erase the fact that she is dead and a lesbian and that’s literally the definition of Bury Your Gays.
I use the cookie analogy a lot: If you have a plate of three cookies and your friend has a plate of thirty cookies, and someone takes one cookie from your plate and one from your friend’s, it affects you much more because you don’t have many cookies to begin with.
Someone could take an entire handful of cookies from your friend’s plate and it still wouldn’t have the same effect, because you started out with fewer cookies and losing one of your three cookies while your friend loses five of their thirty cookies means that proportionally, you are affected more. The same is true of LGBTQ+ characters, and of diverse characters in general.
I think about writing what will eventually become this post, but I don’t because it’s true: I can see myself in Charlie, and that hits a little too close to home to write about at the moment. I find myself feeling very protective of her, although I barely knew anything about beforehand. I feel that way about a lot of dead queer women from books and shows and movies I’ve never even read or watched.
But yes. Charlie is the catalyst of this post.
All my friends are watching Carmilla, a webseries with LGBTQ+ women based on the nineteenth-century vampire novella of the same name that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula. The cast and crew are mostly LGBTQ+ just like their characters. I start watching it too and fall in love with it. It can get angsty at times but it’s the one show I trust to never queerbait their characters, and the show ultimately feels positive. The main couple will stay together. It will all be OK.
I read Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, one of the most powerful dystopian stories I have ever read. There’s a beautiful subplot with a lesbian character, but it is also tragic. Her death serves as inspiration for the male protagonist to fight harder to free the world from prejudice and fascism. I love that subplot, but I also hate it. I struggle with that until March 2016, when I regretfully add it to an ever-growing list of stories with LGBTQ+ women that ultimately ended up disappointing me.
I don’t stop reading books, but at this point most of my reading time is devoted to fanfiction. My straight friends read fanfic because they can’t get enough of their favorite M/F pairings. I read fanfic because there are more fics with LGBTQ+ characters than there are books with LGBTQ+ female characters.
I read it for the AUs where no one dies. I read it for the re-imagined scenarios where my F/F pairing actually gets together. I read it for the alternative endings where the protagonist I headcanon as queer doesn’t end up with some bland male character who was inserted into the plot in order to make the protagonist’s romantic chemistry with her best friend less visible.
My best friend and I live in different countries, but we’re pretty good at figuring out times to buddy-read or buddy-watch stuff together. Practice makes perfect. We pick a day and time to watch Imagine Me & You, because neither of us have ever seen an LGBTQ+ film before.
Afterward, I’m so glad I chose that movie as my very first film with LGBTQ+ female protagonists: It’s a romcom. No one dies! The couple gets a Happy Ever AfterTM ending. I can hardly believe it.
I have to read Watchmen, another dystopian graphic novel by Alan Moore, for my Superheroes Unleashed class the first semester of my freshman year in college. The story is about a world that has given up on its superheroes and one of them, known as the Silhouette, is dating another woman.
Alan Moore devotes one sentence to their relationship, and I perk up for an exceedingly short amount of time – because, in the next sentence, he tells me that they were eventually found murdered in their bed after their relationship becomes public knowledge. I decide against watching the movie adaptation.
I cannot understand this fascination straight people, particularly straight men, have with killing their lesbian characters. In the bed they shared. Because they didn’t keep their relationship a secret but were instead as open about it as any heterosexual couple would be.
My friend convinces me to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her. I love vampires. I love TV shows with female leads. My friend says I remind her of Willow. I watch the first two episodes with her and then I don’t want to watch anymore because I remember that Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, dies. Just like they always do. She was killed by a bullet meant for someone else.
A new season of Carmilla comes out. I look forward to each and every episode.
I convince some of my friends to read books such as Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is one of my favorite novels of all time. I can’t wait for them to finish. I think about reading that book for the very first time and bathing in a warm happy glow because there were queer female characters and they didn’t die. I think about the joy of finally finding an LGBTQ+ fairy tale retelling.
Multiple friends finish the novel and tell me that it’s unoriginal. Or normal. Or boring. I think about what constitutes a “normal story” for girls like me. Mostly, we end up dead. The characters in Ash didn’t end up dead. I have to remind myself that maybe there are some things that straight people just can’t conceptualize – there isn’t a trope called Bury Your Straights, and all of us have been conditioned to see tragic LGBTQ+ love stories as “inspirational” and “groundbreaking” and “unflinchingly honest.”
I’m in a creative writing class, the first one I’ve ever taken. I love it. I decide to write about zombies for my final project, since I’ve never done that before and I want to try something new. I base the main character and her girlfriend on me and my crush, because we both think that’d be a cute, funny thing to do.
When it comes time to workshop my short story and receive feedback from the rest of the class, multiple people suggest that I kill off one or both of those characters. I’m glad we’re not allowed to talk during our own workshop because I don’t even know how I would respond to that: Doesn’t creative writing require, well, creativity? Why would I repeat the same dead lesbian trope that I’ve seen over and over and over again? Isn’t that kind of unoriginal?
We have to write about why we made certain drafting and editing choices in our short stories. I spend a decent chunk of my essay talking about wanting to subvert Bury Your Gays, and how that’s why I didn’t change any part of my characters’ relationship in my revisions.
My professor hands my essay back with, “That’s a very good reason!” written in the margins and I grin a ridiculous grin. I pull out that piece of paper every now and then because it reminds me that someone else gets it.
I read The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, a 1952 novel that subverted Bury Your Gays and gave us the first modern LGBTQ+ story with a happy ending. It’s based on the author’s own life, and she originally published it under a pseudonym for this very reason. It ends up being more than I ever could have expected.
Carol, the movie adaptation of The Price of Salt, debuts with a limited release at first. Too impatient to wait for it to be shown at the theater in my hometown, I curl up in my bed one night during winter break with my laptop and watch a bootleg version someone has put on the Internet. I cry a lot, not because it’s so sad but because it’s so happy.
Carol is nominated for six Oscars and wins none of them. It receives quite a few snubs at various award shows, actually. The lesbian protagonists didn’t die or get their hearts broken or end up with men, and I can’t help thinking that this is the reason why it was ignored: It didn’t follow the narrative we’ve come to expect. The lesbian/bi websites I follow lavish praise on it. Straight male critics say that it’s boring and uneventful. I wonder if death counts as an event.
When Carol finally arrives at the theater, I get two of my LGBTQ+ friends to come watch it with me. We can’t stop talking about it afterward.
I see myself in Therese, from Carol. She’s nineteen years old and small and shy and brunette. She loves photography. She doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life, or what she wants from life.
And she doesn’t end up dead. I like that. I like that I’ve found a character who reminds me of myself, and she doesn’t wind up dead.
March 2015. Lots of people on my floor watch The 100; it seems as though the entire dorm talks about it. I realize that it’s on Netflix, which I didn’t know before. I figure that since I have a little bit of free time before I need to buckle down and study hard for midterms, I may as well watch it. I’m excited: I love dystopian stories, and I trust the writers of The 100 to not kill off their queer female characters.
I get distracted from my plans to watch The 100 and four days after I think about watching it, Lexa and Clarke finally have sex after episodes and episodes of romantic tension, and Lexa dies two minutes after that scene. One of my friends points out that that would never happen to a fictional straight couple. No one would ever write a scene like that for them because it’s absolutely ridiculous.
Lexa was killed by a bullet meant for someone else.
“LGBT fans deserve better” and “stop burying your gays” trend on Twitter in response to The 100. LGBTQ+ women post about how happy and safe their relationships are in order to cheer themselves and each other up, to remind us that life doesn’t have to imitate fiction.
My acquaintance who watches The Walking Dead predicts that at least one half of the lesbian couple will die because one of them has just promised to come back alive.
I talk to the girls who live down the hall from me about the need for happy stories about LGBTQ+ women, and we end up planning a movie night because we’re all so sick and tired of seeing so many lesbians and bisexual women die on screen.
March 20, 2016. I wander into the Haunted Bookshop, my absolute favorite place in Iowa City. I’m bored and looking for something to read, or even just to reread. I ask if they have The Price of Salt, but they just sold the copy they acquired the other day.
I end up talking to one of the employees. She read the book last fall before seeing the movie and we spend the next few minutes excitedly discussing the gorgeous cinematography, and how the story was based on the author’s own life, and the need for happy LGBTQ+ stories. We talk about how rare those stories were back then, and still are. This discussion makes my day.
I buy The Price of Salt at another bookstore because I really, really want my own copy. I have begun to acquire a small library of happy LGBTQ+ books so that I won’t even need to visit the library on days when I feel down about the prospect of more sad stories about people like me.
March 20, 2016. I scroll through my Facebook feed one last time before I go to bed because I’m procrastinating. I see an article about how Denise, one-half of the lesbian couple on The Walking Dead, has just died in the latest episode. She was killed by an arrow meant for someone else. This is getting ridiculous. Tara died in an episode of Buffy that aired in 2002 and now, fourteen years later, the only thing that’s changed is that sometimes we die from an arrow to the head and not always from a bullet to the chest.
What’s worse is that it didn’t even happen this way in the original comics: A different character – a straight guy – died in the same manner and at the same point in the plot as she did. Denise was written as a lesbian in order to add some diversity to the cast of characters, but ultimately it didn’t matter much.
After that, this post practically writes itself.
March 21, 2016. I text my best friend here at school and ask her if the lesbians on Jessica Jones die, because I still haven’t watched that show yet. “I mean, they’re messed up in all kinds of ways,” I say. “But they’re not dead yet, right?” She confirms this.
I momentarily get my hopes up because I am a fool.
Later on I realize that my friend must not have watched the entire first season yet, because another friend points out that one of the lesbians does in fact die. And another one – who was a man in the original comics, but rewritten to be a gay woman – is tortured. By her ex, to boot, who is being forced to do so by Kilgrave, the show’s main antagonist. Her girlfriend ends up killing her ex to save her.
And the main couple is portrayed as more corrupt than Kilgrave, despite the fact that he rapes multiple people and they just have infidelity issues.
Somehow all the straight pairings make it through the show alive.
My friend and I ponder how a show that understands misogyny so well can still fail when it comes to dealing with homophobia.
I started reading the Alias comics with the intent of eventually watching the show. Now I debate whether I want to watch it after all. I have one volume left. I don’t know what to do.
I think about how Marvel has no queer characters in their movies, and only four in their shows – the other one is a minor male character on Agents of SHIELD. I can’t see how he’ll last very long, either.
New goal: Read even more DC Comics than I am currently already reading.
Both the writer of The 100 and the writer of The Walking Dead release statements saying, essentially, that because they didn’t kill off their characters because of their sexual orientation they don’t think those instances should count as examples of the trope. I’m frustrated by two shows I don’t even watch because of their writers’ evident inability to realize that intent =/= impact.
I think about my favorite F/F pairing ever, Peggy & Angie from Agent Carter. I think about how they didn’t end up together on this latest season and I start to wonder if I should hope that they never do, because Agent Carter is a violent show. They can never kill Peggy because she has to live all the way up to the modern day in order for the MCU timeline to make sense, but they could kill Angie.
She’s a tiny, cute, fun character. She’d probably be killed by an assassin with a bullet meant for someone else – Peggy, probably – and some straight writer who thinks they’re being super edgy and cool will explain it away as being necessary for character development, or whatever.
I have a choice about what media to consume. So I surround myself with positive stories about LGBTQ+ women. I begin to avoid stories that I know are sad. There may not be very many happy stories about queer women, but there are some. So I focus on what I do have: Imagine Me & You. The Price of Salt. Carol. But I’m A Cheerleader. Malinda Lo’s books. Carmilla. Princess Princess. Young Avengers. Et cetera.
I start telling people, “I know that has lesbian characters, but it’s also super tragic, so I’m not going to waste my time on that.” I stop supporting stories in which we get hurt by refusing to continue reading or watching them, or by not even starting to read or watch them in the first place.
I keep writing my own happy stories about LGBTQ+ women.
I publish a post that has been simmering at the back of my mind for almost a year.
- All 147 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV, And How They Died
- All 29 Lesbian and Bisexual Characters Who Got Happy Endings
- Supernatural Says A Brutal Goodbye to Fan Favorite Lesbian Character Charlie
- The Brilliant Subversiveness of Carol‘s Conventional Ending
- A Major Death on The 100 Sparks Massive Backlash From Queer Fans
- The Walking Dead‘s Latest Gruesome Death Is Part of a Troubling TV Trend
- Bury Your Gays: Why The 100, Walking Dead Deaths Are Problematic
- How the Trope of Queer Women Dying on Television Can (And Must) Be Stopped