“Atomic Blonde” Just The Latest Example Of The Bury Your Gays Trope

Charlize Theron beating the shit out of random guys. Charlize Theron in coat after gorgeous coat. Charlize Theron making out with other women. Charlize Theron.

Also, eighties music.

How could I see this trailer way back in the spring and not immediately wish that the movie were already out?

Atomic Blonde looked like everything I ever wanted in a spy movie.

So why haven’t I seen it yet?

I put watching Atomic Blonde on my summer 2017 bucket list, hoping to find time to watch it with my best friend Jill once I moved back to my college town, but before school started.

It’s not the movie I hoped for, though. A few days after the release I heard that one of its LGBTQ+ characters died. More specifically, the sole lesbian woman of color was brutally murdered.

And… all my interest in this movie disappeared. I’m so not here for that. I’m here for happy, encouraging LGBTQ+ stories. Books and movies and TV shows and music and plays, you name it. Seeing LGBTQ+ characters killed off for shock value – and, frequently, as an in-universe way of punishing them for their supposed transgressions – puts me in a bad mental health place. Internalized homophobia is fun, y’all. Not.

Otherwise, this movie looks pretty fun. The cinematography looks great. The lead isn’t some guy. And, however silly or far-fetched Atomic Blonde‘s portrayal of it may be, I’m interested in stories set at the end of the Cold War because it was not all that long before I was born and so it makes me wonder how different my childhood could have been. But I digress.

Mostly, I’m upset and annoyed because, prior to its release, this film was touted as the next great LGBTQ+ thing. This clip of Theron talking about bisexual representation is just one example:

Slaughtering LGBTQ+ characters is nothing new. It’s not revolutionary, not in the slightest. The filmmakers, marketing team, et cetera had to have known that the way this film was being promoted would draw a sizable number of LGBTQ+ viewers.

Yet for many LGBTQ+ individuals, the Bury Your Gays trope is uncomfortable at best and triggering at worst. In the case of Atomic Blonde, Delphine (the lesbian character) is strangled in her bed, wearing lingerie. How much more oversexualized can you get?

Lesbians in particular have been targeted by the BYG trope. Bi women, not so much – although that’s not to say that what traditionally happens to them in stories is any better, because it’s not. Bi women tend to be paired off with a male character, reinforcing the stereotype that bi girls always end up with guys in the end. Lesbians, because they are incapable of that type of “redemption,” just get killed off.

Don’t even get me started on how books, movies, TV, et cetera tend to kill off characters of color at a higher rate than their white counterparts. It’s real and it’s terrible.

Plus, Delphine wasn’t even a man in the graphic novel upon which Atomic Blonde is based. In Antony Johnston’s The Coldest City, Charlize Theron’s character’s love interest is a man.

And if you’re reading this and thinking, “But loads of people die in the James Bond films,” then… hi, I’m here to tell you that that’s completely different. I’m not denying that straight characters die all the time, but they aren’t killed because they are straight. There is no history of killing off straight characters in order to show the “error” of their “lifestyle,” as was common for editors and publishers to ask writers to do with their LGBTQ+ characters.

(And honestly, while we’re at it, I should point out that bringing up James Bond and sexual orientation in the same sentence is kind of a lousy idea. As much as I may enjoy an occasional Bond movie for some silly, action-filled fun, the series has contributed to the Depraved Homosexual trope in which villains are heavily implied to be gay or trans – a practice known as queercoding – and in one of the movies, the spy “cures” a lesbian. Ian Fleming literally refers to her sexuality as a “psycho-pathological condition.” Gotta love those little reminders that straight men think they can fuck women like me straight. Wow. Thanks.)

Unfortunately, as kickass as all those fight scenes seem, Atomic Blonde isn’t anything out of the ordinary when it comes to its treatment of LGBTQ+ characters. It’s just more of the same homophobic nonsense.

Why do straight writers think pulling this shit is oh so enlightened and progressive?

About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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3 Responses to “Atomic Blonde” Just The Latest Example Of The Bury Your Gays Trope

  1. Thank you for writing about this! I’ve been frustrated by the lack of people talking about how this movie follows in the BYG path. Like yes I’m happy to see a bisexual character on screen but not in the same film where they kill off the only other gay person!

  2. Hannah G says:

    As a bi lady, I absolutely loved this movie. Agent Broughton is the kickass bi lady spy I always wanted, and her bisexuality is never like… a thing. She doesn’t feel the need to come out, and no one criticizes her for it, but neither does she have to say she “doesn’t like labels” or whatever. She just is. No one throws shit at her for being a woman, either.

    I get your point about Delphine, but I didn’t really mind it in this case, not because lots of characters die in spy movies in general, but because — spoilers — in this specific movie, EVERYONE but Broughton dies. Her male lover, her female lover, informants, spy partners, random people without names. The queer main character survives, so I don’t see it as bury-your-gays. Of course your mileage may vary though, especially if seeing Delphine get killed on screen will bother you no matter what.

  3. Pingback: Quarterly Rewind, Summer 2017 | Study Abroad, “Jenny,” & Reconnecting With Old Friends | Musings From Neville's Navel

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