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Op-Ed: No More Dead Lesbians

Please and thank you.

I should explain. When I was a young, bright-eyed, and idealistic Straight Ally (which was short-hand for "person who was really invested in the Struggle without realizing quite how personal that struggle was") I got excited every time there was an LGBT+ character on screen. Because it meant Progress! I was excited because I had not yet lived enough to have all of my LGBT+ heroes and heroines Tragically Murdered. Or tragically commit suicide. Or tragically disappear to die alone like a lonely sick cat.

Okay but what's the big deal?

[Game of Thrones SPOILERS].
Characters die, it's sad, we move on. And sure, when it's Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, it's exciting and interesting and good storytelling. And it's not like Ned Stark bore the burden of being the only stoic white dude on the show. There's also Stannis, and Jaime, and Jon, and Petyr, and Jorah, and Sam, and Theon... and do you see where I'm going with that? They're all very different characters with individual experiences. So while Ned is gone, his death doesn't really mean anything for white men in this narrative, because he doesn't represent all white men. He represents Ned Stark. How often do LGBT+ characters have the same narrative freedom?
[Following contains spoilers for Buffy, The 100, The Walking Dead, & Call the Midwife].

Spoiler alert: The lesbian dies!

That's the trend anyway. For every Carol, there's several Taras. Autostraddle has a list of 142 lesbian (or woman-loving-women) who have either died or been symbolically killed since 1976. They'll be adding the most recent episode of The Walking Dead to their list very soon, which will bring them to 143. If this were the CDC, this would probably be considered an epidemic, and having a romantic or sexual relationship would be one of the tell-tale symptoms of an impending death. Happiness is hard to come by, heroism is rare, and all of these tragedies are becoming tiresome.

There's a reason for it. And it's outdated.

At least, there used to be. Because film was censored and restricted pretty early on, for a long time the only way people could access stories that featured women in romantic relationships with each other was through pulp fiction. And while pulp's reputation as low-brow entertainment protected it from heavier censorship, the stories were still restricted. Because the books traveled through the U.S. Postal service they were subject to government censorship, which meant that no character was allowed to be both homosexual and happy at the end of the book (via Packer, Vin. Spring Fire, Introduction. 2004, Cleis Press). Cue lots of stories that ended in suicide, illness, accident, murder, and misery. The question now is: Why has this tradition continued? The censorship of the 50s and McCarthy-Era politics should be long gone. So when do we get to see LGBT+ characters who are happy?

It's not *just* annoying.

The term 'symbolic annihilation' was coined in 1972 by George Gerbner, and it refers to the limited representation of certain groups in our media in comparison to others. While it might not seem like a huge deal, for better or worse film, books, and television are a huge source of affirmation for us. When the representation of some groups (like LGBT+ women for example) are overwhelmingly negative, this can have a huge impact on not only our individual self-image, but in the perceptions of the community for those outside of it. No, Tara's death on Buffy didn't cause homophobia, and Nurse Mount's happiness on Call the Midwife isn't going to cure it. But limited representation is affirming preconceived notions about LGBT+ people, which has a negative effect on our individual health as well as public perception of our identities.

No more dead lesbians.

This isn't the 1950s. Being a woman attracted to other women is no longer considered a mental illness. There's no reason for the overwhelming majority of LGBT+ stories to end in tragedy. We're not broken. We're not doomed. And we're tired of being told that lie.
@shannonl5 I was actually going to address OITNB for that too, but it might be a little bit deeper than just killing off the lesbians. I'd argue that even in that show that tries to celebrate queer women (both white and not), something was fucky about the way they handled this last season's romance thing. like Piper went with a more 'butch' lesbian in her new relationship (feeding into the stereotype of flirtatious, scandalous gays who leap from aprtner to partner) and it ends up being that this one betrays her. it's probably a stretch, but I feel like that was a kind of microaggression against non-traditional appearances and sexuality.
@orenshani7 haha love it! Shows like that are so rare @InVinsybll they are very rare indeed. Orange is the new black has a few for sure, but the nature of the show often means that those characters won't be happy for long- certainly at the end of the most recent season every single one was in dire circumstances. And that's one show. It's heartbreakingly rare. Part of it I think can be blamed on the minimal number of prominent female roles in general, but I think that's no excuse.
yes! preach it. the messed up thing is that even while reading this, I struggled to come up with prominent (or at least present) lgbtq+ women in media. so the fact is that there are very few instances of 'good' representation to start with, and even then those 'good' ones often result in tragedy, usually for the sake of some mediocre straight character's development. #nomoredeadlesbians
Great card! When I told my ex to watch Buffy, she called the Tara thing and made me tell her the exact episode it would happen. She has now "finished" the series an episode before and won't watch anymore. While I have no issue with LGBTQ+ character deaths, there just is a point where the death of the character makes little no sense and moves nothing along that another plot device couldn't do (aka The 100). Now *SPOILER FOR THE KILLING* The Killing is a perfect example of the death of a LGBTQ+ character that actually holds weight and matters to the arch of the story. The addition of Bullet was so important because it told a tale that so many young kids deal with (hopefully forgoing the whole murderer plot point) and people really connected to her. But her death didn't feel cheap and that's my issue with most LBGTQ+ deaths. Stop killing off my queers!
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