I live in a small flat with my partner of three and a half years. We have a joint bank account. We know all of each other’s grossest habits, and we love yeach other with everything we have. But you wouldn’t know that a relationship like that is possible for a queer couple like us if you only had popular media as a source.
When it comes to being queer, happiness is rebellious. It sounds strange, but all you have to do to see the truth in it is look to the media we consume. Queer characters make up a tiny fraction of those we see onscreen, but they face a disproportionate amount of violence. The only queer narratives we are presented with are tragic – with the two classics being the star-crossed queer romance that ends in death and the unhappy coming-out narrative. These narratives do see their parallel in the real lives of queer people, but what goes ignored by our media is the growing reality of queer happiness. Queer domesticity is boring. The happy queer – the domestic rebel – is seen as uninteresting and unrealistic. I’ve seen many heterosexuals as well as gay men try to argue that straight domesticity also bores the networks, and that straight characters also face violence and death in their narratives, but – for once – let’s not talk about heterosexuals. Let’s keep our eyes on reality, and the fact that yes, while straight characters do also face violence and death, queer characters face it at much higher rates. These tragic narratives are made to engender straight guilt, damage the modern queer movement, and ignore queer youth altogether.
While straight characters do also face violence and death, queer characters face it at much higher rates.
The tragic queer narrative isn’t a new thing. It’s an old trope with the catchy name ‘Bury Your Gays’, where TV execs and writers are astoundingly incapable of thinking of dramatic twists other than death for their queer characters. Considering that they are paid to be creative thinkers, it’s quite eyebrow-raising that nearly all of them turn to death as the only way out for so many difference scenarios. Departing actress? Kill off their character. Need a season finale with a punch? Kill off their character. Audiences are getting tired of meaningless deaths where the only kind of character who miraculously revives is a straight white man (I’m looking at you, Supernatural) and only deaths that stick are those suffered by LGBT+ characters, women, and characters of colour.
The additional kick in the teeth is that when it comes to queer characters, most of them are killed off right after a moment of intense happiness – a love realisation, a sexual consummation, etc. They have the happy endings handed to straight couples snatched away from them at the last possible second, and as a queer woman myself it feels like they are being punished simply for daring to be queer and happy. You might think I’m exaggerating, but Bury Your Gays is a trope with a startlingly extensive history dating all the way back to 1976 and detailing 147 separate accounts. When there are so few queer characters to begin with – and with queer female characters only appearing at all on 11% of TV shows – this is a dangerously high number. I call it dangerous because it is – queer couples are torn apart time and time again onscreen, or not allowed to come together in the first place despite incessant queer baiting.
When you grow up with a media determined to show that the only kind of queer relationship is one that ends in tragedy and death, it’s hard to see a positive future for yourself.
It doesn’t help that the queer community has a history of being seen as promiscuous and unfaithful. When the media we all grow up watching and still watch as adults seems determined to show us unending queer misery on one hand and the promiscuity stereotype on the other, it’s not hard to look at the whole sorry mess and see the makings of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but being happy shouldn’t be the preserve of heterosexuals alone. Queer youth should be able to look to our media and see that they have a future – see positive role models who love like they love in a good and healthy way. This is especially important in, as I mentioned in a previous article, a world where queerness is absent from our school curriculums.
I think it’s important to highlight the fact that the infographics I’ve linked to and the tropes I’ve talked about revolve around the struggles of queer women in specific. It’s no secret that when it comes to the LGBT+ acronym, the G is miles ahead of the other letters. The public face of queerness belongs to couples like Modern Family’s Cam and Mitchell, Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Holt and Kevin, Glee’s Kurt and Blaine. It’s time that the rest of the letters were allowed to catch up to the G, and an important first step is to dismantle tropes like Bury Your Gays and demand an end to television execs who think of queer women as disposable.
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