Bury Your Gays

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Synonyms: Dead Lesbian Syndrome
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Bury Your Gays, sometimes known more specifically as Dead Lesbian Syndrome, describes the trope in fiction that requires that LGBTQ characters die or meet some other type of unhappy ending.

Definition

While the trope invokes gay within it's name, it is often used as an umbrella term for any LGBTQ character that is killed or meets some other kind of untimely end.

LGBT Fans Deserve Better defines it as follows:

This trope applies when an LGBT character is killed off, and is especially harmful when it happens shortly after or alongside a positive development with regards to their orientation, further linking the character’s orientation to the death of the character.

Historically, LGBT characters have not been allowed happy endings. Once mandated by the broadcasting standards Hayes Code, “deviant” characters (including all LGBT characters) must not be made sympathetic or rewarded, and narrative punishment for this behavior remains pervasive even now that mainstream attitudes and laws have changed. The key problem isn’t merely that LGBT characters are killed off, but the tendency that these characters, and in particular lesbian and bisexual female characters, are killed off far more often than straight characters.[1]

Development of the Term

Before the more encapsulating term of "Bury Your Gays" became common use, "Dead Lesbian Syndrome/Trope" was used when describing this trope in relation to female characters. After the death of Tara McClay in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Judith L. Tabron wrote in her 2003 essay Girl on Girl Politics: Willow/Tara and New Approaches to Media Fandom:

Tara lying dead, and Willow thus being inspired to run amok and try to destroy the world, are images that reinforce rather than subvert or escape the dead evil lesbian clichés that have run rampant throughout popular media (and at least, I would add, since the publication of the horrifyingly influential novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928).[2]

While Dead Lesbian Syndrome is still referred to today, Bury Your Gays has developed into the more common term. The TV tropes page first referring to Bury Your Gays was created in 2008[3] and has aided in the acknowledgment of the term.

The history of lesbian representation on television is rocky — in the beginning, we seemed exclusively relegated to roles that saw us getting killed/attacked or doing the killing/attacking. And until the last five or so years, lesbian and bisexual characters seemed entirely unable to date an actual woman or stay alive for more than three episodes, let alone an entire run, of a show. Gay and lesbian characters are so often murdered on television that we have our very own trope: Bury Your Gays.[4]

The 100 Backlash

On March 3, 2016 The 100 aired it's 36th episodes in which Lexa was killed by a stray bullet meant for her lover Clake, who she had just been shown in bed with. The fandom reaction sparked an unprecedented media conversation about the lesbian death trope and showrunner involvement in fandom.

Lesbian media website Autostraddle compiled a list of dead lesbian characters that exemplified the scope of the problem and proved invaluable to the discussion, as several more lesbian and bisexual female characters died in the weeks after Lexa's death. Another tally was made by Autostraddle, one of which looked not only at how many lesbian characters lived or died, but what the outcome of their stories were, most of which in some way partially unhappy.

"We need hope in stories. We need light in stories. And we need stories to work their magic in the lives of the people who would oppress and persecute us because we’re gay. Stories are fatal to bigotry." [5]

In April 2016 the website io9 ran a post that summed up both the development of femslash fandom and its new visibility in the wake of a series of character deaths across several TV shows since the beginning of the year. The canonical appearance of numerous lesbian pairings had helped to develop popular fandoms. The enthusiasm of these femslash fandoms led to enormous attention focused on shows both old (The Vampire Diaries) and new (The 100, Empire) as these ships lost one or both partners.

"The furor has not let up since. Media outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair and Variety have all commented on The 100 hullabaloo, with Mo Ryan of Variety being particularly outspoken. The hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter even continues to trend sporadically on Twitter and fans have even succeeded in getting sponsors to drop the show."[6]

In June 2016, NPR's All Things Considered interviewed a writer at Vox about a study they did on the prevalence of lesbian deaths in U.S. television during the 2015-2016 season.

"About 10 percent of the deaths that I counted were gay, bisexual or otherwise queer women, which, when you think about it proportionally, is kind of nuts because not many television shows, unless it's "Orange Is The New Black" or something, have more than one or two maybe gay, bisexual or otherwise women. And the fact that most of them - a lot of them end up dead is troubling." [7]

The outcry from fandom about lesbian deaths was included in widespread coverage about the "entitlement" of fans when it came to the way stories were being told, as well as to how entertainment projects were developed.

"As the barriers between fans and creators get knocked down with hashtags and Tumblr questions, some creators are straight-up terrified by the new wave of interactive fandom that wants so much more from them than, say, a written fan letter might once have asked." [8]

References

  1. TROPE: BURY YOUR GAYS by LGBT Fans Deserve Better. Accessed January 8, 2017.
  2. "Girl on Girl Politics: Willow/Tara and New Approaches to Media Fandom". 
  3. "web.archive tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGay". 
  4. "Creators of popular media are becoming increasingly wary of their fans. That’s a problem for everyone". 
  5. "Autostraddle’s Ultimate Infographic Guide to Dead Lesbian Characters on TV". 
  6. "The History of Femslash, the Tiny Fandom That's Taking Over the Universe". 
  7. "TV Characters' Rising Death Toll Reveals Troubling Pattern". 
  8. "Creators of popular media are becoming increasingly wary of their fans. That’s a problem for everyone".