I first became aware of the bury your gays trope when the death of Lexa occurred on the 100. I had never watched the show but due to it having a large gay following I saw a lot about it on my social media. Fans of the show had thought they’d found a great couple and a creator who respected and valued their relationship. As a creator he became very involved on social media and appeared to champion the couple. Which led to an incredible backlash from fans when Lexa was killed off by a stray bullet. Lexa’s story conformed almost perfectly to the trope as she was killed accidently at a time when she had just reached happy stage in her relationship, having slept with Clarke for the first time. Although I had never really heard of the trope before the problems were clear as the showrunner built up the couple and played to the gay audience only to let them down and play to tired stereotypes. It was made perfectly clear he didn’t really respect this audience but just used them to increase the shows profile.
After The 100 fans outrage, the bury your gays trope gained coverage in the media and highlighted to me just how common lesbian and bisexual women’s deaths were in the media. The GLAAD where we are on TV report showed that there were only 98 gay/bisexual women on American TV and over 25 were killed. It was a depressing reality and made me realise the faults in programmes I had previously defended. For example Last Tango in Halifax, which is written by a writer I greatly admire, similarly killed off a gay woman. At the time I was greatly upset but didn’t think it was as bad as other fans made out. I didn’t realise the full extent of the problem. The Last Tango in Halifax death again fitted perfectly within the trope as Kate is killed off in a car accident the day after she got married to Caroline.
Most recently, and what pushed me to write this, I was catching up with Masters of Sex when Helen was killed off. I felt it coming as Betty was told the baby was alright. The exclusion of Helen’s status rang alarm bells to me immediately, especially due to my awareness of the tropes. Betty goes in and talks to Helen and I allowed myself to hope I was being irrational and the show wouldn’t succumb. Even when Helen closed her eyes I held on to hope that she was just under anaesthetic. However my hopes were futile and Helen was dead.
Helen and Betty’s storyline was one that was often pushed to the background but had recently featured more as they prepared to have a baby. Then a few episodes later she had been killed off in a way that very much fitted the trope. It was moments after she had given birth to a baby and her and Betty had got the family they wanted so much. Then to top it all off Betty was barred from seeing her daughter by Helen’s mum and dad. She might get access to the baby in the future but I’m yet to decide if I want to watch on to find out. It was a sense of resignation that I felt more than anything else. A “for fucks sake not this again”. For a minority that is already underrepresented this sort of treatment of the characters that do represent us is unacceptable.
Everyone knows representation is important and what an impact it can have. The representation of gay women we see all too often is that they work towards their happy ending only to die as soon as they achieve it. Our only story is one of struggle, we can never reach an ongoing, happy, normal life. If people can’t see why that is damaging then I don’t know what else to say.