Gay characters the new Star Trek redshirts
By Rebecca Peterson, Staff Writer
The Bury Your Gays trope has come to the forefront of pop media discussion once more after the death of yet another LGBTQ+ character in a popular TV series (left unnamed here so as not to spoil the show). But what is this trope, and exactly how prevalent is it?
The Bury Your Gays phenomenon, so named by the website TVTropes, goes back decades, and examines the trend of LGBTQ+ people dying in stories to serve the narrative of the main characters, or to prove a moral point. In the past, LGBTQ+ characters had a habit of dying as a direct result of their lifestyle, either by contracting AIDs or committing suicide due to societal pressures and expectations. This could be viewed one of two ways: that the LGBTQ+ people in question are being punished for their existence, or that the life of an LGBTQ+ person is inherently tragic.
The latter narrative seems to have carried forward in pop culture today. Most of our prominent films featuring LGBTQ+ people—movies like Brokeback Mountain, or A Single Man—are tragedies with a body count at the end of them. The recent Oscar nominee Carol was lauded as being unusual as not only did both lesbian women survive to the end of the movie, but they got a happy ending together, thus subverting what’s starting to be seen as inevitable.
One might argue, of course, that this trope is a result of hypersensitivity. After all, heterosexual characters are killed off with wild abandon in show, movies, and books as well, and we wouldn’t see that as a disturbing trend. People do have a habit of dying, both in fiction and in real life. Being attracted to the same gender as your own does not automatically grant you immortality.
The reason this is considered a trope is due to the fact that there aren’t enough LGBTQ+ people in media to be killing them off with the frequency that we murder heterosexual people. A recent study found that only four per cent of primetime broadcast television characters fell under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. When so few people of a certain demographic are to be found in media, it’s then very noticeable when they disappear.
However, what’s considered galling about this particular trope is not just that gay characters seem more at risk for catching stray bullets than heterosexual characters, it’s the manner in which they die. Often these characters meet their end not by their own merits, granted the heroism and agency of a heterosexual character, but to serve the plot of other characters.
In the most recent example of this trope, the character in question did not fall in battle, as was a more likely and fitting end for her character. Rather, she was killed by accident during an attempt on the main character’s life, strictly to further the plot of that character. Many felt this did not do the character justice, and made her death a forced tragedy rather than a respectful end to her arc on the show.
Characters die, heterosexual and LGBTQ+ alike. However, until our representation more accurately reflects the realities of our own diverse society, perhaps it’s not too much to ask that writers lay off the few gay characters we have floating around. Let’s endeavour to send these beloved characters, who mean so much to a marginalized group of people, to retirement homes, not their early graves.