For many, media is a source of relaxation where one does not have to think about real life. It’s an outlet, but unfortunately media isn’t exactly representative and the stereotypes that are perpetuated throughout media have ripple effects throughout our modern society. Tropes such as bury your gays, the effeminate gay best friend, and the predatory sexualized lesbians have gone far past their use. These stereotyped tropes lead to incredibly harmful narratives and can affect both policy, the mindset of the youth, as well as mental health.
'Bury your gays' was a heavily used trope, especially in the years 2016-2017. Every other week a queer character was killed off, most notably Lexa from “The 100”. Queer characters are often used as disposable and are used to lead along the storyline for shock value. The CW is a notable network that perpetuates this. Their productions often have queer side-characters . It feels like they are slapping a rainbow flag on the back of a character and saying “do you feel represented?” And to that I say, no <3. In the year 2021, we shouldn’t have to settle for less. It is rare to see queer characters portrayed in healthy relationships. (As a sidenote, I will be using mostly lesbian relationships in media as a reference point as these are the shows I have watched). I find it really difficult as a queer person of colour to relate to straight white cis male heroes. I simply do not have the attention span to imagine myself as a straight white cis man. I’d prefer to watch and engage with media that represents myself. It’s incredibly empowering to see that our modern media has more representation of queer characters and people of colour, but this media is not exactly perfect, not infallible. Nearly every movie that pertains to lesbians is a period piece, as if being a queer woman is a mystical or phantasmal experience as opposed to something real that we experience today. Even in modern times, these characters are extremely toxic or presented to appeal to a male audience. This is how media works, but pandered to a sexualized male audience seeing as the queer fanbase is so incredibly strong and unique? Queer people are so starved for content we will go to the depths of Netflix to find something to watch. Aside from all these heartbroken, destroyed, toxic, murdered, dead, suicidal lesbians from our cinema, there is some hope. And that lies within cartoons.
The irony of it all is that queer history in media begins in cartoons. Disney perpetuates the idea of the queer villain especially. Often the villains that are queer-coded are evil and menacing. They’re meant to portray everything their heterosexual hero is meant to oppose. This is seen, for example, with the character Captain Hook, who is meant to represent a male pedophile preying after young boys. Ursula is quite literally based off of a drag queen. I am uncertain whether that was meant to be an homage though. As of the late 2010 era to now, the queer community has found much more representation in cartoons. Shows such as “Steven Universe”, “The Legend of Korra”, “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power”, and “The Owl House” provide that representation that grown adult queer people have lacked so much during childhood. “The Legend of Korra” created the first-ever lesbian couple on a children’s cartoon. Although it was subtextual, they did provide an outlet for myself and many other queer BIPOC. For the first time ever I saw myself. I felt that I could be powerful too, just like Korra. But unfortunately as Nickolodeon was still homophobic, Korra and Asami’s relationship was still only subtextual. The most we got was a hand hold between Korra and Asami. The uproar created by the fandom had created the cry for better representation within cartoons. “The Legend of Korra” was the foundation for future queer content on cartoons. Later on, shows like “Steven Universe”, were allowed to show queer couples through agender lesbian space rocks. Which is confusing on its own, but does provide good information to young people who are exploring their own identities. The most notable of these cartoons I’d say is “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power”. The creator Noelle Stevenson puts. A spin on the 1980/90s cartoon She-Ra and provides so many diverse queer people of colour characters. Even though it's incredibly well-written media, it is important to be able to criticize the quality of the representation, instead of merely appreciating the fact that there is representation present at all. This media does a really good job of portraying queer relationship such as Bow’s two dads and other background characters. This show is aimed to a general audience of children and it’s incredibly enjoyed by the queer community because they can relate to these mentally ill queer characters. Stevenson’s work for the queer community has been incredible and portrays a main message of love and compassion. Queer creators, like Noelle Stevenson and Rebecca Sugar, spearhead this movement for better representation for queer youth.
The future of our media lies within these cartoons. Not only will these well-written cartoons adapt a new mindset for children so that they will no longer have interlaced homophobia seeing themselves through villains (Disney), they’ll see themselves as heroes. They will understand that they are allowed to feel those emotions and feel flawed, but understand that they are human too.
Hurtful tropes such as the bury your gays trope, the gay best friend, and the predatory sexualized lesbian are throughout modern media and are almost unavoidable when it comes to media. The genres of Netflix are as follows; literal porn, period piece where one character gets assaulted or dies, toxic coming of age drama, or mental illness but make it queer. Even media that is deemed so high and worthy such as “Supergirl” or anything by the CW honestly, do not subvert the genre, they don’t flip stereotypes, they perpetuate a lot of them. In “Supergirl” for example, they use the metaphor of aliens to explain racism and homophobia. The aliens are people of colour and queer folks. The humans are straight, cis, whatever. They include in this metaphor an alien bar. As one of the queer characters, Maggie Sawyer, states, “these people are treated differently and I can relate to that.” Not only do the human characters of the show overtake these bars for their own privileges, they also assault several alien characters and take up their space in that bar. Although this is meant to be fiction and a metaphor, it further proves how normalized the domination of space and the assault of the other is. “The 100” provided a beautiful queer storyline between Clarke and Lexa which was mostly subtext besides one major kiss, a sex scene, and ultimately Lexa’s death. This was all just for clicks and views rather than creating meaningful media. They degraded that storyline into nothing. Although the actress who played Lexa, Alycia Debnam-Carey, was supposed to leave “The 100” for “Fear of The Walking Dead”, “The 100”’s writers should have changed up how they were going to transition her off the show. Ultimately they decided murdering her brutally by accident was the way to do that.
Not as if that will have any sort of harmful lasting effect on the queer community… No yeah it definitely did. It sparked a whole movement, ‘Code 307’, which refers to the season and episode in which Lexa died. The movement took place during 2016 due to the queer community’s absolute disgust toward how many queer characters were being killed off in media.
This site has the statistics and names of each queer woman killed off from 2016 - 2017: https://lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/all-dead-lesbian-and-bisexual-women-on-tv-2016-2017/
A lot of modern television also overdoes the coming out trope, it's fairly tired as a storyline. As the queer community, we’ve all mostly come out and it’s no longer a useful storyline. It feels like a tired storyline that straight people use to garner sympathy. They’re just giving us the exact same chewed up storyline over and over. Not to say that this can’t be done beautifully; shows like “One Day At a Time” do this really well. Others, such as “Riverdale” don’t necessarily.
For “Riverdale”, the epitome of hyper-sexualization and the inability to retain their audiences attention is when they portray intense lesbian sex scenes with what I assume to be minors (but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Riverdale anyway), overlaid with scenes of two sweaty muscular ab-ridden dudes wrestling, back and forth. And that just about sums up “Riverdale”, I don’t think you need to watch anymore after hearing that. But they do an awful job at that. They even put one character in conversion therapy and don’t talk about it ever again. Their side character, Kevin, portrays the overplayed gay best friend, minimizing gay men to hurtful stereotypes.
We are the generation of queers who grew up with shows like “Glee” to look up to. But regardless of all the insensitive media we’ve grown up with, there’s still hope, home grown at that. For example, “Carmilla”, a Canadian web series that somehow in 2018 found its way to the cinema because of all the support it received. A lesbian vampire romcom brought to you by a period pad company. As ridiculous as it may seem, the two lead actresses of the show have won several awards for this content. It’s worth a watch by the way. It’s on YouTube on the channel “KindaTv”. Their series provides a down to earth, realistic as vampires can get, drama about a peppy journalist trying to figure out the mysteries of her college campus, joined by a team consisting of a broody lesbian vampire, a himbo, a tall ginger, and a non-binary scientist. Really interesting, go check it out, three seasons and a movie worth of content, incredibly well written although my critique with the movie is that it’s incredibly white, they tried to fix it in later seasons but still, it seems like people of colour in queer media are an afterthought. One diversity seems diverse enough to those media executives. Secondly, a Canadian show called “Wynonna Earp”. The queer characters are the main characters in the show and defy the bury your gays trope where one character almost dies but has on a bullet proof vest which seems like a clapback to “The 100”, where the character Lexa dies by bullet. The show portrays two strong lesbian characters who both have their own backstories and storylines apart form each other. Their scenes provide growth for both characters in a natural and realistic way. I’m fairly certain both actors identify as bisexual in real life. It’s really important to have actors and actresses who are queer to play these roles and play them right. Because you can tell when you’re watching queer cinema when an actor is really straight because they don’t know how a queer character would really act. Queer love is so different from straight love in cinema and in real life too. But again, the show does have its issues. Although it's a really fun gunslinger, demon vs. human supernatural sort of yeehaw Canadian vibe show, their cast is predominantly white and they have a tendency to kill off their characters of colour, but they’ve been trying to address it. One must still acknowledge the damage that continually killing POC, or avoiding having characters of colour on a show does. Its obvious people of colour are an afterthought in queer media.
It’s really important to showcase diversity of both queer and people of colour in media because not every relationship is as “diverse” as blondes and brunettes. Because it seems as though it’s that way in media. Leading into that, even when there is diversity in media it's always a white woman and a woman of colour. And often its femme/femme to appeal to the male gaze, rarely do you see femme/butch, and even rarer, butch/butch. But leading back to my point about there being only 1 person of colour, there is often a masculine character that is the person of colour. Which leads into even more stereotyping. I suppose there’s not as many butch characters in media because its far more difficult to sexualize them. Which leads to my vendetta with Ruby Rose. I honestly mean no offence to this actress but to the movement that has surrounded her. A lot of young women have been hyper-romanticizing Ruby Rose’s feminine masculinity. ‘Feminine masculinity’ has all been thrown about a lot within the realm of TikTok as the phrase: “I want to be feminine in the way men are feminine” is commonly used. I think its incredibly reductive to the butch experience. Ruby Rose is of course a beautiful woman, but it feels as though they only enjoy her so much because she is palpably and conventionally attractive, in short she looks like a model. She is attractive in the way a heterosexual woman can be attractive, but add a butch haircut and a few tattoos bada bing bada boom, ‘gay icon’. And it really irks me that she is seen as epitome of butch representation because there’s so much more to it than short hair and masculine clothing. But it all goes to show the media will give you what’s marketable, not what’s true to real lived experience. That is why we as viewers must remain critical and not settle for less.
As an antithesis to my dislike of Ruby Rose, there’s this tv show called “Gentleman Jack”. Although it is a historical piece and a little overplayed in the genre, it is based off a real woman, a masculine lesbian of the 1800s who, by my personal opinion, provides a much better representation of the lesbian experience than Ruby Rose ever could, no offence. This show is based off of Anne Lister’s real life experiences and her diaries, and provides insight of our queer ancestors and their experience in engaging with a heteronormative world, particularly as a masculine presenting woman.
“I know well enough what all the world will think; but all the world may be wrong.” - Anne Lister, 7 January 1834
“I was born like this. Why should I compromise myself?” - Anne Lister, “Gentleman Jack”
Just a couple of inspirational quotes from Anne Lister’s actual diary and from the show. As a butch lesbian, I must say I do adore the way in which they portray Anne’s queerness and butch identity without having the need to cut her hair short to emphasize the fact she is masculine. Butchness transcends masculinity, rather than the physicality of it, it is the sort of energy and confidence it exudes. Sorry Ruby Rose, Anne Lister simply does it better.
White queer folks often experience the privelege of being able to see themselves portrayed in media, whereas the BIPOC queer community does not. Often the average ‘woman crush wednesday’ equates to white queer women talking about Cara Delevingne, Kristen Stewart, and Ruby Rose, and on the rare occasion you hear names like Zendaya, Janelle Monae, Hayley Kiyoko, or Mitski. It's frustrating to acknowledge that this lack of representation truly skews exposure for queer youth of colour, but also dictates desirability within the queer community.
The elusiveness of queer POC from media reinforces European beauty standards, and furthers the agenda of straight white cis executives of media to merely view LGBTQ+ folks as a quota to fill rather than a community to represent.
The true harm of not properly representing a community that is so desperately starved for content extends to youth and the public perception of queer people of colour. Queer youth of colour will never feel as if they are worthy of a happy ending if they keep seeing themselves portrayed poorly in media and downcast as a subplot, relegated to the back of a storyline and ultimately dead, thanks to the bury your gays trope. Media has such a strong impact on children, it can lead to stereotyping, stigma, or internalized self-hatred. Queer-coding characters, especially when depicting those characters as evil for their difference, has ripple effects throughout society. A simple veil of ‘design choice’ or an allegory like aliens or animals, still reinforces harmful stereotypes. Children internalize it all, regardless of if they are aware of it or not.
Media's effect does not stop at children as this perception pervades throughout society. Once a certain group is continually portrayed a certain way in the media, society accepts this as common knowledge and fact, and it can ultimately impact policy. Whether the media views queer folks as predators can change whether queer folks have rights.
We as viewers must remain critical of the media we are given. Decent representation of diversity is not enough. The CW’s motto of “[Daring] to defy” is not nearly enough to rectify years of harm. The CW, like many other networks, must work to properly portray LGBTQ+ BIPOC. The queer and BIPOC community cannot be reduced to harmful stereotypes, tropes, or cliches.
“Don’t we deserve better than that?” - Clarke Griffin, “The 100”
Also if you want a thicc compilation of every single use of the bury your gays trope in media, here ya go :’) https://www.doesthedogdie.com/does-an-lgbt-person-die
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