Anger and heartbreak descended upon the fandom. I cannot speak for everyone because admittedly I wasn’t very active on Twitter or Tumblr, but the outpouring of grief, the huge number of essays, the reaction videos on YouTube—this was a horrible shake to the system, for fans of a show that they believed would deliver good representation of the LGBT community and ended up watching it carelessly thrown away. The acting from the three stars of the death scene, Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa), Eliza Taylor (Clarke) and Neil Sandilands (Titus) is something that I really believe should be commended, but it is perhaps Debnam-Carey’s Lexa that has become the striking symbol of this revolution (there is something very Katniss Everdeen in that sentence).
I must confess: I’m very naive in this situation. I’m young and I don’t have much money to donate. I don’t remember a lot of shows in which this has happened, for example, I’ve never seen The L Word and thus, I don’t remember Dana’s situation. I’m aware of Delphine from Orphan Black, Naomi from Skins, Xena, Maya from Pretty Little Liars—but across Twitter, so many names were being given from so many fandoms that it frustrated me, and it upset me. How could I be writing this in 2016, in a supposedly progressive society—especially media-wise—and yet this problem still arises? Autostraddle most recently posted this alarming article. 97 (and rising) is the count for dead lesbians and bisexuals out of a very minority and underrepresented group.
I have also seen LGBT fans being accused of being bullies or doing it out of spite of a show—as if they needed kicking in the dirt once more (I really can’t see any bullying in raising money for a LGBT suicide prevention charity). To me, the trend ‘LGBT Fans Deserve Better’ does not implicate show cancelation, but maybe that’s just my naive eyes (I don’t know, it just seems like it says that LGBT Fans Deserve Better). I’ve seen them mocked for getting upset over a ‘just a fictional character’, or being told ‘it’s just a TV show’. Has it ever crossed anyone’s mind that a young LGBT fan may be terrified of the real world? If they’re getting mocked online for that, how must it be for them in real life? That they may look to LGBT characters for inspiration, for courage, for strength? That in being represented they may feel validated because quite often, they aren’t—not all families or friends are accepting, as much as the modern world likes to think they are. Has it crossed anyone’s minds that these fans form such close attachments to these characters because for an hour of blissful escapism, they can see that it’s okay to be a LGBT person and still kick ass, still be clever, witty, intelligent, and brave. That if they can do it on TV, it’s possible in real life too. Then they die, in the tropiest, laziest way possible.
What I think people don’t quite understand, possibly, is that this isn’t a shocking death. The Gay Women Channel quite aptly summed it up in their typically blasé and light-hearted, yet knowledgeable way, by stating that LGBT deaths aren’t a surprise anymore. They’re expected. One of them even says that if a LGBT character survives, that would be the real shocker. What hugely saddens me about that is that LGBT fans can’t even watch another show anymore until it’s finished and done just to see if they are in for another investment of heartbreak.
I guess what I’m trying to make a point of is, is what would happen if every straight, white, male character got inexplicably and deplorably killed off in every show you watched just to further the plot? To a point where you see a straight character and immediately think: “yep, he’s gonna die when he walks into a room without a bulletproof vest”. What does it mean, when a writer or showrunner cannot work within constraints for that LGBT character and the only option, in their minds, is to kill them off? What does it mean, when LGBT fans seek solace in the world of fanfiction or “fix-it-fic” because the actual, professional show writers failed them? What does it mean, when you kill off a LGBT character because you had to use them as a plot device and couldn’t find anyway else to explain the plot? What message do you send out, when you write these cheap deaths? That LGBT fans do not deserve to love who they love? That they should fear every door they open? That they should be punished for simply being who they are?
This isn’t about one death or one fandom. It’s about the fact that consistently, for so many years, the LGBT fanbase of any show has faced mistreatment in the ways their characters were getting killed off. It’s about the fact that LGBT characters do attract attention and hype and buzz for a show because it’s exciting that for once a minority group is being represented. And all that hype and buzz will be used to lure and bait vulnerable fans into becoming invested in a show, and then it will, quite literally, shoot you with a gun.
As a showrunner or as an executive producer, you surely have a duty to actually do some research into this. Most concerning is when it’s stated that X producer is aware of X trope, and they go on to do it anyway. I think pretty much of what I’ve said and want to say is summed up in this open letter.
There have been numerous articles about Lexa’s death on The 100. Mo Ryan, from Variety, and active on Twitter, and definitely gunning for Biggest Don Award 2016 in my annual awards ceremony (it’s very low-key) highlighted this issue; The Uncanny Valley has; Medium has. Most touchingly, Ryan McGee, a TV critic, took a long, hard look at his review of the episode and also the outcry on Twitter. He didn’t quite understand, as many may not—and that is fair—the true upset it caused. Yet he did not call LGBT fans out for being bullies. Instead, he kindly and honestly opened his website and twitter up for messages from heartbroken fans, in an attempt to understand. In an attempt to learn. Not everyone is going to understand the situation, but that’s not the problem. Ignorance is.
The actual willingness of professional critics to support and learn from the LGBT community and these are critics who are much more acclaimed, experienced in television and writing than I am, is amazing to see. Because the real message here is that LGBT fans are just like any other fans: they are human. They feel. They emote. They cry, they laugh, they joke, they feel pain. But it is the LGBT fanbase that is always punished for supporting a character they felt represented in, whilst everyone else skimps away. It’s the LGBT fanbase ostracized for being ‘haters’ or ‘pathetic’ or ‘bullies’ because they are angry and upset.
And it’s the LGBT fanbase now that are saving lives.
As I mentioned, stemming from Lexa’s terribly-written death on The 100, a fundraiser was made in honor of the Trevor Project (summary). Though it started small, it then absolutely exploded. As I write, it has reached an astonishing $33,351. Fans have banded together across all fandoms and supported this beautiful rally. In this day and age, where fandoms often argue and fight over who’s got the better show and polls are made around it to encourage the buzz and hits of a website—it really is all a business—fans from lots and lots of shows, and many generations, came together to donate for a truly honorable cause.
Even in the face of being spitefully, hatefully called bullies and other profanities and idiotic nicknames—they’ve reached into their pockets and donated, because maybe they didn’t get the representation they wanted, that some needed, today—but hopefully, it can encourage future generations of writers to not make the same mistake. The positivity now radiating through is amazing. The support, condolences and kindness. The snort-inducing mock videos.
Straight fans have donated upon seeing the devastation across their fandom. Prominent critics have promoted the cause (see Mo Ryan’s tweet—Biggest Don of 2016 is calling…). People have donated in honor of young lives taken because of misrepresentation on TV. People have donated because they want a better tomorrow. People have donated because their relative or friend couldn’t see beyond the darkness and despair that TV can cause. People have donated because they don’t want to be hurt anymore; they don’t want to see others hurt anymore. They don’t want any more precious lives taken anymore. It’s a serious situation. Figueiredo and Abreu(2015) found that LGBT teens were more at risk of suicide and comorbidities like depression and anxiety because of stigmatization and bullying, prejudice and discrimination. These are not just Twitter handles that are hurting. These are real people. Every life matters. We should care for all lives. Straight, white, black, gay, lesbian, bisexual, Chinese, Indian, Hispanic—isn’t that a global message? That every life should matter?
It’s a gross juxtaposition. Writers regularly brag that they are doing a good job if they are making us ‘feel’. That’s brilliant—that’s great. But if you are making an already-vulnerable teenager feel suicidal, or unworthy, or helpless, is that something truly to be celebrated? I am not asking for boring, emotionless stories. I don’t think anybody is. But when you write minority characters or indeed relationships, there is a responsibility there. You may ask “why?” You may say “well, straight characters die too, so what’s the big deal?” My only answer would be that minority representation is rare on television, and that is why people hold onto those characters so tightly. That if you flick across channels you will find a live straight person anywhere, with bonus moral grayness and brooding history. But for LGBT fans, brilliant bisexual scientists who are brave and noble and loving like Delphine Cormier (Orphan Black) are rare. A young, lesbian commander of a wide coalition, peace-making and selfless, like Lexa (The 100) is rare. A lesbian, leather-clad, heroic vampire like Carmilla (the webseries Carmilla) is…okay, you’re not going to get a vampire, but I’m throwing it in there.
To revert to where it started, with The 100 fandom: yes, there was anger. There was disappointment. Even I, as measly as they come, got a tweet to say thank you for “getting it” and whilst I was grateful, I simply thought—what is there to get? Why is there a supposedly difficult concept to grasp for anyone? Most upsettingly, I saw a lot of tweets saying, along the lines of, ‘why did I expect anything else? I’m the idiot here’ and that just can’t be the case in 2016. Why should a LGBT fan have to expect their idol or representation to be killed off and feel like it’s their fault? Why should a LGBT fan expect to be disappointed in every fandom they engage in? But very quickly, as social media is both a beauty and a beast, people found solace within each other and within other fandoms. I saw a note from the donations page stating that ‘X fandom will stand by you’ because it’s not just The 100 that’s been cheated over the years. That anger and despair and hopeless turned into something beautiful. It turned into gorgeous fanart. It turned into essays and fanfiction. It’s turned into a huge collection ofinternational suicide hotlines. It turned into saving lives.
I would really encourage you to read the comments section or indeed read them on this tumblr account, to get a true idea of just what LGBT representation means, not just for the community but for the widely affected, for the understanding, for the critics, for everyone. This is a blissful segment of unity. This is a minority group from any fandom rising like a phoenix from the ashes to create something everlasting and impactful. This is a loud message: that they will not be defeated even if the uncaring choose to beat them down. That this is beyond a character and a ship: that this is a bigger cause, and that is LGBT representation. There will be toxicity in every fandom, but people care, and even if your chosen representation on TV failed you…you matter.
This is hope, in worlds and shows that have wronged you of that, robbed you of that. This is an extended hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, and a global trend. LGBT Fans Deserve Better. God, LGBT fans matter. So, so much. They deserve the world just as much as the next person does. And I hope that one day all LGBT fans will recognize that; that the critics will recognize that; that showrunners and network executives will recognize that. In the face of adversity, bullying, discrimination, homophobia, hate and mockery, LGBT fans have banded together to nurture this amazing project into fruition and let it fly free in the sky, to expand and glow. If there can be no beacon of hope for them on TV right now, then there can be a beacon of hope in this project. There can be lives saved, families saved from mourning, and real progression. It won’t happen immediately but so long as there is real hope—not the false, exploitative kind—then maybe are witnessing the first, inspiring cycle of change. It’s striking, how one can belittle others so easily; how anger is easier to jump to than love. How fighting is easier than unity. But I think, quite frankly, this tweet says it all.
I’m going to be a healthcare professional one day and I don’t want to be doling out antidepressants or consulting depressed teens because of bad TV representation—not because I don’t want to help but because I don’t want to see it at all. I want to get on the bus to work one day and have two girls excitedly discuss behind me that ‘their ship has sailed and got married and ended happily on this amazing show’. What this project has achieved is immeasurable. It has offered hope to the hopeless; light to the dark; courage to those who’d lost it; a voice that needs to be heard. To the LGBT fandoms: I salute and thank you for being so eye-opening and magical, for teaching me, for reminding me that kindness will persevere. Under unity we can hope that the day you get the ‘better’ you deserve will be very, very soon.
Once more, here is a link to the fundraiser and the fantastic Trevor Project. I do have one last request, and that is you should listen to this Televerse podcast because there are some very, very important points there—and nobody can dictate your emotion or feelings regarding anything. Please do not let someone have the audacity to tell you how to feel. Thank you for reading—as always, you can hit me up on twitter @NicolaChoi or below on the comments—but mostly, thank you, as I quote Mo Ryan, ‘#leskru’ for making this magic happen.