As a writer, I notice that very few other writers are actually caring about their characters. It seems that they have acquired a creative position somehow and are using it to pursue ratings through shock value rather than good storytelling and compelling characters. Right now, television is losing integrity through the way its characters are not being respected by their creators. All they want to do is start a generic franchise, consisting of an ensemble cast and then take the route of using stock storytelling mechanisms – the go-to of these being the sudden death of a character.
Now, I care about all characters (I should do), but that does not mean not highlighting problems amongst specific demographic groups when they arise. Actively caring about the way female characters are written does not, in fact, imply that I do not care about the way, say, black characters are written. These things – things which occur in a person by chance rather than choice – should not be ignored. Because they affect the way people are perceived, treated, and that in turn influences our memories and what attitudes we have, what our social priorities are, and who will get our vote in an election.
We should not ignore those aspects in people, because those aspects forge their identity, just as we have forged our own identities based on the context of our lives and social context. By ignoring those things, we are ignoring other people’s identities, and electing to not celebrate those variables in people, especially after everything Humankind has already done to each other. Peace is not founded-upon ignorance of difference, but upon awareness of difference. Because ignoring difference will lead to ignoring the reason for peace to exist in the first place.
The cause of conflict is not less important that the conflict itself. Which is why I’m here to tell you about the way LGBT+ characters are being written right now. Four months into this year, and eleven shows have killed-off twelve LGBT+ characters for no other reason than furthering the plot of a heterosexual character or perpetuating the stereotype that same-sex relationships can only end in tragedy. This statistic is so controversial, not because twelve LGBT+ television characters have been killed-off, but because the writers and Showrunners responsible have treated those twelve LGBT+ characters as sacrificial lambs for the convenience of the narrative.
The rising tide is being caused by LGBT+ characters existing within the context of heterosexual characters, not themselves. They are being defined as a divergence from heterosexuality. Heterosexuality is not “the norm”, it is simply part of a greater norm, encompassing many different labels (covered by the “+” in LGBT+). And the result of this is that LGBT+ people who watch these broadcast shows will, either already or soon, notice the trend of LGBT+ characters being killed for the convenience of heterosexual characters.
Those LGBT+ viewers will see that every same-sex relationship on television ends tragically. Twelve LGBT+ character deaths in four months is enough, but in total, it is 153 since 1976. Television has the power to influence society, even if society does not realise it. And since 1976, society has been witnessing a televised mass killing.
The Hunger Games is becoming a reality, because of television’s ability to create reality. This would not be such a problem if there were more LGBT+ characters on television, because then the death ratio would at least be wider. So if there is any hope for LGBT+ people who just want to enjoy television without seeing their already under-represented demographic being slaughtered every week, what is to be done? Saving Hope (Showrunner: Malcolm MacRury and Adam Pettle) writer Noelle Carbone and writer Michelle Mama have drafted the LGBT People Deserve Better Pledge, which declares guidelines for writing LGBT+ characters as sentient beings, rather than narrative mechanisms.
Speaking to The Mary Sue, Mama explained:
When my friend Gina Tass contacted me to let me know about the work she had done to raise money for for the Trevor Project in Lexa’s name and the insane outpouring of support, it got me thinking. These kids were hurt and upset and needed to channel this energy and have some way to feel like they were being heard. I said ‘what if we do something for LGBTQ representation like the Bechdel test?’ and it started from there. I contacted Sonia Hosko and Noelle Carbone who are also queer and work in scripted television and the four of us put our heads together to come up with the pledge. I’m so thrilled and moved by the response online[sic] – kids from all over the world messaging to thank us for taking a stand for them. Here’s hoping the industry sits up, pays attention and signs on the dotted line.
While Carbone said:
I grew up in a Roman Catholic Italian household in a blue collar working class town. There wasn’t a whole lot of ‘otherness’ in my life. And as enlightened and progressive as my parents were for relatively new Canadians, our world was pretty small. Shows like The Golden Girls, Roseanne and My so Called Life choosing to tell queer stories — those shows, and those characters, were a godsend. And then Ellen came out and it was like she reached straight into my little corner of south western Ontario and said, ‘Hey. It’s cool. See you when you get here.’ It took me about five more years to come out, but when I did, my psyche was already buoyed by quite a bit of positive queer representation in the media. I mean everyone loved, still loves, Ellen. My God, her own mother was in her coming out episode. How awesome is that? Positive queer representation on TV helped me figure out who I was and, more importantly, that it was okay to be me. And it showed my parents that the world wouldn’t end, and that it was possible for me to have a good job (like Will on Will & Grace) and awesome friends (like Willow on Buffy [the Vampire Slayer]) and maybe even get married (like Carol and Susan on Friends). And sure enough, when I came out my parents were cool and the world didn’t end. I don’t know what my experience would’ve been like if I was a teenager now and watching queer female characters get shot or stabbed or drowned one after the other after the other. I don’t know how that kind of representation wouldn’t burrow into your subconscious and send a message of pain and futility. Which I guess is why the pledge is getting the response it’s getting online[sic]. It contains a message of hope that lots of people, especially young people, need to hear. I’d absolutely love it if other Showrunners and writer/producers signed the pledge. But I know that it’s a complicated issue and not everyone in this industry quite has their head around it yet. So instead of asking people to sign, I’d rather direct them to the wonderful, albeit alarming, articles that have been circulating. Like Autostraddle’s comprehensive list of every queer female tv[sic]character’s death dating back to 1976. And ask them to pay attention to how quickly the bodies start piling up from 2013 onward. Or the stats they’ve compiled — and turned into colourful graphics so I can understand them — referencing how only 11% of series have queer female characters in them. And of that meagre number, more than a third of them have killed off one or more of those queer female characters. So to put it in terms non-math brains like me understand, that’s like there were 11 queer female characters standing in a crowd of 100 people and then 3.85 of them dropped dead or were murdered. And we all watched it happened on TV. I think that’s pretty twisted no matter where you stand or what your background is.
I just wanted to make you aware of the LGBT People Deserve Better pledge and why it matters. It shouldn’t need to if every television character were written properly, but there we are. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed. Okay, so I am angry a little bit…