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Tuesday 12 April 2016

The "Bury Your Gays" Trope: Is Person of Interest our Last Hope?

by Lauren W

***TRIGGER WARNING: It has been bugging me for some time now that I haven't taken to All Things Lesbian to voice my thoughts about the "Bury Your Gays" trope. Please note that this post may contain some images that could disturb some readers both mentally and emotionally, and death is mentioned more than once. Of course, there are also major spoilers from hereon in. You have been warned.***

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past two months, you'll have heard of the outrage sparked by the loss of our beloved Heda, Clarke's gal pal, and the Commander of the Thirteen Clans, Lexa kom Trikru (played by Alicia Debnam-Carey on The 100).

Alycia Debnam-Carey as Lexa in The 100

Losing yet another lesbian character from our already tiny percentage of television lesbians hurt some people so much that they contemplated suicide, threatened the creator of the show (Jason Rothenberg) and stopped watching The 100 altogether.

In fact, after the death of Lexa, we averaged around one lesbian charatacer death per week, two of which include Denise from The Walking Dead (played by the fabulous Merritt Wever) and Empire's Mimi (Marisa Tomei). And there are more. Many more. (Click HERE for an almost complete list of lesbian character deaths by AutoStraddle).

Alanna Masterson (Tara) and Merritt Wever (Denise), The Walking Dead.
The sad truth is, even the most LGBT-positive shows are not even immune to this damaging trope - think Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Trish from Orange is the New Black, and The L Word's Dana Fairbanks, to name but a few.

What is perhaps most soul-enraging is the fact that heterosexual fans feel like they can chime in with things like "yeah but, everyone dies, it's just a fact of life", or "you wanted to be treated equally, didn't you?"

The truth, unfortunately, is that we're not being treated equally at all. The facts show that for the 18,000+ straight characters on TV, there has been a total of 383 lesbian or bisexual female characters. And guess how many of those characters remained alive at the end of the series in which they appeared? 20%. TWENTY FUCKING PER CENT. How many died? 31%.

And the other 50%, you ask? 28% of them were merely guest stars and had no real storyline to end their character arc at all. 10% were written off completely - they didn't die, but they were no longer visible. The last 10% had happy endings. 10%. Wow. (Click HERE for the source of these figures).

Amber Benson as Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now you have a little bit of background on the whole issue, I'd like to point you toward one show that has not played to any of these tropes thus far: Person of Interest.

I could explain the show in full detail and fangirl over it's entire premise, but many a lesbian watches the show for one thing only: it's LGBT couple, Root and Shaw (played by Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi respectively).

Shahi (left) as Shaw and Acker as Root.
You may recognise them from shows such as Angel and The L Word (oh, Carmen), but when they got together on Person of Interest, angels came down from heaven and celebrated in a wine-filled frenzy.

In the show, Root and Shaw fight crime together and flirt shamelessly. When there was an initial hint that a relationship was on the cards for these two, many fans were (not surprisingly) worried that the whole thing would turn into one big queerbaiting disappointment, and Shaw would end up with the show's male protagonist anyway. But it was not so.

Just before the end of season 4, Sarah Shahi's character sacrificed herself to save Root and her friends, right after she planted a big ol' smacker on her girlfriend's lips.

And lesbians everywhere applauded... And cried.
Of course, sacrificing one's life generally comes with some side effects, which include death. Sigh. Another lesbian/bisexual death on TV for us all to rage about...

But wait! There was hope! Shahi left only for maternity leave, and it was revealed that her character survived! I know, right? You don't believe me. A bisexual female character on television survived.

When the show returns next month, it will be it's last season. I have never been more upset about the loss of a TV show since Buffy ended in 2003, but I digress.

Since the announcement of the air date for Person of Interest season 5 (it's May 3rd, by the way), fans of "Shoot" and indeed other fandoms have been worried about the fact that it may kill one of them off at the end of the series.

Is this a threat or is it just foreplay? You decide.
Of course, I don't want to get anyone's hopes up. The show has been known to kill off some of its major players before (see Taraji P. Henson's Joss Carter), and the subject matter of Person of Interest means that all of its characters are often on the brink of death.

However, this show is yet to let us down. It lived up to its promise that it was not interested in queerbaiting, and that Root & Shaw are canon. It brought Shaw back from the dead, so to speak, and gave us a character with a serious personality disorder who is portrayed in a generally positive light. It treats its people of colour with respect, and gives them personality that is not defined only by their race. It gives us non-heterosexual characters that are not only about their sexuality, and they are not made to look like outsiders because of who they love.

What I'm saying is, we should hold on to hope for Person of Interest. When you compare it to shows such as Pretty Little Liars, which has killed off pretty much all of its black and LGBT characters, (R.I.P. Maya, Nate, Shana, CeCe, etc) POI has a pretty good track record (Carter notwithstanding). The 100 is twice as bad as most of the main offenders, as just weeks after the death of Lexa came the death of one of the show's few people of colour, Lincoln (played by Ricky Whittle).

Taraji P. Henson as Carter, Person of Interest
So is Person of Interest our only (current) hope for a happy lesbian ending? Only time will tell. It is, so far, one of the few remaining shows on television that has not killed off one of its LGBT characters. All we can hope is that it stays that way.

In the meantime, you can catch up with POI on Netflix if you are in the USA or the UK. Trust me, it's so, so worth your time. I can't stress that enough.

Person of Interest returns to CBS for one last season on Tuesday, May 3rd at 10pm, with episodes twice a week on Mondays and Tuesdays from May 9th onwards.

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