It was almost funny — in fact, I did laugh, in absolute, horrified derision. Let me paint the picture for you. There I was, on my couch, with my family around me, binging Netflix’s new series The Letter For the King. It was full of holes, a messy amalgamation of characters and plot-lines, but light-hearted fun. Then with an absolute explosion of excitement and pleased surprise on my behalf, two of the male main-characters kissed. I was over the moon. They were a cuter couple than the main couple, and their kiss was better too!
And then would you believe it — one of them dies. In the next episode.
But why does this matter? you may ask. Characters die all the time — surely it wasn’t something malicious. The fact of the matter is that it was either malicious, or it was ignorant, and both are weighted as similarly criminal in my mind.
There is a long history of persecuting queer traits and characters in fiction. Coined by Dallas Baker as the ‘Monstrous Queer’, fictional representations of the queer community largely have a trajectory of death and punishment by the closure of the story. Colloquially, this is known as is the bury your gays trope. Hand in hand with this, they have negative connotations applied to their traits and comportments that exist outside of classic binaries (such as male/female). Historically, language has played a large role in suppressing queer identities. It upholds the dominant discourse — what is generally (and sometimes incorrectly) assumed to be the proper way of life — the “natural” moral or social rules.
When texts do not entirely ignore the presence of homosexuality, it is often punished or suppressed throughout the story. In this case, the character was killed shortly after their queer behaviour. As Haley Hulan says:
“Many instances of this trope [bury your gays] draw a direct correlation between the couple confessing their feelings for one another, kissing, having sex for the first time and the character’s death; they often die mere moments or pages after their relationship is confirmed for the audience.”
There are many reasons which play into the bury your gays trope. In some cases, queer characters are seen as more expendable to their straight counterparts. In the case of Letter For The King, unfortunately, it seemed to be something much more shallow. A case of all-round bad writing and general laziness which permeated the piece extended to this facet as well. It became somewhat clear that the inclusion of the homosexual kiss was there for two reasons: one, to provide a sense of “depth” to the character they were about to be rid of (to increase sympathy for their passing) and two, in order to present a clearly fake progressiveness — without actual deep introspection. It was a tribute. Look. There is inclusion, the writers seemed to be saying. Look, diversity! It struck me that it appeared the writers knew what they should include, but not why.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but the effects of this are very damaging towards both public opinion on such communities, as well as to their own mental health and self-love. Self-harm and suicide rates are much higher in the queer community than they are in their straight, cis, counterparts. Things like this teach the queer community and those outside it that ultimately heterosexuality is rewarded and inevitable and that homosexuality is unlikely to result in happiness.
As one review I read said, it was just weird. It really isn’t that hard. There are a few hard and fast rules. If you’re going to bother to include a minority relationship, make sure it’s for their benefit and not yours. In essence, if you’re going to have two guys smooching, don’t use it for emotional integrity in the piece, so your audience will go aww when one of them dies. That’s poor writing, not to mention morally awful. It should be self-evident, but if you’re going to include people who you do not identify as or with — do your research. Do your research into what other pieces have been written about them, as well as their understandings of their own identities, and what they want or need to be shown for them.
The issue is much deeper than I can begin to go into and much deeper than I have any understanding of. I suggest if this issue interests you or annoys you, to look further than this article and read what the many talented queer experts are saying on the matter.
For those of you looking for some shows that both include good queer relationships, and whose characters remain alive and happy by the end, check out our list of Netflix shows!
Feature image source.