19 of the 35 lesbian or bi women recurring characters on scripted American TV shows who existed at the beginning of 2016 are now dead.
— Elizabeth Bridges (@EGBridges) June 8, 2016
@EGBridges divide the 35 into 19 dead, at least 4 grieving, at least 4 in jail, etc
— Dyketagnan (@Dyketagnan) June 8, 2016
If this looks bad, it is. A Vox article does a breakdown of all the character deaths in the 2015-2016 season, and while it notes that straight white male characters also died in high numbers, they already make up a high percentage of the characters on most shows. If they had done the maths to break it down into ratios, lesbian/bisexual women would come out at the top of the list by a hefty margin.
(When I fiddled with the Vox chart, it listed 22 LGBTQA women who died. 22.)
Lesbian and bisexual women are still relatively rare on TV. It’s rare for there to be more than one on a show, and many have none. There were 409 scripted shows this season (when cable and streaming shows are included). That 35 does not include the lesbians/bisexual women on non-network shows, but even if it did, I doubt the number would tally up to many more than 50 lesbian and bisexual women as regular characters on TV. That still puts the number of dead lesbians and bisexual women, as a percentage of the total who actually exist on screen, at an incredible level. At least a third of them were killed this year. And the number doesn’t include all the minor and guest characters who get killed as a function of TV plotting. As the Vox article noted, if they’d included them in the stats for women killed, the number would be horrific. It would bump up the numbers for lesbians and bisexual women, too.
This is the problem we’ve got on TV. There’s always been an issue, but this season has highlighted it by the sheer number involved in the bloodbath. Yes, it’s generally only one woman in each shows who dies (except for the murder/suicide combo on one show), but seen in the broader picture? Given how small a percentage of characters are lesbians/bisexual women? It’s horrible.
In a world where we’re trying to tell young LGBTQA people that it gets better, all we’re doing is telling young women that loving another woman is a death sentence.
I know that every show runner thinks their story is unique. That what they’re doing is different and ground breaking and totally not falling into the Bury Your Gays tropes that other shows have done. But it’s not. No, POI show runners, it really really isn’t. Not even for you.
Death has become ubiquitous on TV. A cheap way to bump ratings and gets arses on seats. That’s a problem.
And because it’s something everyone is doing, and show runners need those eyes on their show, they’re always looking for the next new shock to tease their audience with. They’re eyeing up their cast and trying to decide who should die next.
We’re not asking for lesbians and bisexual women to be invulnerable and impervious to everything. We’re asking for show runners to stop, to think, to consider whether there’s some other story they can tell. To think about the plot they’re about to write in the wider context of what every other show is doing. I know, every show runner is working in a bubble, which is probably why none of them can see what’s happening here. But that needs to stop.
Think. Consider whether your particular “kill the lesbian/bisexual woman” story adds anything apart from cheap thrills. Consider how it fits into the context of all the other women-loving-women deaths happening around you. Consider whether there’s another story-line that would bring in the viewers without adding to the problem. Considering being radical and NOT killing your lesbian/bisexual woman. If your actor is leaving anyway, the most edgy, exciting thing you can do…is give their character an ending that is not death.
If you want to get completely radical and unusual, let them ride off into the sunset with a happy ending. That really would be a story that we rarely see.