Friday, April 8, 2016

S is for Stop Backlashing Against Our Backlash

The lesbian character in New Girl is bullshit, but at least she's not dead.

Seriously, though, that character is some bullshit. She is rarely on screen, and when she is, it's to advance the storylines of straight characters. Here she is, proving that Schmidt is good at sex (even him talking about it turns her a little bit straight, ha-ha!) Here is her pregnancy, written exclusively so that the two straight female leads can have a crisis about their own fertility! Seriously, an episode of television where a gay lady talks about getting pregnant and explores that experience a little would be ~immensely fucking useful~ in my life right now but no, all we hear about it is that Cece needs to find a man, stat. Wonderful.

I can't even remember the character's name (Sadie? Is it Sadie? I'm not going to google it, do it yourself) but having her in the show's universe being very occasionally on screen and only ever to further boring straight storylines (literally that whole storyline of Cece's has just vanished, have we even mentioned her eggs in the last two seasons?) makes New Girl one of the most inclusive shows on television.

And the fact that they haven't killed her yet is truly remarkable. The Bury Your Gays trope is real, and it's hurting us.

Only 11% of television shows have lesbian or bisexual characters. Not main characters, just a character. At all. Ever. Even if one guest character kisses one girl, the show counts. Only 11% of shows have managed this feat. Of those shows, 35% have a dead lesbian or bisexual character. In one third of shows that have a lesbian or bisexual character in them, that lesbian or bisexual character (or another one, usually the one they have just admitted they loved/slept with/had a sparkly moment with) will die.

Only 16% have a happy ending for a lesbian couple. Sixteen percent of the eleven percent. 1.76% of television shows have a happy ending for a lesbian couple. (straight dudes, if you make a joke about "happy endings" I will seriously cut you I am not kidding do not even think about it)

The numbers are shocking, and sickening, and sad, but are not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this to tell you why the numbers matter.

I did not know that I was gay until about three months after I met my wife. I cannot entirely blame television for this - I had, in fact, watched every season of The L Word in bed with my lesbian flatmate, desperately avoiding eye contact so that she couldn't see on my face that Carmen was lighting my downstairs on literal fire, and I still didn't know I was gay. I was so determinedly ignorant of my homosexuality that I'm not sure anything short of meeting and falling in love with the most beautiful girl in all of the world could have enlightened me. (Can I just add in here that even The L Word and Lip Service have straight characters because even when writing shows about lesbians for lesbians we are able to acknowledge that straight people are real and interesting and worth having as part of our worlds? What say you, straight TV writers?) But not every baby gay is going to be quite so far back in the closet that they can't peek out from time to time and think about how life would be on the outside.

According to TV, life will have a 35% chance of dying (usually violently) and only a 1.76% chance of a loving relationship, if you even exist at all (and usually, you don't).

How very encouraging!

Straight kids are at risk of life disillusionment because their normal boring happy lives aren't quite as great and shiny and brimming with joy as TV makes it out to be. Queer kids are at risk of suicide, self-harm and hiding away in the closet forever, partially because normal boring happy lives are rarely, if ever, presented as an option by the mainstream media. I mentioned this at work and two, TWO people said "You have The Fosters!". Yes, there is one shitty boring melodramatic "7th Heaven" type nonsense show where the two female leads are a happy lesbian couple. Now go ahead and name every show where the two leads are a happy straight couple. I'll give you, oh, two hours. You'll need all of that just for listing, no time for research.

What bugs me most about all of this, though, is that I'm reading a lot of backlash against the backlash against the rampant lesbian-killing on our screens. "What, you want to be immune from death?" the straight viewers sneer. "I thought you wanted to be treated like the rest of us?"

If only 1.8% (look, I'm being generous and rounding up, honestly I could round it up to 5% and it would still be hilariously bad) of straight characters had happy endings, would straight people bother to watch TV? If you went to 100 movies and you knew that in only one or two of them the characters would get together in the end, would you even bother? What would be the point of wasting your time getting invested in a relationship or a story that you knew had such a tiny chance of a good outcome? If at least one in three of all characters died on TV shows, would you even bother watching TV? I'm not just talking about on shows like The 100 or The Walking Dead. I'm talking about every. show. ever. made. Straight girls lost their shit over Downton Abbey when their favourite characters or their love interests kept dying. "It's not even worth watching if you're just going to kill everyone," they cried with one voice. Fucking tell me about it, mate.

One in ten people identify as queer - lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, or somewhere on the rainbow that scale encompasses. That means that one in ten characters on our TVs should be queer, which means that every show that has ten (or, let's be generous, fifteen) characters should have a queer person in it. And that person should have the same risk of death, and the same chance at a happy ending, as every straight character on the show. That is what "being treated like the rest of you" would look like. We're so far from that it makes my stomach hurt. Only 11% of shows have any lesbian or bisexual people - that includes shows where there was one guest character who was bisexual. Not 11% of characters, but 11% of shows. That means that in 89% of shows, no matter how large that show's universe, no female that has sexual feelings towards another female is ever mentioned in that universe.

Imagine if it was the reverse. Imagine if 89% of shows had no straight people. Imagine if, in that measly 11% that had even one character who had one straight interaction, one third of those straight people were killed off (usually by a lesbian). Imagine if, even if the straight people were permitted to survive, only one in one hundred shows had a straight couple end the show in a happy relationship.

How long would it take you to get pissed off? How long would it take you to notice that that was unspeakably fucked up? How long would you wait before you "boycotted" TV stations and wrote angry blog posts and set up huge fanbases around the rare straight characters only to be shat on from high as they, predictably, get killed. Now imagine that being straight is still illegal in a bunch of countries. Imagine that getting married to each other is a rare gift you rely on one government at a time to bestow on you and your international brethren. Imagine that states in America are frantically trying to pass laws that people don't have to serve you based on your gross straight lifestyle. You sigh, turn on the TV. Another dead straight person.

I know that you, reading this, probably have very little power to turn this around. I know that you can do very little to ensure that one of every twenty (I'm really getting generous here) characters on TV are not straight, and that their odds of happiness/survival are equal to their straight co-characters. But maybe, just maybe, you can care with me. With us. You can stop not caring about it, stop trivialising it, stop acting like we're asking to be the main, invincible characters in every damn show. We KNOW that lots of people die on The Walking Dead. We KNOW that lots of people die on The 100. You are welcome to kill us off on those shows at equal odds that you kill off your straights. But we also know that there are literally thousands of TV shows out there that happen in worlds where dying only happens at about the usual rate, and those TV shows under-represent us so desperately that killing us off on "everybody dies!" shows feels deeply, particularly, especially cruel. It's not our fault that the only shows who think to include us are also the ones with the freedom to kill us and pass it off as equal treatment.

We need you. Bury Your Gays is a real problem. We, the minority, do not have the power to change this on our own. You do not have to help us, but please. Please stop backlashing against our backlash.