How to grieve the loss of your favorite lesbian/bi TV characters

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After several deaths of beloved lesbian and bisexual characters happened in rapid succession over the last few months, several fans indicated they were going through bouts of depression, some even bringing up self-harm. This inspired some positive change with the Leskru raising more than $130,000 for the Trevor Project, but with yet another beloved character casualty on television this week, we consulted Tali Catz, a LMFT based in Los Angeles. She answered our questions about how LGBT women might be able to grieve the characters they’ve connected with and how feeling this sense of loss after they’ve been killed off is tied to both self-expression and shame.

 

AfterEllen.com: What would you recommend to LGBT women who are having a tough time with the loss of their favorite queer characters on television? For those who are feeling depressed and consumed by these losses—is there anything they can do to help relieve themselves of this kind of pain?

TC: A good rule in general, even for matters beyond this one, is to really give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling. You are human, something in this affected you, it’s OK that you care so deeply, let yourself care without judgment.

A big way to reduce this kind of  pain is to reduce any shame you feel around it. Shame already has a toxic presence in the LGBT community, and definitely appears around grief and loss. What we tell ourselves about our painthat it’s not right, or too muchonly adds to our suffering. It’s one thing to feel consumed by anger or sadness, but feeling ashamed for that adds a whole new layer. Telling yourself you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling is dismissive and unkindan unnecessary violence we do onto ourselves. The feelings are real. Let them be real to you.

There’s an assumption that we grieve all at once and then it’s done, but the reality is that we grieve in pockets. Grief evokes all sorts of emotions, not just sadness, and grief need not be about death. It can come from the end of a relationship, or maybe the end of a phase of life. And grief is an ongoing process: it’s loss over time. It’s the initial shock and then knowing and feeling what it’s like to live without something, forever. Allow the feeling to be what it is–if the sadness washes over you, that’s OK, be sad. That wave will recede and may visit again from time to time. It’s not about getting rid of the feeling, but about how we engage with it.

Person Thinking about Their Problemsimages via Getty

AE: Some people argue “It’s just television—it’s not real.” Why do you think some LGBT women are so tied to these characters, and is it “unhealthy” for lack of a better term? 

TC: Evoking an emotional experience is the purpose of artistic expression. There’s a whole area of study dedicated to the psychology of art, the relationship between art and emotion. It’s also true that we project ourselves onto these characters: we root for them, we internalize them, we feel connected to them. Perhaps these characters are living their lives in ways some viewers can’t yet, so we admire them. To see a character we identify with meet their end is tragic to us because all those feelings of excitement or happiness we felt observing this person end with them. It’s a loss of a beloved. Of course people are tied to it, and of course it’s upsetting. Calling it unhealthy goes back to shame, and shame isolateswe sink in it when we are alone.

Brené Brown suggests that empathy is the antidote to shame–it can’t survive being spoken, and it can’t survive empathy. Reach out to LGBTfansdeservebetter.com, to other fans, to an empathetic friend and talk about it.

The characters may not be real but the feelings are. If they are real enough to evoke such intense emotions, I encourage people to be curious about it toohow does this resonate with other losses? How does this increase feelings of isolation or despair? Find a community mental health agency, school counselor, or therapist–there is a vast internal world worth exploring within all of us and perhaps the intense response brought out by these character deaths is an invitation to look deeper.

 

AE: If TV execs and writers were to start taking more care over the killing of these minority characters, what kind of affect do you think it could have on LGBT viewers?

TC: What we get is the opposite of the Happily Ever After narrative, which straight cis-gendered women are spoon-fed their whole lives. We don’t have many models for happily ever after, and that’s devastating. It makes the future look bleak; it binds love and romance forever to tragedy.  Perhaps below the grief for these characters is a kind of grief for one’s own future, and how little society seems to root for our Happily Ever Too.

These characters are our heroes. We are loyal to our heroes, and having them killed off can feel like a betrayal. TV executives and writers should understand that a strong positive message of love and belonging can (and will) replace the exhausted and damaging trope that some punishment is looming, that you are easily discarded, that your type of love doesn’t matter.

I remember before I came out being absolutely captivated by Melanie and Lindsey on Queer as Folk –just watching them cohabitate was enthralling. I was absolutely downloading a new model: This is how it can be. Just like this. Better representation of LGBT women living full lives empowers us and lets young people know that it’s possible, we are not all doomed, and that it’s a story worth telling.

Broken Heart

AE: Do you have any other advice or resources you can offer to queer women who might be grieving over these deaths?

TC: A big part of healing grief is someone bearing witness to it. Don’t do it by yourself. Let someone connect to the feeling with you.

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