My challenge to the lesbian community who is upset about the death of Lexa on “The 100”

on

I’ve written about the death of queer women characters on television and film many times before; every time, increasingly frustrated by the lack of empathy or care writers, producers or networks have shown to LGBT viewers. Most of the characters were small roles, insignificant compared to heterosexual leads, but we clung to them because they were ours. Luckily, we have many more queer women characters in 2016—almost too many to cover on the site—and many of them have remained alive and well (so far).

So when Lexa died on The 100 a few weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised, but I was a familiar kind of sad; a “here we go again” but with somewhat less of a pitchfork raising than in the past, and I’ll tell you why. This is not an attempt to be self-righteous or to scold those of you who have mercilessly used social media to air your frustrations—when they are working to advocate for positive visibility and against self-harm, I support you. Instead, I hope you will take what I’m about to say to heart, because it’s been reverberating through my body for the last two weeks as I’ve fielded insults on the AfterEllen Twitter account.

Visibility matters. That is true. Lives of fictional queer characters matter in that they are representations of a community. But what is happening in the world right now to people of color, specifically black people; black trans women, black men, black women—I wish the lesbian community cared a tenth about that like they do the death of a white television character.

In my eight years at AfterEllen, I have seen the site struggle with how to be more inclusive of women of color as votes for the Hot 100 and the characters LGBT readers support are largely white (and more often than not straight, for that matter). Of course the percentage of how many white lesbian/bi women characters have outnumbered those that were women of color, but the outrage that has been shown for queer women of color characters in the past pale in comparison to that shown for Lexa or Sara Lance, or even Dana Fairbanks. I realize this is also an overgeneralization of all lesbian/bi women, as I know many who do care and are just as upset when Kate died on Last Tango in Halifax, but it seemed to be more because it was part of an epidemic and an actual lesbian was in charge of the storyline. (Similar case with Tara of True Blood, who was a major character on the show for all seven seasons.)

tara

In real life, it is not white women that are being targeted and murdered like black women. It isn’t white women that are facing the horrors of corrective rape or dying at the hands of one of their own fathers. These stories are real, and they are happening all over the world, even in our backyards, and yet the voices of the white lesbian community I am a part of does not seem to care as much about them as they do about the loss of a very talented actress in a pivotal role, but ultimately a guest star. 

I’m not trying to shame anyone, or force them to give up a fight they think is worthwhile. All I’m asking is for you to consider the passion and the vitriol and the time dedicated to something like getting someone fired or working to hire an actress back for future episodes. (I also realize there are likely fans of The 100 who are also dedicated to activism within the community and intersectionality. Respect!)

As intersectionality exists in pop culture, entertainment and media, I have to wonder why some white lesbian characters receive so much more attention than their women of color counterparts. There are some amazing black queer characters on television right now that are representing the kinds of people that need more visibility, now more than ever: Denise on Master of None, M-Chuck on Survivor’s Remorse, Annalise on How to Get Away With Murder, Sophia on Orange is the New Black.

viola

The support we give to characters like Lexa on The 100 could easily transfer to these women, but why is that not the case? Perhaps because, despite their also being LGBT-identified in their respective ways, we don’t “identify” with them; we don’t see ourselves in them like we do someone who is the leader of a dystopian army on a show that professes to see no race or sexuality. That’s great for the show, but it doesn’t appear to be true for the fans.

Hollywood is an industry; a business. The networks are making money off of us tuning in for their television shows, and the best way you can show that you refuse to support the way they treat their characters is to stop watching. Just like with #Oscarssowhite and the endless but necessary conversation surrounding diversity in Hollywood in general, you can stop giving your money, time and attention to those who are not giving you what you want.

I am frustrated alongside you; it is not fair that we keep getting killed off of television shows. But in Hollywood, there’s always the tiniest chance a character could come back, even if just for a dream sequence or a flashback. In the real world, there are no second chances. We have to speak out now: Black Lives Matter. It’s great to see queer women come together for something, to organize themselves in a way that has benefitted The Trevor Project. Let’s now extend this beyond ourselves.

Sowetophoto by Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

I will never not encourage fans to speak up and use their social media accounts to share frustrations and grievances, but real lives that are being taken and affected by discrimination and racism and misogyny and homophobia and transphobia, and it’s not as easy as turning it off. It requires action. All this to say, I am tired of LGBT women being killed off television shows, but I am even more incensed by the murders of Eudy SimelaneBritney Cosby, Crystal Jackson, Sakia Gunn, Motshidisi PascalinaPapi Edwards, Lamia BeardShani Baraka, Rayshon Holmes, Ty Underwood, Penny Proud, Bri Golec, Kandy Hall, Yaz’min Shancez, Keyshia Blige, London Chanel, Tiffany Edwards, Mercedes Williamson, Ashton O’Hare, Jasmine Collins, India Clarke, K.C. Haggard, Shade Schuler, Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker and too many more. And these are just the women; just the people of the LGBT community. This doesn’t even include the Trayvon Martins and the Eric Garners. It doesn’t begin to describe the amount of unjust incarcerations black women like The New Jersey Four face. 

A quote from out queer Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza:

Black women are the fastest growing segment of the US prison population, and Black transgender folks and gay, lesbian, and bisexual folks are part of that as well. This is our opportunity to elevate the ways in which Black male and Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered bodies are policed, criminalized and targeted for captivity and subjugation and ultimately, for murder. This is our opportunity to expose the racist, sexist, and homophobic tendencies of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and others like them who give cover to and build power for the corporations who exploit, terrorize, and kill our people. This is our opportunity to call for a complete overhaul of this so-called justice system which provides little more than misery for millions of families with a loved one inside.

Having seen Andrea Gibson perform this live last night, I offer her beautiful poem “A Letter to White Queers,” which expresses this sentiment better than I could. I hope that every single white queer woman who reads this might try to give one half of their energy toward this fight for equality and visibility that they do to the polls they vote for on this site or elsewhere.

In closing, I’d like to invite queer women of color who read this site to share with us in the comments section or on our Twitter or Facebook accounts how queer white women can best show up for them right now in this time of great need. And to all of us who are white, listen and use your voices and your privilege and your power for something that will affect real change.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for all of the feedback! The point of this piece was to ask queer women to come together in support of something that is sorely needed and to ask QWOC what they would like to see on the site to make it more inclusive. This is not an attempt to divide or “pit” communities against one another, but to point out communal power and activism that could also be used in ways that we haven’t shown up enough, the site included. 

More you may like