From Grey’s Anatomy to Desperate Housewives: how our favourite TV shows betrayed queer women
Sometimes it’s not quite enough for TV shows to simply have queer characters. It’s about what you do with them.
The “bury your gays” trope is real, and all too often our favourite LGBTQ+ characters are brutally killed off.
Queer women in particular seem to bear the brunt of the writers’ merciless pens, with many of the popular drama series of the past three decades opting to give them chop. In fact, around one in 10 TV characters who are killed off are LGBTQ+ women.
However, beyond burying the gays, TV shows have a long history of failing them in other ways, too – forgetting they exist, or forcing them to face hideous trauma that’s rooted in the fact that they’re queer.
Over on Twitter, fans are banding together to highlight which TV plot lines they wish had been left on the cutting room floor, and many of them revolve around the grisly end or unjust stories faced by female queer characters. While this rundown is just the very tip of the iceberg, here’s what fans are saying about TV’s history of betraying queer women.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
For many 1990s babies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the architect of the modern bury your gays trope.
A lot of 20-something queer people today would cite sapphic witches Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) and Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) as the first LGBTQ+ relationship they saw portrayed on screen. They were together for more than a series, leading many to think: hey, could these two maybe survive?
The answer, of course, was no. Towards the end of season six, Tara is shot and killed by one of Buffy’s enemies, Warren. To make matters worse, the episode begins by showing the pair at their most tender and explicitly queer, and ends with Willow covered in her girlfriend’s blood. Salt, meet wound.
Mind you, Willow did get her pound of flesh when it came time for revenge.
Even at the time, thousands of Buffy fans rallied together to try to convince the creators to revive Tara, but it never happened. By the way, poor Tara had already had her mind sucked out by evil god, Glory, in the previous season.
While dark teen drama Euphoria doesn’t necessarily delve into the bury your gays trope, with all of its main queer characters still alive (if not thriving), the series had fans asking serious questions about Rue and Jules during season two.
LGBTQ+ fans have enjoyed the show’s portrayal of complex queer relationships and identities (except you Cal, except you). What fans didn’t love? The way the show’s writers built up the romantic relationship between main characters and best friends Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer) with the latter’s special episode, only for it to be torn apart by Elliot (Dominic Fike), a cisgender man with a guitar.
Reflecting on the series’ storylines, many fans have declared this one the very worst of the bunch.
Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) were possibly Grey’s Anatomy’s most adored couple, partly because of their instant on-screen chemistry, and partly because Callie was one of the first times audiences saw a bisexual person on TV, but mainly due to the amount of chaos they faced together. The car accident, the plane crash, Callie’s pregnancy, and coming out to her family – the list goes on.
That’s why queer hearts broke and are still breaking after Arizona cheated on her, eventually leading to the couple getting divorced. While the pair had a long and substantial relationship, fans have always been confused by what they feel was a completely unrealistic, needless move. Was it necessary to get rid of the show’s most beloved queer relationship?
Many fans have deemed it Grey’s Anatomy’s worst every storyline, with one writing: “The way they absolutely destroyed Callie and Arizona? I will never forgive them.”
Orange is the New Black
Grab a shovel, it’s time to bury! Fan reaction to Poussey’s (Samira Wiley) death was pretty much unanimous outrage and despair, considering she was one of the best characters across all seven series, and one of the most beloved TV lesbians of the 2010s.
Fans were initially upset that her very brief relationship (well, kiss) with Taystee (Danielle Brooks) didn’t go anywhere other than the friend zone, but the end of her romance with pansexual inmate Brooke Soso (Kimiko Glenn) left them inconsolable. After an episode spent discussing their future together in season four, Poussey is killed off during a peaceful protest, after being suffocated by prison officer Baxter as he tries to restrain her.
Taystee breaks down, hugging Poussey’s lifeless body on the prison floor. It’s a brutal, heart-breaking watch.
“Let’s be honest…we all stopped watching after y’all killed Poussey,” one fan shared, and maybe they’re not wrong.
In among the “Where do we even begin” and “Get rid of the whole show” comments on Twitter, many Glee fans believe that the show’s one worst plot line was Finn (Cory Monteith) outing Santana (Naya Rivera) in front of her fellow students. In fact, after Santana reacted by slapping Finn, it was she who ended up being in trouble and forced to apologise. Finn, however? No repercussions whatsoever.
Yes, Santana was a bully. And it’s true that she wasn’t erased or killed off. But fans think Ryan Murphy did her dirty by allowing her to go through something so traumatic without any redemption.
As a side note, fans were also pretty unimpressed with Blaine (Darren Criss) dating Dave Karofsky (Max Adler), considering the latter spent most of his time bullying Blaine’s actual and only love interest, Kurt (Chris Colfer). Which, on reflection, was a little bit grim.
Despite being one of the campest shows of the millennium and being created by gay man Marc Cherry, Desperate Housewives was never particularly kind to its LGBTQ+ characters.
Andrew van de Kamp (Shawn Pyfrom) was a sociopath whose mother, the problematic legend Bree, all but disowned him for being gay. Meanwhile, Bob (Tuc Watkins) and Lee (Kevin Rahm) were relegated to the sidelines as the funny-but-not-very-relevant token gay couple.
But the show’s worst offence, according to fans, is what they did to Katherine Mayfair (Dana Delany).
In her final season as a main character, Katherine realises that she’s bisexual after falling for stripper Robin (Buffy stalwart, Julie Benz). It’s a cute ending for the famously unlucky-in-love housewife, and the pair leave for Paris. Katherine returns alone in the show’s eighth and final season, revealing that her bisexuality was basically just a phase. Talk about bisexual erasure.
“When they turned Katherine straight, that was like the biggest disappointment I’ve ever witnessed in a TV show,” one fan wrote.
In a show almost entirely made up of LGBTQ+ actors and characters, it was of course inevitable that one or two would be killed off at some point. But Candy (Angelica Ross)? Really?
Candy’s death hurt for several reasons. It was unexpected, sure. In life, she was fierce and unapologetic in her transness and her HIV diagnosis, and it was upsetting to see someone so unashamed of herself killed with such brutality. Most painful though, was the simple fact that Candy’s death, as a trans woman killed while sex working, felt so chillingly close to reality.
Sometimes a character’s death works to make a devastating point about society at large, but that doesn’t mean viewers are left feeling any less betrayed.
“I will never forgive them for what they did to Candy,” was the general consensus.
Pretty Little Liars
Bisexual Pretty Little Liars character Maya St Germain (another Buffy refugee, Bianca Lawson) embarked on a queer romance with Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), much to the delight of the show’s LGBTQ+ fans. However, it wasn’t to be. As the pair attempted to rekindle their relationship following a split, Maya is killed by her ex-boyfriend, Lyndon. An LGBTQ+ woman being killed by male violence is, truly, queer trauma at its most twisted, and fans never really forgave the show’s creators for it.
If there’s any solace though, it can be found in Emily stabbing and killing Lyndon in a revenge attack. As Lady Gaga once said: “I don’t believe in the glorification of murder. I do believe in the empowerment of women.”
The whole Paige (Lindsey Shaw) and Emily relationship, too, is a little bit messed up when you think about it – can’t queer women find love without a plot where one tries to drown the other?
These fan opinions barely scratch the surface of all of the ways queer women have been killed off, tortured or set up to fail in TV shows over the years.
From the absolute disaster of the Killing Eve final, to the queer-baiting evident in Wednesday, and the cancellation of sapphic classics such as Warrior Nun, it’s clear that TV still has a long way to go until queer women get the stories they deserve.
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