Lesbian Death Trope. Or, Why I Can’t Get too Excited About ‘Sanvers’ on Supergirl
I’m fearful of invoking the dreaded lesbian death trope by placing it in the title with “Supergirl,” but we’ll come back to that.
I normally don’t discuss TV shows on here, but last night’s episode of Supergirl got me thinking about a few points. First, the obvious, the superpowered “Nice Guy,” Mr. Mxyzptlk (don’t make me type that again). When his attempts to woo Supergirl with his “niceness” didn’t work, he turned to anger and violence, something many women likely find familiar. All the times I’ve been sexually assaulted started out just like this.
But beyond that, one scene inspired this post. In it, Maggie Sawyer spoke to Supergirl at the DEO. I asked myself, wait, what is Maggie doing at the DEO? Isn’t it some super-secret government organization? She can get in just because she’s dating Alex Danvers?
That’s when it hit me: she’s the head of the city’s extraterrestrial task force. Of course she should be there. She should be there quite often, given how frequently extraterrestrials cause issues in their city. She’s had an important role there before, and I haven’t really seen reason to think they want to cut back on her role. But I worry that the writers have shifted her importance from a character who’s necessary to drive the plot of the show forward to someone who’s only driving the plot of Alex’s love life forward. That’s when I realized I’ve seen these signs: in every show where a lesbian character’s girlfriend is killed.
Make no mistake, I love this relationship, it’s one of my favorites on TV. They’re a good match, they balance each other, they have great chemistry, they’re important characters, and I love their stories. Alex is a perfect “late in life” lesbian, whereas Maggie was kicked out of her home when she was forced out of the closet in high school. I came out to my parents twice, and while neither time was as bad as Maggie’s or as good as Alex’s, I was able to see how the times have changed. The first time was rough, the second time went quite smoothly. This is a relationship that I feel was actually written by LGBTQ people. I feel like lesbians actually were involved in writing these characters and their story.
However, I worry. Supergirl is one of the most progressive shows on television (part of the reason I love it so much), and they’ve been doing a good job by including Maggie as a core character, but the CW has a bad track record with lesbians. Off the top of my head, The 100, Supernatural, and Vampire Diaries, have killed off lesbian characters. These characters are never considered central enough to the plot, and they can be killed off to create an emotional impact for the remaining characters, but won’t affect the storyline greatly. Plus, it sends a hidden message, especially to LGBTQ people: you don’t get a happy ending; homosexuality is wrong. Obviously, we know that’s bullshit, but this is the message sent to people watching these LGBTQ characters treated like disposables, and it can be tough to shake that message, especially for those of us who have heard it all of our lives.
That’s what brings me to Maggie. She was central to the plot of the show as the head of the alien task force, but her role seems to be shifting to “Alex’s girlfriend.” It’s a role I love to see play out (seriously, my gay little heart does a little dance when they’re on screen together), but I’d like to see her become vital to everyone else as well. Writers could feel the pressure from knuckle dragger viewers who take issue with the lesbian relationship, and they may take the easy out, either have Maggie and Alex break up, or, worse, fall into the same lesbian death trope they’ve used countless times over the past few decades.
It’s sad we can’t just enjoy a happy relationship on TV like straight people can, but years of disappointment have made it difficult to get emotionally invested. Still, Supergirl’s progressiveness has surprised and delighted me at every turn. I hope this trend continues.