Bulletproof Vests and Bisexuality
Waiting to see if our lesbian and bisexual TV characters can dodge bullets with bated breath.
In preschool, my teacher separated me and my friend Rachel for being too affectionate. Our little four-year-old romance was founded on sharing chapstick and a tandem bike at play time, but holding hands and kissing was the last straw for our teachers. Years passed, I changed schools, and my gay pre-k adventure faded — I grew up into an straight girl.
Except, I wasn’t entirely straight. I made jokes about being “a little gay.” I said with a guarded laugh that I was only 80% straight. But I was always shied from the “bisexual” label, and set parameters for when I was allowed to consider myself bisexual: after I kissed a girl, after sex, maybe after sex with five women — you know, “just to be sure.” I didn’t talk about my same sex attraction much outside of a small group of like-minded friends, who were all somewhere on the not-straight spectrum. Behind closed doors, we amorously watched Shakira music videos and changed our Tinder preferences to “women only.” Outside, we dated men.
Bisexual or heteroflexible women have reason to be quiet and cautious: modern media has long punished its bisexual characters. Film and television have a decades-old traditions of disproportionately mistreating gay/lesbian/bi characters — check out the 1995 documentary “The Celluloid Closet” for a quick history — and the sudden deaths of these characters created its very own trope: “Bury Your Gays.”
Every time a contemporary TV show debuts a queer character, fan communities celebrate — and then collectively hold their breaths.
Recently, I published a piece in celebration of the show The 100, set in a post-apocalyptic world where women reign over armies and communities are casually inclusive of non-heterosexual relationships. The show’s lead, Clarke, has been consistently bisexual throughout the series. A commander of a large alliance named Lexa has been Clarke’s enemy, friend, and source of seasons-spanning sexual tension. The show built this relationship like any heterosexual one — a rarity for queer television fans. The characters had long, achingly stares at each other, occasional light touches, dialogue dripping with subtext. Clexa, as fans dubbed the pairing, was a treasure.
A couple weeks ago, after much promotion, teasing, and taunting by show runner Jason Rothenberg, Clarke and Lexa finally finally had sex. Clarke was about to leave Lexa to rejoin her people and prevent a brewing war. In the midst of their goodbyes, they buckled under the intense weight of their sexual tension, and had one hell of a kiss.
Viewers got to glimpse the aftermath of their tryst: Clarke and Lexa tangled up in sheets, Clarke tracing the tattoos on Lexa’s back, their content banter. It was beautiful. In the next scene, Lexa is shot in the chest by a stray bullet intended for Clarke and killed.
I’m sorry, was that shocking and sudden? You’re right, it was.
As many others have pointed out, killing another lesbian was far from original. In fact, a man killing a lesbian with a stray bullet meant for another woman sounds awfully familiar. Joss Whedon killed a beloved lesbian character named Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, just after her reconciliation with bisexual character Willow — even including the actress who played Tara in the main credits for the first and only time.
Tara’s death still haunts queer fans, and Lexa’s untimely demise ripped open old wounds for a whole community. The difference, however, is that it isn’t 2002 anymore. TV shows do not exist in a creative bubble, removed from the influence of fandoms. Fans cried out across the internet. Tumblr exploded with rage and sadness.
And Jason Rothenberg faced a hellstorm of righteously pissed off fans — who made sure he lost fifteen thousand Twitter followers.
The queer community rightfully continues to lose its cool over Lexa’s death. There have been tributes and artworks and boycotts of the show that seem to be seriously cutting into its ratings. The showrunner and writers have made public statements, some mourning the decision to kill Lexa and continue a trope that they all somehow — despite working in the industry and presumably watching television — knew nothing about.
It hasn’t been enough for me.
I used to watch The 100 the morning after it premiered as a weekly treat. I’d sit in my comfy bed, with some chocolate, and venture into a post-apocalyptic wasteland of war and nuclear holocaust for no reason other than to watch my two favorite characters, Clarke and Lexa. I wasn’t just watching because of their relationship — I was watching because they turned me on. I was watching because they made me want to talk about how very not heterosexual I felt while they were on the screen, and how this feeling was seeping into the rest of my life. I was watching because I needed to learn how to flirt and kiss and be in a relationship with women, because all my practice was with men and I felt like an innocent teenager again. I was watching because I was getting ready to talk about my feelings with the world, and Clarke and Lexa gave me the hope and excitement to do that.
Then, with a single little scrap of metal, The 100 and Jason Rothenberg shot that hopefully part of me in the heart and killed it cold.
I’ll recover. I’ll heal. I’ll keep my Tinder preferences set to “Men & Women.” I’ll flirt with the cute girl in the leather jacket at the coffee shop. But I’ll join the large community of people waiting to see ourselves happy and not dead in the media, watching TV, and holding our breath.