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(For reference, I am queer.)

In my post-apocalyptic novel and in the short story from the novel's antagonist's perspective, my MC, Eris' love interest, Caspian, has/had two mothers, Saskia and Ezrith (Ezrith is the antagonist). Saskia was his biological mom, and Ezrith is his adoptive mom. Saskia was accidentally killed by Eris when Eris was a child, and neither Caspian nor Ezrith know about it.

I know the "lesbian/gay character dies" trope is extremely popular in the media, especially with shows/books/movies that want to avoid having LGBT representation, so they kill off the only queer character. The "lesbian/gay character has a dead lover" trope is also used a lot, and is pretty tired.

But I'm not using Saskia's death as a way to avoid LGBT representation--five out of six of the living named characters that I've written are queer.

With this context in mind, is it still bad that I have a female character who was in love with a woman die? And if so, how can I change my story or development to avoid any underlying homophobic tones?

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    @ArbiterElegantiae: Comments are for suggesting improvements to the question or asking clarifying questions of the querent, not for political rants/arguments (or being rude to people who wisely disengage from such arguments). – V2Blast Jul 13 at 4:21
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    Separately, the names Eris and Ezrith are very similar. Is that necessary? – Richard Tingle Jul 13 at 7:36
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    @RichardTingle I named my MC Eris after the goddess of discord, and Ezrith in honor of a girl that I knew who passed. It may be a little confusing in the question. – weakdna says reinstate monica Jul 13 at 14:15
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    Don't break your back trying to avoid what you think are "tired tropes". All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again. Write the story that you like and I assure you there will be people who will like it, as well as people who will dislike it. If you repress yourself in your own art, not only will your art feel soulless to its audience, but you as the creator won't feel any better either. – Sigma Ori Jul 14 at 9:57
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    I'm not using ... to avoid LGBT representation--five out of six of the living named characters that I've written are queer Nobody will think you are trying to avoid LGBT representation, as they are still clearly over-represented. – Based Jul 15 at 10:05
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No, I think you're good. Since so many of your named characters are queer, it's not a case of killing off the sole token of a group, like it is with the 'only black guy dies' trope. Similarly, the villain being queer shouldn't be a problem because there's lots of other representation. And as Ash said, you're not killing her off because she's queer.

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Would you kill them if they were straight? If yes then you're not being homophobic, whether you're seen as being homophobic by readers and critics is a different story of course. If the death drives the story forward then its necessary and if you treat that particular death no differently than you do the death of straight characters in the same piece then there is very little room for complaint.

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I’m going to challenge the framing of this question a bit. The way you’ve asked it, only a troll could answer yes. Of course it’s absurd to give writers a list of predictable dos and donts to check off—especially since the original justification for a lot of them was, “Write something different for a change.” If you want validation on that, you’re right: it’s dumb. But I think there’s a more serious point here, which we should understand and acknowledge. It’s not homophobic, but is it cliché? In 2016, Caroline Franke complained that of the 242 recurring characters who died in the past season of television, about ten percent were queer women.

You don’t give an example of someone who says that killing off a gay lover is “homophobic,” and I can’t think of anyone influential who says it always is. So I’m not sure whether the people I’ve run into are the same people you’re worried about. Still, let’s look at where they’re coming from. Sorry for going over stuff you already know.

Up until around the 1960s, books that dealt with homosexuality would be deemed “obscene” unless they killed off the gay characters in the end as punishment. In the US, the Post Office would refuse to ship them, so they couldn’t be sold. When the times and the mores changed, the cliché stuck but its meaning reversed: now the gay characters always died so we could feel sorry for them. Up through the ’90s, it was still controversial to depict gay characters on television or YA fiction at all. Even series that patted themselves on the back for how visionary and liberal they were, like Star Trek: TNG, completely flinched. As social conservatives shifted to saying they only objected to “the homosexual lifestyle” and began to see gay people as pitiably deluded, a large part of the public were more willing to accept a single, miserable gay character in fiction—especially one whose partner had already died so they never had to see them together—than one in a happy, fulfilling relationship. Today, none of that applies, and there’s no reason you couldn’t write as many lesbian couples living happily ever after as you want. But it’s still a lot more common to kill them off.

So on one level, it’s sort of like a dog dying in a children’s book, or writing in a cop who says he’s one day away from retirement and shows a picture of his wife and cute daughter. (There was an episode of ER in the ’90s that played off that expectation even back then: “You told me his partner died of AIDS!” “Oh, I meant his lab partner. I’m sorry you misunderstood.”) The reason there’s a stronger reaction than eye-rolling is that a lot of lesbians are sick of seeing the characters they identify with always tragically dying or tragically losing their true love. Straight romance sometimes has a sad ending, but that’s all lesbians ever got. If they were born before 1990 or so, they also remember that it was because homophobes didn’t want there to be any stories where lesbians ever got to have a happy ending.

So one way to mollify those readers (I’d encourage you not to think of it as “defending” yourself) might be to give some other lesbians a happy ending. Before too long, people will probably look back from a different perspective and think, “Oh, this is a YA book from the late twenty-teens, so of course it won’t kill any lesbians. That taboo was enforced on social media back then just like the opposite taboo used to be enforced by old ladies writing letters.” It makes sense today for people to be sick and tired of dead lesbians, but in the longer view, both taboos are equally limiting. You can’t please everyone. But regardless, “the hero learns that the bad guy killed the parent he never knew,” was one even George Lucas thought was too boring to play straight.

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    +1 Thank you! I almost wrote an answer with links to Missing Mom (TVTropes) and Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators. Intersectionalism is an actual thing that helps us see the pattern rather than just protect our own... – wetcircuit Jul 14 at 17:29
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    Just to note the trend, when Joss Whedon killed off the lesbian character Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no one, even to this day considers it homophobic. She and her partner were one of the most developed gay tv pairings at the time and her partner's grief over her death was a driving force for the story arc for the remainder of the season. Most of the loudest complaints were from the fans who liked Tara as a person (it didn't help that her actress was added to the opening credits rather than being listed as a guest star in the same episode she was killed).+ – hszmv Jul 15 at 18:14
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    +It's also pointed out that Tara was the first of many fan favorite characters Whedon likes to kill off because a lot of his writing is all about subvertin audience expectation. It's to the point where watching a Joss Whedon work and the fan favorite side character lives is a subversion in and of it's self. Tara, Fred (short for Winifred) (Angel), Walsh and Book (neither women), Paul, Boyd, Topher, and Bennett (Dollhouse, only the last one female and with Topher was a fan favorite couple), Agent Coulson (Avengers, and he got better. Someone else wrote the scene independent of Whedon). – hszmv Jul 15 at 18:29
  • Only 242 characters died in 2016? According to statista.com/statistics/420077/… , there were 540 deaths just in Game of Thrones' sixth season, which aired during 2016. – Acccumulation Jul 15 at 18:45
  • @Acccumulation Here is the list she used. It only counts characters who had been in at least three episodes. – Davislor Jul 15 at 19:11
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My answer is relatively direct in this matter.

To my mind, true equality occurs, when a person recognizes another person is homosexual, yet this information is not interesting enough to cause any kind of reaction, i.e. it is so normal that one may say, "whatever".

Equality is not, "Oh, Greg, Mira told me you're homosexal, that's co cool!". Equality is, "Hey there, Greg."

With respect to your storyline, I assume you need to kill off a character, because this is the path you envisioned for that specific character / trope. It is more homophobic not to kill off this character, due to their homosexuality, because this is what you originally intended for the character, but then altered due to that character's sexuality.

Behaving differently and treating someone differently is what constitutes homophobia in my opinion. People need to become such a common occurrence in your world, that interactng with them no longer constitutes a special event for you. This is when you truly start treating them like everyone else. This is when you treat people of some sort XY just like people.

TL;DR:

Not only are you fine killing off that charcter, but you even should do that, if this is what you intended before you started considering implications of political incorrectness.

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    Agreed that that's the end goal. But we don't live in that society yet. And until we do, we have to take into account the realities of the society we live in, which is that there is a lack of good LGBTQ+ representation in media. So we have to really consider whether each death is appropriate and necessary. Because "bury your gays" is a trope, and a problem. – Jonathan Jul 19 at 20:17
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Homophobia is a state of mind. Actions cannot be homophobic in and of themselves, the intent (or the unconcious bias) matters. Since you do not want to be homophobic, the only way for your writing to be homophobic is if you have a bias against lesbians that you are not aware of yourself. (And to be sure, I have seen queer people who dislike gays because they're too accepted by society, so for all I know you could be a homophobic queer. I just think it's extremely unlikely.)

As pointed out very eloquently by Davislor, the setup might still be a cliché. This you will have to figure out for yourself. For me it was important to clarify that using some trope does not suddenly make you sexist, racist, or homophobic. Only your state of mind determines this. It is our duty to always be skeptical of ourselves, to question whether we might be biased in some way, and to try to change this if it is so. But we should not let ourselves be judged by others for thought crimes we may or may not have committed.

So the important question is not whether it is homophobic or not - it's not. The question is whether your readers will be annoyed by it, or whether it will be perceived as a harmful to the gay community. This, again, is highly unlikely considering the premise of your novel. I'm actually more concerned about your novel being perceived as pandering to the LGBT community. But this is another question and not the point here.

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    I think it’s more helpful to take the opposite approach. It’s pointless to argue over whether someone has evil intent. Either that’s unknowable, or pointing it out won’t get anyone to stop because the person we’re talking about already knows and doesn’t care. Besides, if someone keeps knowingly hurting other people, saying that they don’t hate the people they hurt is not much of an excuse. It’s a lot better to talk about things people with good intentions might not realize are harmful. – Davislor Jul 14 at 13:27
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    I want to emphasize that my previous comment was a generality, not aimed at the questioner or anyone in this discussion. – Davislor Jul 14 at 13:34
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    @Davislor, I agree. And calling people homophobic, racist etc. over things they are not consciously doing is a bad way to get them to change something. It requires a more sensitive approach. In most cases, people are not as hateful as one might believe. We're all just hopelessly insensitive to other people's feelings. – PoorYorick Jul 14 at 15:14
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    @PoorYorick It's useful to separate societal biases from personal biases. And to recognize that we can be influenced on a subconscious or societal level beyond what we consciously think. And that's not a reflection on the person if they are, but it is a reflection if you're afraid to face those subconscious biases, or worse, get defensive about them. – Jonathan Jul 19 at 20:21
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First, I'm going to answer no. You're not being homophobic. But, I also think you're asking the wrong question. And most of the answers are starting with that incorrect premise.

The more important question is have you fallen for the "bury your gays" trope? It is entirely possible, and even common, to kill off LGBTQ+ characters without being motivated by bigotry. In fact, if you know the history of the trope, it actually started as a way of including these characters in stories during a time of extreme regulation. It was the time when a married couple had to have separate twin beds on TV. Being anything but cis/het was (and for many, unfortunately, still is) seen as sinful, and the powers that be that controlled publishing and production of entertainment didn't want to be seen as pushing "sin", so if you were going to include characters like that, you couldn't do it in any way that could be seen as promoting them as positive. So, easy way to avoid that was to kill them. It's the reason the virgin survives the horror films in the 80's, while the teens who have sex get killed (often while having sex).

The common questions I'm seeing in the answers are "Does this move the story along?" "Are you doing this because they're gay?" And that's too low a bar. That's like the Bechdel test - Do you have two female characters who have names and talk to each other about something other than men? Great! You're not a sexist. [insert eyeroll emoji here]

Does this death move the story along? Show me a death that doesn't. Even some random extra's death serves some purpose in a story - illustrating a danger, showing a character's cruelty, showing the limits of the hero, etc. So that's a pointless question.

Likewise "are you just doing this because they're gay?" Again not necessarily a good indication of anything. Sometimes you want your audience to empathize with the grieving partner of a gay character, so in that case your answer would be yes, you killed a character because they were gay. And it's appropriate.

I would ask these questions instead. First, does this character's death have an emotional impact on the audience? Man Eating Hot Dog's death, probably not going to make me cry. But a main character dying? That will leave an impact on the audience.

Second, is there a way to accomplish the same thing without killing them? It's easy to fall into tropes, so ask yourself is that what you've done, or is this really the best way to tell the story you want to tell.

And third, who is left? I don't want to boil telling a story down to a math equation, but a quick check might be useful. Did you just kill off over half of your LGBTQ+ characters with one death? Then maybe you want to revisit question 2 there.

There are some really great videos that go in depth into this trope that I watched recently. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZCrgiRiCu8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXRW-u_czok

So with all that (keeping in mind that I don't know more than the summary provided), I would say that you're ok. You've avoided not just homophobia, but also the trope born from it.

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If Saskia is his biological mother, presumably she was bisexual, not exactly gay. So although in the LGBTQ community, she was not lesbian or gay, you aren't following that trope.

But that is nitpicking: The real morally corrupt element of that Trope is making LGBTQ an evil punishable by death, and since you have other LGBTQ characters in the novel (most of them), you won't be following that trope unless you find a way to kill all of them (or make them miserable) for their sin.

If there are any happy endings for LGBTQ characters, you have proven that just being LGBTQ is not a barrier to a fulfilling and happy life.

If there are NO happy endings, I'd think you were perpetuating the LGBTQ is a punishable sin trope.

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    The couple could have decided to use a sperm donor... so both mothers could be lesbians. – Llewellyn Jul 12 at 20:44
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    @Llewellyn "post-apocalyptic" suggests sperm donation services probably aren't operating. – eyeballfrog Jul 13 at 0:27
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    @weakdna This opens up another possible contentious point: Did you kill off Saskia because she is the only bisexual character? Discrimination of bisexuals is a thing, after all. Also among lesbians and gays. – Philipp Jul 14 at 11:12
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    @Philipp No, Caspian and Eris are both bi :) – weakdna says reinstate monica Jul 14 at 14:40
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    You know we are talking about writing fiction, right? Like, the things we write about do not then happen in real life... – David Jul 15 at 9:40
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IMHO no it wouldn't be homophobic.

Here is a sort of reductio ad absurdum example.

Imagine a story set in a Middle Eastern city in the 13th century (1201-1300) with a population manly Sunni Muslim, with minorities of other Muslim sects, eastern Christians, Jews, etc. The language would be either Persian with Arabic minority or Arabic with Persian minority, etc. And there might be merchants from distant lands.

So a rich merchant or noble has a large mansion with a large harem containing his mother, his unmarried sisters, his wives, his concubines, his unmarried daughters, those of his sons not yet old enough to move to men's quarters, female servants, mostly slaves, eunuch servants and bodyguards, mostly slaves. There could be dozens of people living in the harem, all female except for the eunuchs who used to be men and little boys who aren't men yet.

None of those people would be legally entitled to have sex with anyone except for the master of the house, but each of them would have various personal relationships with everyone of the others. And possibly several of them would have romantic desires for other members of the harem, possibly including sexual desires.

There could easily be an eternal triangle involving three female members of the harem, or even a more complicated geometric figure, while still involving only a minority of the females. And possibly one among the eunuchs as well.

And out in the city among people who live in small, ordinary households there can be many characters who have all sorts of relations with the people they know, possibly including various eternal triangles among members of the same and/or different genders.

And then the Mongol army arrives and besieges the city and breaks down gaps in the walls and the city surrenders. The Mongols herd all the people out of the city and at a signal the Mongols massacre everyone, including all the "straight" and "queer" characters in the story.

Readers won't get the impression that the writer is homophobic, more like the writer is Mongolphobic and want the readers to be Mongolphobic.

You may have heard of the Emperor "Elagabalus", who, according to the ancient historians, was really, really "queer" and was allegedly killed for it. "Elagabalus" is the main character in the novels Family Favorites (1960) by Alfred Duggan and Child of the Sun (1966) by Kyle Onstott and Lance Horner. And as far as i remember "Elagabalus" is depicted in those novels as both "queer" and a sympathetic character or even the protagonist, murdered by homophobic and/or power hungry characters. So the example of those novels show that it is possible to write stories where the "Queer" characters are killed off without being homophobic.

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