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I'm a young writer and have only recently figured out about the "bury your gays trope". I'm writing a book and the main character is a lesbian and gets a girlfriend. Shortly there after the girlfriend gets killed for some plot important reasons. The story follows the main character trying to avenge and bring back her girlfriend and in the end she does. Is it okay for me to kill of the main love interest, especially a gay one? There are many other LGBT characters, in fact most are. I'm just confused and don't want to offend anyone.

Thank you for all the answers, I am choosing to go through and kill her off, I am thankfull for all the advice and will keep all in mind in my future endeavors.

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    If you don't get the question, here's a historical rundown of Hollywood's "Bury your Gays" and some background to it. Check it out! Maybe there will be a day when non-white, non-hetero, non-NT, non-majority-in-all-other-ways people will not be wittingly and unwittingly discriminated against and we can all just be people... that day has not come yet... In fact, steering clear of "Bury your Gays" might turn a trend that is still prevalent in media...
    – Erk
    Jan 3, 2023 at 2:56
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    Beware of a different trope/problem: Fridging Wikipedia TV Tropes. Also, Disposable Women TV Tropes. The pages primarily related to women, but the concepts apply to any minority or oppressed group.
    – ikegami
    Jan 3, 2023 at 16:12
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    I have deleted a number of comments. Please remember that comments are for suggesting improvements to the question, not for debating its subject matter or attempting to answer and/or refute the premise of the question.
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 5, 2023 at 15:03

9 Answers 9

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As you describe it I don't see the problem, and you aren't buying into the trope.

The trope is that LGBTQ characters are expendable; you are writing the opposite of that: Your killed lesbian is so not expendable, the hero (LGBTQ lover) is going to move heaven and Earth to both avenge her and bring her back from the dead, and succeeds.

That is how powerful LGBTQ love is, it defies death.

You are not minimizing the value of their lives, You've got Superman (as a woman) flying faster than light, a blur around the Earth, to reverse time and save Lois Lane from being killed.

The trope is offensive because it treats LGBTQ characters as inherently flawed and therefore less valuable and more expendable than Hetero characters.

According to your story description, you are not doing that.

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    That is how powerful LGBTQ love is, it defies death. -> You can remove "LGBTQ" from that sentance. Jan 2, 2023 at 19:44
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    @Itération122442 I considered that, I thought it was important to include considering the trope in question, which trivializes LGBTQ love. You are stating the equivalent of "Don't say Black Lives Matter", say "All Lives Matter". The problem is, it is only Black Lives being treated as if they are of lesser value; and only LGBTQ love is that is being treated as if it is of lesser value. I'm leaving it in.
    – Amadeus
    Jan 2, 2023 at 19:52
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    @Amadeus considering the trope in question, which trivializes LGBTQ love I believe the trope trivializes LGBTQ lives, not necessarily love; personally I would change that phrase to "that's how powerful their love (MC's and their love interest) is, it defies death"
    – Josh Part
    Jan 2, 2023 at 20:48
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    @JoshPart I disagree, if someone trivializes their life, I find it highly unlikely they are not trivializing their love as well. That doesn't make much sense to me. I don't think most homophobes believe homosexual love is "real".
    – Amadeus
    Jan 2, 2023 at 21:13
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    @JoshPart: Your inference is a fallacious logical inversion. The sentence specifically points that LGBTQ love "is strong enough to defy death" because OP's plot specifically revolves around love being the driving emotion. OP's story is not trying to counter the "bury your gays" trope in every possible way that the trope can be applied; so it makes no sense to force this answer to rephrase itself to specifically cover every possible application of the trope. This answer is written in response to OP's story, not (directly) in response to the trope itself.
    – Flater
    Jan 3, 2023 at 4:51
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Yes, in the context you have given, it sounds reasonable. The "Bury Your Gays" trope is around the token gay character being killed off. As TV Tropes points out:

This trope is the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts. In this way, the death is treated as exceptional in its circumstances... Indeed, it may be because they seem to have less purpose compared to straight characters, or that the supposed natural conclusion of their story is an early death.

...the problem isn't merely that gay characters are killed off: the problem is the tendency that gay characters are killed off in a story full of mostly straight characters, or when the characters are killed off because they are gay.

If you have plenty of LGBTQIAA+ characters who don't die, then one of them dying ceases to be remarkable (at least in terms of gender/sexuality), especially if you do your best to make the character a three-dimensional human being and not merely a plot device.

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If the love interest was heteronormative would it be okay to kill them off?

The answer is the same if they're LGBT.

Their sexuality has nothing to do with whether or not they're killable

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    I think this is quite a short-sighted answer. Something you do in writing can be wrong because it falls into a harmful trend, and plotlines around minority groups often fall into that category. There is a long history of LGBTQ people featuring in certain media primarily to suffer and/or die, and that was a bad thing. As an author writing today it's laudable for the OP to take care to avoid playing a part in that trend.
    – dbmag9
    Jan 2, 2023 at 23:04
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    If they would've killed them off if the character was straight then it's totally fine to kill them off when they're not. To do otherwise would be discriminatory. It's different if they're only LGBT because they're going to be killed off. Jan 3, 2023 at 0:56
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    @dbmag9 - Like I once saw someone describe the film Milk as an example of this trope because the character Harvey Milk is pointlessly assassinated at the end. The problem, of course, is that the actual person Harvey Milk was actually pointlessly assassinated. That seems like a microcosm of the previous point: if it is right, or at least acceptable, to make a film in which Harvey Milk died because he really did die in that situation, isn't it right (or at least acceptable) to make works in which some of the people who die are gay, because people do indeed often die in those situations?
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 3, 2023 at 3:24
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    @Obie2.0 Your comments would be reasonable responses to the overall question, but they are making a different argument from the one in this particular answer. This answer says it never matters to kill off an LGBT character, which implies the trope does not exist. Citing cases where the trope does not apply does not prove that it does not exist.
    – IMSoP
    Jan 3, 2023 at 14:59
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    I'm not saying you have to "agonise", or that the answer is "no, never kill a gay character"; it's not all or nothing. I'm saying that understanding what's come before can help you avoid inadvertently putting off readers who would otherwise enjoy your work, and putting in some effort to avoid clichés can lead to better writing. An author might decide to recognise the clichés but go ahead anyway - just as you might learn the reason behind "rules" of good writing in order to creatively break them, which is not the same as pretending those reasons don't exist.
    – IMSoP
    Jan 3, 2023 at 20:00
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TL;DR: It depends whether you're killing a character or perpetuating a stereotype.

What's the trope?

What defines the "bury your gays" trope is first and foremost a character whose defining characteristic is "gay". They're token characters, thrown by the wayside with little fore- or afterthought.

At the heart of the issue is that it's a way to tick boxes and give the illusion of inclusiveness, without having to bother with actual representation. And then it also has the unfortunate implication that these lives have little to no value.

How do avoid playing straight into the trope?

You can start by making the character an actual character, not defined by their gayness but by their wants, needs, hopes, dreams, experiences, and so forth.

Having other well-rounded characters from the whole LGBT rainbow would also be helpful to mark the difference between killing the gay character and killing a character (who happens to be gay).

Is it okay to kill of a gay love interest?

It's about as okay as killing any other love interest.

As far as the myth of Orpheus, Eurydice just exists to give some motivation to the hero. Killing the wife to send the hero on a righteous rampage is a story that's been done. The thing you have to acknowledge here is whether it's a dead wife, a taken daughter or dead puppy dog, none of these are characters, they're plot devices.

The way I see it, you're more likely to run into women in refrigerators (see also Stuffed into the Fridge) and damsels-in-distress territory. The revenge action genre has long faced criticism for using women to give the man a motivation for cheap, and that never stopped any of them from being commercial and critical successes.

You could leave it at that if you're only interested in the revenge part of the story, and having a lesbian hero avenge and save her lesbian lover would probably do more to subvert these tropes than most others.

If you're not satisfied with your love interest being a mere plot device, it's worth considering two ways to explore that character's hopes and dreams and wants and needs, and such.

First, whatever relationship exists between the hero and their loved one, it has to be shown, not told. Don't just label them as girlfriends, show us that they care about each other, or at least why the hero cares.

Second, make the character live beyond the grave. By that I mean have their presence felt throughout the story, e.g. through memories, objects they left in the hero's home, other people that knew and cared about them, etc. People don't just disappear from Earth when they die, what they leave behind is a great way to explore who they were.

The resurrection angle also opens the door to have them observe the quest of the hero from the great beyond, or even narrate the whole story from their ghostly point of view.

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Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer Yes, because consider this:

A: It is YOUR story, so yes it is ALWAYS okay to kill of any character you want (with the exception of historical accurate writing of course but that isn't the case here).

B: Sadly when it comes to writing LGBT content, you can never do it right. Currently it's a bit of a polarizing subject, majority of the people won't care but you will have extremists on both sides. Some will be angry that the main chars are LGBT to begin with, others will be angry that one dies... a lot of people just want their world view imposed on anything they see, hear or read and even the slightest deviation will make them angry.

C: IT seems that the characters death is the catalyst for the entire plot... if you want to re-write it the only options would be to make them same sex or instead of death making it a kidnapping... but you should only re-write it YOU want to, not because somebody else because like i said in A: it is your story and in B, there will always be people who don't agree.

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    @IMSoP The comment about "you can never do it right" is just true. No matter what you write, people will always be angry. There was a show where a lesbian character was portrayed by a lesbian actress.... some people then complained that the actress didn't look lesbian enough. On the other side people complained that they didn't want LGBT characters at all... No matter what you write, you can't please everybody... so it's most important to please yourself because it is your story, not theirs.
    – A.bakker
    Jan 3, 2023 at 15:18
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    It is true, but it is not the whole truth. Sometimes a few minutes or hours of research can avoid offending a million people with a cultural taboo you weren't aware of; maybe a hundred people will still be offended by what you put it place, but the effort was still well spent. Sometimes, you can choose who you want to ally yourself with, by offending people you disagree with anyway. The question does not ask for a perfect solution that offends zero people; it asks for advice about a specific issue that the author would like to make an effort to avoid.
    – IMSoP
    Jan 3, 2023 at 16:04
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    Item A here is all the justification that OP needs. I, for one, have had enough of people demanding that the artistic works of other comport to their own values.
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 5, 2023 at 5:38
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    @EvilSnack I don't think anyone's arguing that the author should not be "allowed" to write what they want. The author is interested in getting a positive reaction from their readers, and wanted some advice on whether something would be off-putting to those readers. "Justification" isn't really relevant.
    – IMSoP
    Jan 5, 2023 at 11:32
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    While it does appear that nobody here is arguing this, when it comes to the greater community, hoo boy, yeah.
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 6, 2023 at 4:34
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Spoiler alert: I'm spoiling "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", season 6 below... if you haven't watched it (where have you been all this time?!) you may want to do that before reading further...

You're right to ask this question, and even though your main character finally brings this character back from the dead, your reader won't know that when she dies, so how she dies is important.

It's good that there are other queer characters in the story. (You may want to add another lesbian couple to be on the safe side).

Your character dies from a plot-important reason.

This can be good or bad, depending on how she dies.

Tara's death in Buffy the Vampire slayer has been quoted as the ultimate version of "bury your gays". Her death is plot-important, for Willow. But that's about all that went right with that scene.

To avoid a repeat of Tara's death, you could give your character agency in her death. Make her choose to walk into danger and risk her life, perhaps to save someone or destroy some evil artifact or similar. Make it a heroic death, rather than some random, happenstance slaying put there to get your main character and the story going...

Maybe your character saves the life of her lover/your main character and dies in the process? That might add nice resonance to the story as well...

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    I would argue the difference as Tara's death was shocking to viewers at the time because the Willow/Tara relationship was one of the most healthy and positive relationship's in the entire show (compared to Buffy, who's love interests turned out to be one of the most sadistic vampires ever, a military jock who was insecure about her being stronger than him, and Spike. Willow's relationships by comparison were healthy.
    – hszmv
    Jan 3, 2023 at 16:17
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This is nothing like "burying your gays" which appears to entail killing off gay (and other LGBT) characters with no purpose. The description you've given really doesn't fit this trope.

The death of your MC's girlfriend is a major driver for both character development and plot in the story. It seems to me, from your brief description, that it is in fact the single most important motivation for your MC to take the actions that she does. Sadly for your MC, her girlfriend's death is necessary to your story.

Beyond that though, I happen to hold a (strangely) controversial opinion: people are people. If you never allow your LGBT characters to be hurt, to fail, to be petty or petulant or outright evil; if you only write them as perfect, saintly people then you are not writing real people. It's like when Christian writers make all of their antagonists non-Christian and all of the Christian characters are angelic... which we all know isn't the way it works in real life.

The same goes for harm: everyone bleeds. Everyone hurts. Anyone can die no matter how virtuous they are, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation or race. What matters is how you depict that pain, how people in the story respond to those deaths, and whether or not the violence you're writing is important... which it certainly seems to be in this case.

So yes, go ahead and write it. If you're squeemish about writing about violence against a lesbian character than write about the MC's emotional reactions. Show the readers why she embarked on this quest rather than letting it destroy her. Write about the hole it left in her life, the madness she had to overcome. Make her human, not just another cardboard cut-out masquerading as a main character.

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  • I have to respectfully disagree about “with no purpose.”. The page that popularized the jargon “Bury Your Gays,” TVTropes, lists several, including: “in older works (to the extent that they are found in older works, of course), gay characters just aren't allowed happy endings,” “when opinions on sexuality have shifted somewhat, justification may be attempted via Too Good for This Sinful Earth,” “creators manage to get the romance going but quickly avoid showing it in detail by killing off one of the relevant characters,” etc.
    – Davislor
    Jan 4, 2023 at 22:04
  • @Davislor I'm intending "with no purpose" in this usage to mean "without advancing the plot meaningfully." The trope certainly has external purpose behind it, but nothing that is relevant to the story.
    – Corey
    Jan 5, 2023 at 0:46
  • Thanks for clarifying. I seem to have heard it used in a different way than you. For example (Spoilers!) Tara on BtVS died to motivate Willow to seek more power and become the season’s Big Bad. I remember hearing that called “Bury your Gays” and “Fridging” when it happened. It also gets listed a lot as an example of “Dead Lesbian Syndrome.” But this is all message-board slang that means different things to different people.
    – Davislor
    Jan 5, 2023 at 0:55
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The original knock on it was that it was a cliché. A little worse than most clichés, because the reason for it was that all gay characters used to have to die as punishment for their sins, or the story would be deemed “immoral” back in the bad old days. Times changed, and gay characters became sympathetic and started to die so the reader would feel sorry for them instead, but they’d still always die and readers were tired of it. Especially lesbians who said they wanted some happy endings too! There was a backlash, and it worked: that’s a lot less ubiquitous and predictable than it used to be.

Then it went through a few rounds of the social-media outrage cycle, and all nuance got beaten out. You might just have to accept that anything you write these days might come under hyperbolic attack, more or less at random, even if you don’t deserve it. The most common way to ward this one off these days is to write in another couple of the same gender who get a happy ending.

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    I feel like this answer brings in a valid angle that other answers are missing: historically, this was NOT about treating gay characters as trivial and unimportant but about the fact that gay characters weren't allowed to get happy endings. Making the OP's lost love a centerpoint of the story won't save them from falling into that trope - quite the contrary. Showing other characters in same-gender relationships that don't have a tragic end will, and given OP mentioned there are lots of other LGBT characters in the story I'm hopeful it's a nonissue.
    – Tau
    Jan 4, 2023 at 7:27
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As a writer, you should largely ignore audience reaction. It’s not relevant. Writing either to rile up or to not rile up your audience is the domain of hacks, not artists.

(If you want to be a hack, go ahead — but don’t bother writing fiction. Probably 500 people in the whole country make a living authoring fiction. If you are going to sell out, look for a more profitable industry to sell out to.)

In general, do not worry too much about “offending” people. Offense is taken, not given. If someone is determined to be offended, nothing that you do or omit doing will stop them.

Also read this.

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  • Audience reaction is important, they're the people we're hoping to reach after all. But yes, like anything we do there's always going to be someone who takes offense. It's literally impossible to avoid. The people who are offended by the story aren't your audience though, so we can largely ignore them. (And of those 500 people, a fair percentage of them "sold out" and wrote for the money instead of the art. That's just reality.)
    – Corey
    Jan 5, 2023 at 0:53
  • "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." -- Cyril Connolly
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 5, 2023 at 5:43
  • I'm not convinced by this. A lot of art involves trying to evoke a particular emotion or impression in the audience, rather than simply for the artist to scratch their own itch. Certainly you can go too far trying to "please all the people all the time", but the other extreme would be to ignore all advice, self-publish without any proofreading, and say "well, it's what I wanted to write". Somewhere in the middle is where most writers want to be: writing something that someone else will want to read, and that means considering which "rules" to follow and which to deliberately break.
    – IMSoP
    Jan 5, 2023 at 12:58
  • "You should largely ignore audience reaction" - Absolutely f-ing not. While this is poetic and idealistic, a good writer is very well aware of what they are evoking on people at each word they puts on paper. A good writer knows how to use the audience as a tool to further his history forward. They know what is relatable and what is not, what ressonates and what doesn't, who is their public and who is not. Writing just for yourself and ignoring how your audience reacts is a recipe for disaster. Some authors can make it work, but most won't.
    – T. Sar
    Jan 5, 2023 at 14:55
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    Writing is all about weaving emotion into words. It's all about manipulating the brain to believe what is written is real, even if just for a moment. It's all about who is going to read it. Being a sellout and taking your audience into account are two different things, and one doesn't depend on the other.
    – T. Sar
    Jan 5, 2023 at 14:59

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