Bury Your Gays

Murder Tropes and LGBTQ Women

Many forms of media play into specific troupes. One such troupe is the killing off of LGBTQIA+ characters more quickly than others. When viewers see relatable characters fall to the axe much quicker than others, it seems that their lives are not as important and their stories are only used for emotional plot development. Queer…

It is easy to get emotional over the deaths of our favorite characters. We go on journeys with them, we laugh with them, we cry with them, and we do, in a way, mourn them. We see ourselves in the characters of our favorite shows, so when we see representations of ourselves constantly cast as evil or malicious, we can also begin to see that in ourselves. When queer characters are always miserable, we begin to believe that we aren’t worth the time or love—and when we see lesbian and bisexual women die over and over and never get a happy ending, it becomes a grim reminder that we aren’t cared about.

These characters in which we see ourselves deserve better, and the actors that portray them deserve better as well. The common trend of killing off queer characters has been a part of media since the beginning of modern entertainment [ 1 ]. It sends a crystal-clear message: LGBTQIA+ people aren’t worthy of happiness and love.

A Queer Character Dies and Nobody Bats an Eye

Many will argue that it’s just a show, movie, or book, that it doesn’t matter or “it’s for the story.” Yet, when their favorite (presumed) straight, white, male favorite is sidelined, even for one episode, these same fans turn around and complain that their favorites weren’t in the spotlight. That is how many people feel every time a queer character is killed off—especially multi-fandom people. Seeing the one lesbian or bisexual killed off across multiple shows in a short period of time can send you into a misery porn-induced coma. It’s not unreasonable to quit watching shows altogether after that.

The zombie apocalypse is brutal and harsh. There is death at every corner. Sometimes random, sometimes calculated, and sometimes it angers every single lesbian in the fanbase. This happened when Denise on the Walking Dead took another character’s comic book death [ 2 ]. In the comic, Denise was the doctor in the Alexandria Safe Zone. She was confident and competent and in a relationship with a character named Heath. Her character was changed greatly in the translation to television. She becomes a frumpy psychology student who is unsure about everything until she becomes involved with Tara, a survivor and member of Team Family introduced in Season 4. Then, Denise finds her strength and courage. Tara tells Denise she loves her, and Denise in turn tells Tara she will say it back when Tara returns from a scouting mission. 

Love in the zombie apocalypse is seldom sweet and lasting. Just a few episodes later, Denise is killed by an arrow meant for another character. This particular death was originally a different character in the graphic novel, Abraham Ford. As a result, Denise dies never being able to say “I love you” or “goodbye” to Tara. It should be noted that earlier in the series Tara loses another girlfriend.

There are a number of examples in other media. Consider Orange is the New Black and its portrayal of prison life, which is especially difficult if you don’t have anyone with whom to share your emotional pain. While there are many layers to prison relationships and they aren’t always healthy or beneficial to both parties, many fans agree that the blossoming relationship between Poussey Washington and Brooke Soso on OITNB was a sweet one and many were eager to see it play out past prison. That was until Poussey was murdered by a new correctional officer who wasn’t properly trained in dealing with prisoners [ 3 ]. While Poussey’s death was doubtlessly a commentary on the brutality black men and women face at the hands of law enforcement, it was still a sting to people who were excited to see an interracial lesbian relationship that didn’t feature a white woman or exotify the Woman of Color.

Another example of the phenomenon is portrayed vividly on the post-apocalypse science-fiction television show The 100. In the wake of a few survivors managing to carve out an existence on a space station high above a now-ruined earth, all crime is punishable by death. No matter who you are. But there are new readings from Earth indicating it might be inhabitable again. Clarke and 99 other teens are sent to Earth to establish a new colony. Lo and behold, it is discovered that there have been people living there the entire time. After two seasons of fighting, double agents, and betrayal, Clarke and Lexa, the leader of the Grounders, officially become a couple… only to have Lexa be shot the very next day [ 4 ]

Need another example? Look no farther than the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Scooby Gang. We all know them. We all love them. That wily group of oh-so-original white people: we have the cheerleader, the nerdy girl, the nerdy guy, the bitch, and the older British gentleman who gives them guidance during times of crisis. It’s so straight. So white. So wholesome that it’s hard to believe the Scooby Gang fights demons and monsters on the regular. But wait! Let’s subvert this. Let’s give the nerdy girl a girlfriend [ 5 ]. But let’s never say the words “lesbian” or “bisexual.” Willow and Tara meet in college and stayed together through the end of the world—literally—but true love couldn’t save Tara when she was tragically shot by Warren.

Buffy’s Tara Maclay was dealt a dirty hand. Whether this is simply because she wasn’t a core member of the “Scooby Gang,” or out of specific feeding of the trope, is a matter of little debate.

It’s not just western media that displays this proclivity. It’s present in anime and manga as well, one example being CLAMP’s X/1999 (“X (Manga).” Anime News Network, animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/manga.php?id=1540. Accessed 26 May 2021.)). Tokyo is a rough place to live and it’s not overly friendly to the homosexual population. At least, not in the 1980s and early 1990s. In the manga, we meet Tohru and Saya. They are young and in love, but, of course, ancient prophecy and fate and all that comes into play and Tohru is destined to give birth to a holy sword. Saya is obviously upset by this and agrees to marry a man in order to birth the holy sword and save Tohru. Unfortunately, that plan doesn’t work and Tohru violently explodes and then burns to death in order to save her son, Kamui. It’s the relationship between Tohru and Saya that sets into motion the entire series and Saya’s death is the catalyst for all of Tohru’s decisions.

Modern Media’s Murder Problem

By now, you can get the drift—we have a murder problem in media [ 6 ]. While many television shows follow the “anyone can die” trope, they also tend to kill off the minority (race, sexuality, gender identity) characters at a frightening rate. What is more concerning is that, for lesbian or bisexual women, their deaths tend to come after some sort of declaration of love or intimate moment. This leads to the trope of the miserable lesbian or the only-bi-in-theory bisexual woman. These tropes are damaging to women who identify as bisexual or lesbian and leads to thoughts that they can never be happy. This also tends to lead other, non-gay people to also believe that the lives of women who love women are nothing but sadness.

Denise’s death in The Walking Dead is a prime example of this. Tara, her girlfriend, says, “I love you” for the first time and is killed in the next episode. She doesn’t get a chance to reciprocate the feelings. What makes it worse is that her death hasn’t furthered Tara’s story. She was killed explicitly for the advancement of a (presumed straight) male character’s angst arch. Denise hardly gets a story of her own and is used to show the emotional journey of a man. When we look at Clarke and Lexa of The 100, we see a different occurrence of this problem. After Clarke and Lexa consummate their relationship, Lexa is killed by a stray bullet, from one of her own people, which was meant for Clarke.

Another interesting aspect of these deaths is they are usually at the hands of men with penetrating weapons: bullets or arrows or knives. In many cases this can be read as a metaphor for rape. It’s not much of a stretch when we are bombarded with news stories of lesbians enduring “rape conversion” and “conversion therapy” being used on LGBTQIA+ youth.

This attitude of “the only good lesbian is a dead lesbian” is pervasive in media, both mainstream and independent. To call it homophobic is just barely scratching the surface of the issue. You never hear people asking, “Why does X character have to be straight?” But we always hear, “Why is it such a big deal that X character is gay?” It’s a big deal because there are so few queer characters in media and it’s all the more damaging when the character dies, especially queer female characters. These characters mean even more to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Seeing an aspect of yourself portrayed positively on TV or in a movie can uplift your spirits and ease feelings of inadequacy.

Feeding the Flames with Dead Queer Women

Each dead lesbian or bisexual woman is another log on the proverbial fire. With such little representation to begin with, and that representation often including negative, unhealthy relationships, it is clear to see why people get so upset when their favorite non-straight female character is killed off. Even though there are times when killing off a character is to better the career of the actor, it still says a lot about the culture we live in that the queer character is almost always killed first. For example, Alycia Debnam-Carey, who played Lexa on The 100, left the show for a role on Fear the Walking Dead, a Walking Dead spin-off. While this is certainly a positive career move for her, it left a hole in The 100. Losing a powerful, queer character angered many fans of the show. It is important to note that Lexa’s death came three weeks before Denise’s on The Walking Dead, which made Denise’s death sting all the more. Adding insult to injury, Denise’s death was a remix of Abraham Ford’s comic demise, and this left many fans feeling robbed of Denise’s comic death, which was far more poignant and would have been a satisfying arc for Tara and Denise to complete.

It is rare for a lesbian or bisexual character to get a satisfying character arc. Most of the time, their deaths are simply because they are there, as with Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The only reason she was killed was because she was Willow’s girlfriend. Her death was used to springboard Willow’s revenge arc, whereas Denise’s death was used to give Daryl more angst, which is only moderately better. At least with Tara’s death, it directly impacted her lover’s immediate story. With Denise’s death, it was several episodes before Tara even found out.

As a whole, The Walking Dead has been criticized for its poor portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters. Canonical queer characters have largely been ignored or their relationships have ended violently. This is a running theme in media today.

In X/1999, Tohru and Saya’s relationship is completely erased in the anime adaptation, while in the manga, Saya’s death is the catalyst for the entire series. This kind of erasure nullifies much of the later emotional impact between the main character, Kamui and his mother, Tohru. In this case, Saya’s death was necessary, yet still painful.

Toru Magami, Kamui’s mother in the manga/anime that gained much acclaim, was another example of “Fridging,” this time to frame the emotional journey of her son, Kamui Shiro.

When ‘Anyone Can Die’ Means ‘Kill the Queer One First’

Many fans of the various shows I have mentioned feel that there are better ways to make an emotional impact without killing off minority characters. There needs to be tension and drama, but it can be done without relying on misery porn. In series that tout “anyone can die” there are often safe characters. These characters are rarely PoC, women, or queer people. This is where the intersectionality of race and sexual identity comes to the forefront. It is rare to see queer people in general, and rarer still to see non-white queer people. And when we do have these characters, we often lose them just as fast.

In this vein, Soso and Poussey’s relationship was one of the few very sweet, mostly healthy relationships on Orange is the New Black. Even though they did fight before, their reconciliation was mutually beneficial and healing. Having Poussey be murdered by an untrained CO during a protest was, while very powerful, angering. Once again, we have a queer couple declare their feelings only to have them separated by death, reaffirming the tropes that the only good lesbian is a dead lesbian and LGBTQIA+ relationships will only end in misery and depression.

Creative voice and vision shouldn’t be censored because of criticism. However, when the criticism is the same across multiple forms of media, maybe it’s time to acknowledge when a trope or stereotype is over played and its time to try something new. There are different ways to approach and converse about this topic and there truly is no wrong answer. The key is to listen to lesbian and bisexual women and not brush off their concerns. We want to see more representation in the media. We just don’t want to be dead all the time.


  1. “Buffy’s Tara Maclay was dealt a dirty hand. Whether this is simply because she wasn’t a core member of the ‘Scooby Gang,’ or out of specific feeding of the trope, is a matter of little debate.” https://buffy.fandom.com/wiki/Tara_Maclay
  2. Toru Magami, Kamui’s mother in the manga/anime that gained much acclaim, was another example of ‘Fridging,’ this time to frame the emotional journey of her son, Kamui Shiro.”
    https://xtvclamp.fandom.com/wiki/Toru_Magami (Cite X:1999 the Anime/Manga)

Courtney is a writer, editor and videographer for Steam-Funk Studios. Passionate for fashion design with nerdy flair, her family has always nurtured her love for speculative fiction and creativity. Joining the firm as a writer, Courtney’s distinguished herself as editorial staff and as a production assistant for The Living Multiverse’s photography shoots. She has also participated in and acted as assistant troupe manager for our performers and panelists, at shows like C.O.G.S. Expo and PhilCon.


  1. “Bury Your Gays.” TV Tropes,  TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuryYourGays. Accessed 26 May 2021.
  2. Robinson, Joanna. “The Walking Dead’s Latest Gruesome Death Is Part of a Troubling TV Trend.” Vanity Fair, Vanity Fair, 20 Mar. 2016, vanityfair.com/hollywood/2016/03/walking-dead-denise-dead-lesbian-trope-the-100.
  3. VanArendonk, Kathryn. “Does Orange Is the New Black Fall Into the ‘Bury Your Gays’ Trope?” Vulture, New York Magazine, 29 June 2016, vulture.com/2016/06/orange-is-the-new-black-death-on-tv.html.
  4. Abrams, Natalie.“‘The 100’ Writer: Failure to Recognize Impact of Lexa’s Death Was ‘Systemic Failure’.” EW.com, Entertainment Weekly, 9 Feb. 2017, ew.com/article/2016/06/11/atx-bury-your-gays-trope-lexa-100/.
  5. “Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” LGBT Fans Deserve Better, 31 May 2017, lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/character/tara-maclay-buffy-vampire-slayer.
  6. Bernard, Riese. “All 214 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV, And How They Died.” Autostraddle, 11 Mar. 2016, autostraddle.com/all-65-dead-lesbian-and-bisexual-characters-on-tv-and-how-they-died-312315.