This past weekend (March 3-5) was the first ever ClexaCon, a convention for LGBTQ women in media and their allies. Named after Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) of The 100, the con aimed to bring fans together to discuss the importance of representation and enable them to meet some of the people who have brought their favorite characters to the screen. Over 2,000 people attended the con and despite the fact that it was born from a TV tragedy, the vibe was anything but. People from all over the world were in attendance, many going to meet their online friends for the first time. There was a real sense of community and safety, a too rare feeling outside of LGBTQ spaces.
A year ago, The 100 killed off their lesbian character in a way that was disrespectful to the character, the actor, and the fans. After years of being inundated with the Bury Your Gays trope, Lexa’s death was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the LGBTQ community finally being heard (by some) about the need for positive representation. Lexa’s death and the bloodbath that was 2016 came up in a number of different panels and were a main focus of “Ethics in Storytelling” and “Year in Review.”
“Ethics in Storytelling” started off strong, with a discussion on how The 100 team invaded LGBTQ spaces and lied to fans on multiple occasions in order to get viewers for season three. Panelists Dr. Elizabeth Bridges (@EGBridges), Gretchen Ellis (@The_Raconteur_) and Heather Hogan (@theheatherhogan) broke down the cultural responsibility creators have to portray minority characters in a way that does not cause harm to the communities they represent.
Hogan told a story about a time she was asked to speak at a high school. When she asked the students about the transgender characters they’ve seen on screen, the only portrayals of trans women they could think of were from Law and Order: SVU. She stressed the importance of positive representation and the idea that “There’s no such thing as just a story.” Hogan also reminded everyone of surveys GLAAD started in 2008, measuring acceptance of gay marriage against representation. Every year there was more positive representation and more people who accepted gay marriage. Ellis piggy-backed on that with a discussion of linguistics and how stories matter because they can literally change the way your brain functions and how you think. Positive representation leads to more positive word connotations, which can change how you think about certain things.
Bury Your Gays is not a new thing, it’s existed for a good 100 years in literature. LGBTQ characters were allowed in literature but they weren’t allowed to have a happy ending because a happy ending would reinforce the idea that being LGBTQ was okay.
Nobody, not even members of the LGBTQ community, is immune from negative portrayals of minority characters. Creators like Ilene Chaiken and I. Marlene King have still killed off a number of queer characters in their shows and the fact that they’re queer doesn’t mean they get a free pass. Especially since they’re rather unapologetic about it.
The simple solution is more diversity across the board. It’s hiring diversely and listening to members of that minority group. Having a diverse writers room does no good if those writers are talked over when discussing their experiences or offering suggestions on how to avoid falling into negative tropes.
Dr. Bridges spoke a lot about how creators focus on intention and frequently ignore the impact. Like with Jason Rothenberg’s “apology tour,” he was so focused on explaining his intent that he wasn’t listening to the fans telling him what the impact of that creative decision was. She also discussed J.K. Rowling’s announcement that Dumbledore was gay after the book was released.
Hogan credited the Black Lives Matter movement for laying the groundwork for social media activism and enabling others to follow, like the LGBTQ fans deserve better movement.
The “Year in Review” panel started off by dropping some unfortunate statistics about the “garbage fire” of a year that was 2016. Representation is way down this year, due to 24 queer female characters being killed off in 2016. 17 queer female characters have been killed since June 1, 2016. Panelists Jessica Kath (@jerseyfjord), Tara Stuart (@tazpants), Mey Valdivia Rude (@meyrude), Heather Hogan (@theheatherhogan ), and Dany Roth (@DanyOrdinary) discussed the importance of diverse writer’s rooms, the important role the mainstream media has played, and how creators need to be approaching these stories.
Hogan talked about Proposition 8 passing in 2008 and bringing with it an influx of LGBTQ characters. To the point where at the beginning of 2016, there were so many characters that covering everything was difficult.
Rude described trans representation over the past year as a “mixed bag.” For example, Orange is the New Black featured an extremely important storyline about trans women in prison who are put in solitary confinement “for their own protection,” but that meant Laverne Cox had very little screen time. There are more trans women on TV, but the storylines still aren’t good, which leads to trans women being more visible but not safer. This has lead to an increase in trans women, trans women of color in particular, being murdered. Seven trans women have been murdered in 2017 alone.
Hogan told a story of interviewing Russell T. Davies after he killed off a gay male character. When she asked about the backlash he said “That was just nine hysterical women.” Mainstream media covering Bury Your Gays after Lexa has helped significantly. “It’s really easy to write off a minority group that doesn’t have a voice at the table because you just write them off as hypersensitive or hysterical.”
Hogan pointed out that we had more characters than ever in the beginning of 2016 but not a lot that felt authentic and made our hearts sing. Which is one of the reasons that Lexa’s death hit so hard.
Kath talked about how great it was to be taken seriously as a fan once mainstream media started covering Bury Your Gays. However there was still this underlying attitude among some LGBTQ fans of “We can’t complain because then they’ll stop writing theses characters.”
Bad writing decisions, like Lexa’s death or Poussey’s death on Orange is the New Black are a result of a lack of representation. Mey Rude talked about Denis O’Hare’s character on American Horror Story: Hotel and how the writer’s room didn’t have any trans woman in it and O’Hare didn’t speak to any trans women for the role. He interviewed drag queens and worked with drag queens on the character, but not trans women, and he didn’t seem to understand the difference. The character was also given a love interest who was murdered right after they got together. Rude continued on to talk about how casting cis men as trans women gives viewers the idea that trans women are men and that’s how we end up with ridiculous bathroom bills that force trans people in unsafe situations.
Hogan talked about the cycle of oppression and that not having the minority you’re writing about in the writer’s room leads to an inauthentic portrayal which leads to those minorities not being able to get into the writer’s room. Rude gave an example of a recent episode of Transparent that was written by a trans person and it resonated more with trans viewers than a lot of the other storylines. “Pay people to tell their own stories.”
You can check out the full panels for “Ethics in Storytelling” and “Year in Review” below.