QUEER TRAGEDY there are worst things in life than kissing boys -- benjamin alire sáenz BURY YOUR GAYS “Bury your Gays”, also known as “Dead Lesbian Syndrome,” is a term from our friends at TV Tropes. They boil it down to its most simplistic with the following definition: “gay characters just aren't allowed happy endings.” “Bury your Gays” is how stories about queer characters end - with either one or both members of a queer couple dying. If a queer character is not in a relationship, it is possible for them to still be a victim of “Bury your Gays”. Often times, this trope is excused as part of gritty, realistic story-telling, or the gay character’s death is dismissed as the gay character being a victim of circumstance. Sometimes, the dead queer character is lamented as being “too good for this world.” However, none of these justifications resolve the painful truth; queer characters are not “allowed” to survive their own stories. Recently, “Bury your Gays” has come under fire by even mainstream media. The death of Lexa, a queer woman, on the TV show “The 100” alerted the media to the problem; TV can’t stop killing lesbians. A list from the online publication, Autostraddle, was outraged by the death of Lexa, and used this moment to list off of all 162 dead lesbians on television, and the usually violent circumstances of their deaths. The first example, is perhaps the most inflammatory; a character named Julie, from the show Executive Suite (1976) was hit by a car. She was hit because her love interest had just walked into traffic, after realizing her lesbianism - and Julie had chased after her. In this example, Julie’s lebsianism is the direct “cause” of her tragic death. TV tropes notes this correlation as well, in their definition of the term. TV Tropes suggests that the death is “punishment.” The death, they note, usually happens to the character who was more aggressive in pursuing a relationship. Thus, that character is “guilty” of "perverting" the other one, and therefore, must be punished to die at the end of the story. The Washington Post, when talking about the death of Lexa on “The 100”, provided the following statistics. First, GLAAD’s 2015 “Where We Are on TV” reported that 35 regular characters in the 2015-2016 television season identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. This is just 4 percent of the 881 characters on TV. Out of that 35 character pool, 10 characters identifying as lesbian or bisexual have been killed. That’s 2 out of 7 characters, or 28.5 %. When more than a quarter of queer characters are dying on TV, out of the minimal representation that there is, that’s cause for alarm. That’s the world of TV. That has nothing to do with roleplaying. Or does it? It is clear that many of Iwaku’s members are interested in roleplaying yaoi, yuri, and LGBT characters, including romance. Infact, according to former member and expert statistician Brovo’s gathered data, every member of Iwaku has some interest in romance, and statistically, some of those are going to be queer romances. Many of the romances that I’ve seen RPed are queer - although wrapped up in the terms “Yaoi” or MxM, and “Yuri” or FxF. This guide is intended to encourage queer roleplay that doesn’t end in “bury your gays” , or use the deaths of queer characters to create tragedy for non-queer characters. GAYNGST Gayngst is another term from TV tropes, and it’s perhaps more common in roleplays than “Bury Your Gays”. This is the idea that being gay inherently means being troubled by mental health issues, self-hatred, substance abuse, and of course, over compensation via outright homophobia. This trope can lead to gay characters having suicidal ideation, or actually committing suicide; which of course, is an example of “Bury Your Gays”, as their orientation was the direct catalyst for their death. This trope seems to be particularly common in yaoi / yuri RPs, but “gayngst” runs rampant in many roleplays where queer characters have a presence. Despite the fact that many RPs on Iwaku have a dark tone, or are bleak dramas, the amount of gayngst has reached a critical, unrealistic, mass. What’s the problem with gayngst? Surely, every queer character needs to struggle with their identity. Although the struggle with sexuality and / gender identity is certainly part of the traditional queer narrative, gayngst takes that narrative to a new extreme. Character’s can certainly grapple with their sexuality, or confront it, for the sake of realism - but gayngst proscribes that queer characters must engage in dangerous behaviours in order to “deal” with their sexuality. When gayngst is roleplayed, it reinforces the idea that queer characters are somehow “broken” by their orientation, and even worse is the answer that the roleplay is proscribes. In many cases of a character with “gayngst” there are two answers; “bury your gays” and the seemingly more uplifting “the character will eventually come to terms with their sexuality, have the obligatory Coming-Out Story, and either live Happily Ever After with their love interest.” The problem is that neither one of these options are particularly pleasant. “Bury Your Gays” results in the death of the character, and suggests that an LGBT orientation leads to unhappiness and death. The “Solve Your Gays” trope - what I call the second option - suggests that their gayngst was ultimately pointless, and that once the character finds a partner, they’ll be happy. Yikes. THE FATAL FLAW “Bury your gays” is the worst kind of Greek Tragedy. Greek Tragedy, the original form of the “tragedy” genre, is defined as a narrative where the protagonist’s life becomes a disaster, through a combination of circumstances out of their control, and a fatal flaw. The character is punished because of their flaw - which is how we get the term poetic justice. However, the poetic justice in the “Bury Your Gays” trope, is that the queer character is “punished” for their “flaw” by death. Obviously, this mode of thought presents a problem: namely that being a member of the LGBT community is not a flaw. Yet, modern stories still rely upon a queer character’s orientation as a dramatic device, a fatal flaw, to bring them to their end. This is very clearly wrong, as modern society has become more and more accepting of the LGBT community, and (for the most part) no longer views queer people as “flawed”. Yet, we still tell stories like this - and we still roleplay it. If being queer isn’t a flaw, why do we let this be the undoing of our characters, and how do we create tragedy without it? As I said before, I think that a character grappling with their identity is perfectly fine - good, even. The problem lies in the solutions that gayngst leads to, “Bury Your Gays” and “Solve Your Gays”, and the extremes that gayngst suggests are common. One of the easiest solutions to this problem is simply reducing the gayngst. Not every queer character goes through substance abuse, depression, and general abject misery. Even outside of the context of “Bury Your Gays” - this level of angst produces it’s own problem. For a personal example, I played a character years ago who had a severe level of gayngst; to the point that my RP partner literally refused to roleplay with me, because my character was just too miserable for him. He was right - we kept repeating the same miserable conversations over and over again. Although I doubt that a partner on Iwaku would put their foot down like this; they might share this sentiment. An alternative to the idea of using a character’s sexuality or gender identity as a fatal flaw is to consider the following definition from Aristotle’s “Poetics”. Although this another variation on Greek tragedy, Aristotle’s definition presents quite a different view of the fatal flaw. In Artistotle’s eyes, a tragic hero is a man who becomes misfortunate, "not through vice or depravity but by some error of judgment." Basically - the tragic hero isn’t necessarily flawed, or have a secret vice, but honestly, truly, just screws up. The example that Wikipedia uses for Aristolte’s vision is Oedipus Rex, who you may recognize as the guy who slept with his mother. This isn’t because he was particularly lusty, or had an unusual fetish. Within the play, Oedipus the King, the titular Oedipus kills a man without knowing that the man in question is his father, then marries his mother out of ignorance. It’s tragic not because of a flaw, because Oedipus made a mistake. Rather than having a fatal flaw, he has a fatal blunder. Examples of this can be found readily within Game of Thrones or House of Cards, where protagonists of all sexualities are constantly choosing to trust the wrong people. Mistakes, and the agency behind them, make for tragedy rather than an inherent vice. BORN WITH TRAGEDY Tragedy has its place, and queer characters can go through the same tragedies and horrors that all characters might face. However, using their sexuality or gender identity as the reason for their tragedy is a cheap, exploitative trick. Aristotle, however, presents a solution far more nuanced than the idea that a character’s gayngst must result in “Solve Your Gays”. Instead of relying upon a perceived flaw, queerness, tragedy should be based upon the mistakes that your character makes. Not only is this less exploitative, but it is more likely to result in the character’s complexity and emotional depths being explored - rather than just the gayngst excuse; “they’re sad because they’re gay.” A character making mistakes is taking an active role in the roleplay, as opposed to a character who is simply slated for execution because they’re queer. The former character is allowed to engage with others, develop, and even maybe face some poetic justice for their mistakes ; and it doesn’t have to be the poetic justice that gayngst proscribes. Something to consider, no matter what you’re roleplaying, is: how can I facilitate as much development and interaction as possible? A character making mistakes is an excellent way to answer this question - and their orientation doesn’t have to come into play in their tragedy. It should never be that their orientation, or the consequences of that orientation are that character’s fatal blunder. The difference is; your character is not born with tragedy. Your character makes tragedy.