On Thursday, March 3, The CW's sleeper hit "The 100" aired an episode that might change how viewers remember the series forever. Long a show whose ratings have been attributed to a passionate, youthful fan base who take to Twitter and Tumblr every week to sing its praises, the episode "Thirteen" took a drastic action that might change all that — and all because LGBTQ TV fans are tired of seeing themselves killed on television.
"Thirteen," ICYMI, ended with the demise of Alycia Debnam Carey's lesbian warrior queen Lexa. A quick Tumblr search for "Lexa deserved better" or "Clexa" (the shipper name attributed to Lexa's relationship with "The 100"'s bisexual de facto lead, Eliza Taylor's Clarke) reveals how important Lexa was to "The 100" fandom, but their outrage over her death goes far beyond a fandom collectively grieving a beloved character. Instead, it points to a disturbing trend called "Bury Your Gays" that's been carelessly decimating TV's LGBTQ population for decades — only now, thanks to the power of the almighty Internet, "The 100" fans might actually have the power to change it.
I spoke to many of these fans over email and Tumblr over the past couple of weeks, and was alternately touched, floored, saddened, and inspired by their responses. Here's what I learned about why the "Bury Your Gays" trend hurts real people, and what "The 100" fans are doing to fight back.
Lexa was not the first gay woman to be killed on a television show, especially a television show like "The 100" that prides itself on "Anyone Can Die." However, did you know that she was actually the 146th (out of 147, thanks to "The Walking Dead") queer woman to be killed on TV, and the eighth in 2016 alone? And that the overall number of gay women on TV is so small that a startlingly high percentage of LGBTQ women are killed off compared to their straight counterparts?
This may not mean much to straight viewers, but for the (mostly very young) LGBTQ crowd, having onscreen representation like Lexa — a well-rounded, nuanced character with both a loving relationship and a powerful "job" — can mean the difference between hope and despair; between feeling like they might one day fit in and throwing in the towel altogether.
"She really inspired me to accept myself and be unafraid to come out in my own life," Maddie M. wrote to Revelist over Tumblr.
"When Lexa died, I felt as though I lost a mentor, a close friend, and my connection to the show in general."
"I cried several times [after the episode], including in public, and could barely hold myself together the next day at school, and while taking the SATs," added Sarah, with Sam admitting that the high of Clarke and Lexa's relationship followed by the very low low of Lexa's death "brought back ... feelings of abandonment in a very real way for me, and put me into a tailspin."
Almost all of the fans Revelist spoke to acknowledged that her sexuality alone shouldn't have made Lexa immune to death, which tends to come frequently on "The 100" — especially since Debnam-Carey is now a regular on "Fear the Walking Dead." However, she should have exited the show better than she did, via a stray bullet meant for her lover, Clarke. This was harmful not only because "killed by a stray bullet" has become the mode of death du jour for TV's lesbians (see "Buffy," "The Walking Dead"), but also because "The 100" spent almost two years building up Lexa as a strong character, then discarded her carelessly.
"She was the mighty Commander of the 12 Clans and died with no glory, she happened to basically walk into a bullet," wrote Mars. "To add insult to injury, she died right after she had sex and finally achieved happiness. That sends all the wrong messages.
You have lesbian sex, you die. You're happy as a lesbian, you die. You love a woman, you die.
Make no mistake, she died because she loved Clarke, at the hands of a patriarchal figure who disapproved of their relationship. That sends an awful message. We are already so tired of seeing our fellow LGBT members die in real life."
WHO THEY'RE ANGRY WITH.
If you've seen the word "Jason" in a Twitter trending topic over the past few weeks, there's a good chance it was aimed at "The 100" executive producer slash showrunner, Jason Rothenberg. Thanks to months of tweets, interviews, and convention appearances in which LGBTQ "The 100" fans allege Rothenberg promoted Clarke and Lexa's relationship to entice them as viewers — something Rothenberg himself admitted to in a recent interview with TV Guide's Damian Holbrook, and something the activist group WeDeservedBetter has documented very thoroughly — he is shouldering most of the blame for Lexa's poorly thought out demise.
"Jason ... spent the whole summer selling us a beautiful story of two strong women in love with each other, telling us that his show would be different," wrote Andréa Chevrette. "He told us we were going to be well represented for a change."
"Prior to Lexa's death, Jason had told fans to 'stop worrying about Lexa possibly dying,' and that the writing team was aware of the dead lesbian trope," added Sarah, who noted that the ratings cutoff for "The 100" getting picked up for Season 4 was before Lexa's death, so it felt like
"they used the ship to bring in viewers and then killed off the lesbian character once they didn't need her anymore."
Fans being angry at a showrunner for creative decisions is certainly nothing new — just ask "The Vampire Diaries" boss Julie Plec, who receives a world of Twitter hate, about that one — but the anger towards Rothenberg seems more personal. Basically, what we're hearing from "The 100" fandom is that, because the show spent nearly three years earning its reputation as a haven for minorities and the LGBTQ crowd, Lexa's death felt especially like a slap in the face because its producers should have known better.
"Seeing [Lexa] die like that made us realize that no; there's no hope for us after all," Mars explained. "Even the ones that promised us the world did this to us, so how can life not do it as well?"
WHAT THEY WANT — AND THE GROUNDBREAKING STEPS THEY'RE TAKING TO GET IT.
"The 100" fans Revelist spoke to, many of whom are banding together to take action via groups like We Deserved Better and LGBT Fans Deserve Better, have two specific goals in mind when it comes to their activism: the first, to convince The CW to dethrone Rothenberg as showrunner — which, per them, will hopefully result in TV creatives doing better by their gay fans in the future — and the second, to raise money and awareness for LGBTQ issues. (NOTE: We Deserved Better contacted Revelist and said "We Deserved Better do not support any overtly negative reaction and ask fans to channel anger and heartbreak and feelings of betrayal into positive action via the Trevor Project instead.)
Step one, in terms of their action plan, is to not watch the show "live, through a DVR, or on the official CW website," explained Sarah.
"Boycotts don't quite work the same way now that you can watch a show illegally without supporting it," she added. "[But]
I am definitely withdrawing my financial and social media support of the show."
Additionally, Sarah notes that fans are "observing a positive media blackout" by getting alternative hashtags — like #LGBTFansDeserveBetter and #CWStopJasonRothenberg — trending while "The 100" is on and otherwise, and that they're "no longer using 'The 100' tag on Twitter or Tumblr" so that the show will stop appearing so highly on rankers like Fandomentrics. Additionally, some Tumblr sites have made it easy for upset fans to contact The CW or the series' advertisers to further cause some headaches.
Withdrawing their financial support for the show is how "The 100"'s LGBTQ fans hope to achieve Goal #1, and while we'll have to wait and see how their actions affect ratings in the weeks to come, the series was down significantly both in viewership and Twitter engagement the week after Lexa's death.
However, it's Goal # 2 that really shows the generous heart behind this movement. Since Lexa's death, the group Leskru — the "united clan of LGBTQ/supporters/allies named in true Grounder honor," per their website — has raised over $60,000 for The Trevor Project, the only national organization providing suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in crisis.
"We have endeavored to keep [response to Lexa's death] overwhelmingly positive, by channeling the anger and heartbreak and feelings of betrayal into positive action," a representative for We Deserved Better told Revelist over email, adding that The Trevor Project campaign wasn't created "as fans of the show, but in response to the callous mishandling of the LGBT+ community for promotion and marketing."
Additionally, We Deserved Better says that "maturely interact[ing] with media to explain our side" is a big part of their action plan, while others are using the aforementioned hashtags to inform the non-LGBTQ crowd about the biases they face will be a big part of the movement moving forward. Also, LGBT Fans Deserve Better is working on becoming an official media "watchdog group" to continue to demand "accountability from our media."
They are also taking the action in house, by establishing a roster of LGBTQ writers to "give insight into our experiences as viewers by creating everything from think pieces, to personal accounts discussing the trauma some viewers have experience because of the trope, to current statistics on LGBT representation in media."
WHAT IT ALL MEANS.
At the end of the day, we won't truly know how the actions of "The 100"'s LGBTQ fandom impacts that particular show for quite some time, as Season 3 is nearly over and Season 4 is definitely on its way ... in 2017. But as reps for We Deserved Better and LGBT Fans Deserve Better so passionately explained, this is so much more than about one TV show or one character — it's about years of perceived abuse towards a minority population, seemingly for the sake of increased ratings and dramatic spectacle.
And whether or not they succeed in unseating Rothenberg — which seems unlikely — it's undeniable that this fandom has done something truly revolutionary. They've used their voices to band together online and fight tirelessly for social change on television, and thanks to their actions, there's actually a fairly decent chance that LGBTQ characters will be treated better in the future.
"The LGBT Fans Deserve Better Movement is here to stay," the group concluded in a statement to Revelist.
Lexa may have been a fictional character, but the lives that she positively impacted and the ramifications of her death were felt by people who are very much real."
UPDATE: On Thursday, March 24, Rothenberg penned a long response to the outcry on Lexa's death, saying "While I now understand why this criticism came our way, it leaves me heartbroken. I promise you burying, baiting or hurting anyone was never our intention. It’s not who I am."