By now, the Bury Your Gays trope has become somewhat widely known, especially after formerly award-winning show Killing Eve resorted to this tactic in the final seconds of their final episode. Bury Your Gays, the concept of killing off a queer character right as they achieve happiness, has been used to victimize queer people and teach them that they will never achieve joy in life. It appeared that we were moving in the right direction, with positive representation of lesbian and bisexual female characters being shown on screen in real time. The Wilds, Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow, Teenage Bounty Hunters, Wynonna Earp, and First Kill were all examples of this. Then, they all got cancelled.
It’s hard to come by good sapphic representation on television. Too often, it’s caricatured, tacky, or clearly written for the male gaze. When a show does appeal to lesbians, it gets big, fast. Queer women are one of the most supportive demographics, going to war for their TV shows and representation, which means that your fandom will have a solid base before episodes even begin dropping. That hasn’t seemed to be enough though, and that’s never more obvious than now.
First Kill was maybe not the best show in the world– some people even claimed that it was a rather insensitive racial allegory– but the streaming numbers wouldn’t have shown it. In the first month, the teen lesbian vampire / vampire hunter romance received over 97 million watch hours. Less than a month after that, and it has been cancelled by Netflix. This was finally a chance to show two lesbians, one of whom was a black lesbian, being happy and young and in love without their sexuality negatively impacting their lives. The two of them faced a bit of a Romeo & Juliette story (in fact, one of their names is literally Juliette) but it was never because they were queer. Rather than continuing the show and continuing to reap the viewership benefits, Netflix cancelled the show, and we will never get to see whether the two eventually reconcile their differences and come together.
With Batwoman, the show ended on a positive note, but it was still cancelled between seasons without giving the writers time to end the show the way they wanted to. Legends of Tomorrow was also cancelled between seasons, despite both of these CW shows getting more viewership than Nancy Drew, Wellington Paranormal, or Kung Fu, all three of which were renewed.
The Wilds was pulled from Amazon Prime after a second season that was clearly set up for at least one more season without warning. The show had an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, an 84% audience score and, according to Parrot Analytics, a demand of 7.9x that of the average television show.
What all of these shows and more have in common is that they featured a lesbian character, oftentimes a lesbian character of color, as a lead on the show. That, and the fact that that were all cancelled between seasons with no warning. This cancellation is yet another more manipulative form of the Bury Your Gays tactic that we used to see in the media. Now, shows know that they will get called out if they simply kill a lesbian character directly. Instead of doing so, they are cancelling the show.
Of course, there are real reasons that networks cancel shows, but we can’t ignore the impact that this is having on young queer women. We are being taught that our stories don’t matter and don’t deserve a proper ending. When shows are cancelled in between seasons, there isn’t a chance for the showrunners to make decisions about how they want to leave their characters. The lesbians on these shows are ripped out of reality and no longer exist; essentially, they are killed.
The importance of representation cannot be underestimated. We need to create good representation, but then we need to keep it on air. It doesn’t count as good representation if it ends after 1-2 seasons where other shows with similar numbers get to continue. That’s just cruel, and it’s an extension of Bury Your Gays due to the impact that it has on the people watching these shows. Let queer people continue to live, and let their stories continue to get told.