For the Love of Fandom: Bierasure and #LGBTFansDeserveBetter
Note: This post talks about biphobia and bierasure and gives examples. Please ensure that if this may be triggering for you, you have a support system in place. Additionally, this post contains spoilers through episode 307 of The 100 and discusses plots points from other shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Walking Dead.
Fandom is beautiful. Fandom is inspiring. Fandom creates community and art and extends a concept from a world inside of a television show to a world inside all of us. There is little better than experiencing people truly immerse themselves in and enjoy something, and when you feel the same way, taking part. But to be included in something right up to the point everyone loved it, then not considered when it is time to come together and heal is a lonely and at times traumatic experience. Which is why the response to a character death on The 100, leading to the LGBT Fans Deserve Better campaign and trending hashtag , is so troubling. Though the concept is one that needs to be taken seriously, in practice the movement (which, in true fandom fashion, goes beyond just the source campaign and into daily life) has left out whole sections of the LGBT community.
At this time, the main focus of the movement is the loss of our Heda Lexa, an exceptional lesbian character killed by a bullet meant for her lover, lead character and Bisexual cisgender woman Clarke Griffin, from the dystopian future-based CW show The 100. I want to join the communal mourning in the death of a beloved queer woman character. I want to talk about the show’s LGBT representation, its triumphs and its failures. But my attempts to do so have left me in a position with few options. One is to focus on a single part of myself—the fan that would like to read thinkpieces and reflect on the show—and let bierasure and biphobia go, swallowing the hurt this causes me and allowing the possibility of harm for other Bisexual people to remain unabated. Another is to speak up and take the time and energy to educate others, exposing myself to the negative feedback that often results when calling out others for oppressive behavior. Regardless of what I say or do, discrimination against bi people in the larger conversation around this issue is likely to continue.
The Bi+ community often has different considerations than the LGBT community as a whole. We make up the largest percentage of the LGBT community, including 40% of LGBT people of color and (though not mutually exclusive) 50% of trans individuals. Although studies show the bi community is in even more in need of support than gays and lesbians, we barely receive any funding from the LGBTQ pool to address our specific needs. Bisexual people experience discrimination from both in and outside of the LGBT community.
The discrimination we face also translates into the television medium. In the counting of the queers in GLAAD’s “Where We Are On TV” report for the 2015-16 season, though Bisexuals are the largest group in the LGB community, we make up only 20% of the LGB primetime characters. Just three percent of those are male and none are trans. The report also notes that these characters often “fall into dangerous stereotypes about bisexual people.” There is no wrong way to be Bisexual—but if most of the reflections we see of Bisexuality on television are duplicitous murderers, cheaters, and liars, there’s a problem. Consistently negative portrayals of bisexuality are damaging to the Bi+ community. Directly, we see only one way to be Bisexual reflected back to us. Over time, we face discrimination and rejection from society because we are not seen as people and the spectrum that entails.
Which is why a character such as Clarke Griffin is so impactful—for both me as an individual and the Bi+ community as a whole. Clarke Griffin is the first Bisexual lead on a CW show, and one of the first Bisexual leads on network television. The partner site to LGBT Fans Deserve Better, We Deserved Better, provides a very clear rundown of the controversy surrounding the show and the choices made around it. As explored there, The 100, and in particular showrunner Jason Rothenberg, heartily patted itself on the back for having an LGBT lead. And as I mentioned in the piece I wrote before episode 307, “Clarke Griffin, Bisexual: CWs The 100 and Dystopian Future at Its Finest”: “This stable sexuality is occurring in a pop culture landscape where we are so accustomed to the temporary titillating queerness of sweeps week, so often confined to the purpose of getting ratings as opposed to genuine character shaping.” So when Rothenberg confirmed that Clarke Griffin is Bisexua,l my little Bisexual, scifi loving heart was over the moon.
When Rothenberg’s deliberate actions around the lesbian character Lexa amounted to queerbaiting, it was devastating for many reasons. The only primetime science fiction show with a Bisexual lead currently on the air caused members of the LGBT community so much pain. This goes beyond the decision to write in tropes—tropes that echo a decision on Buffy the Vampire Slayer to kill off a beloved lesbian character. Tara was killed with a bullet meant for the main character. The sole purpose? To make her paramour, a character whose Bisexuality was erased, a temporary Big Bad. As described by Variety’s Chief TV Critic Maureen Ryan, prior to Lexa’s midseason death Jason Rothenberg invited fans to The 100’s notoriously secretive set. Delighted fans shared pictures of Alycia Debnam-Carey (Lexa) on set and in costume for the season three finale. The trope that LGBT characters don’t survive is very real (succinctly and erasively referred to as “Bury Your Gays”.) This was among the factors LGBT fans considered before getting our hopes up. Rothenberg made it clear that even though the actor was cast as a lead on another show Lexa would be returning to The 100 for Season 3. So fans were open when a lesbian character with a consistently foreshadowed death was photographed at the end of another season. Then, midseason, Lexa died with no promise of return.
Among the tidal waves of reaction, LGBT Fans Deserve Better was born. When Rothenberg broke his silence weeks later, he said he’d “been listening, reading everything [he] could” to “try to understand” the fan reaction. He went on to tease that Lexa just might come back. This leads me to believe he has not truly understood the problem. He both acknowledged the queerbaiting phenomenon and the fact he had been accused of it, then potentially did it again in the same interview. His continued defense of a color- and sexuality-blind future does nothing to address the fact that the show is being consumed right now. The break in weeks of radio silence about the character’s death and the fan reaction to it can be summarized as a defensive and somewhat dismissive “Yes, But.”
So what do I, and Bisexual fans like me, do? Can we continue to watch the show? Can we enjoy the positive benefits of the rare reflection of ourselves in a well-rounded character like Clarke? If I don’t boycott the show, am I being a traitor to the LGBT community at large?
In the name of the loss of such an exceptional character, an “ongoing campaign that is constantly growing on the back of a shared worldwide sentiment that ‘LGBT fans deserve better” was founded to raise money for Trevor Project, which provides suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth. (Donate here.) To date the campaign has raised almost to $60,000 in support of queer youth, and the ongoing campaign shows no signs of slowing. It is not clear how much LGBT Fans Deserve Better and the fundraising campaign overlap as they cross promote without explicit distinction. The donation campaign was founded by a group named Leskru, self described as “the united clan of LGBTQ/supporters/allies named in true Grounder honor.” An excellent name for a lesbian fandom. Though like Huffington Post Gay Voices (now Queer Voices) before it, the nome de plume is not as reflective of the LGBT community as, say, Queerkru would be. LGBT Fans Deserve Better’s mission states “Members and allies of the LGBT community are demanding that TV and media stop introducing queer characters only to consistently kill them in senseless and shocking ways.” Both sites reference that the show has “failed to reinforce the positive aspects of the minority it has CHOSEN to depict.”
This statement reads like the show failed in all parts to reinforce positive aspects of the LGBT community. But it hasn’t. It has shown a consistent depiction of a well-rounded Bisexual lead. An entire character arc has been dedicated to learning to live with a disability. Besides Clarke, there are three other known queer characters currently on the show. There are many aspects to how the show considers, and at times does not consider, race. The 100 does have some well rounded non-white characters. But the show still has far to go regarding treatment of people of color. That the show did not do right by the white able-bodied cisgender lesbian character is clear, but certainly the show has failed the LGBT community in more than just that way. There are no trans and/or nonbinary characters. In the episode Bitter Harvest, a male couple (Bryan and Miller) chastely hug when saying goodbye. This is a stark contrast to the normally passionate interactions from this group teens whose quest for survival does not damper their allosexual lusts. This is reflective of both the sexualization of queer women and the rejection of the sexuality of queer men, both in service of the patriarchy. Up until the mere seconds between Clarke and Lexa’s long-awaited rendezvous and the bullet that hits Lexa at her very core, women were allowed to have sex without judgement. There is a large portion of the LGBT community—women who date other genders—who watched as an entire female character was introduced, underdeveloped, and then killed off purely to motivate a male character, Bellamy’s, decision to pledge allegiance to a new leader.
This single-issue, erasive presentation is reflected in the coverage of the movement. The analysis has been riddled with the very familiar but no less damaging tendency to use “gay and lesbian” or “gay” as a synonym for LGBT or queer. When reading reactions to the character death, the focus is often on Lexa, which is understandable since she is who we are mourning. But though the words “lesbian” and “queer” are littered throughout, these articles often reference Clarke in passing and rarely if ever say “Bisexual.” Bisexuality is becoming greater in the public consciousness, but use of the term Bisexual when talking about the queerness of a show or in reference to the character is still uncommon.
In the Buzzfeed post “How ‘The 100’ Sparked An LGBTQ Revolution” Lexa is not only noted as queer, but also as a female character that was a “a tough cookie, a talented fighter, and a brilliant leader” that no one “rebelled against…solely because of her gender.” The post then went on to say that “When Lexa died, audiences had no other shows or characters to turn to get their fix,” or “simply put, there is no character like Lexa on television right now.” Counterpoint: there is a character like Lexa on television right now. She is a queer woman who is tough. She has lead an entire community to victory in many battles. Her name is Clarke Griffin and she is the main character of the SAME SHOW. I’ve seen this sentiment repeated over and over, and not only is it bierasive but it also sends the message that Bisexuality is not queer enough. Though bi people are often left to identify with gay or lesbian characters when in search of queer representation, monosexuals will not do the same.”
Since season one, the show has been laying the groundwork for a romantic entanglement between Clarke and a male character on the show. An entire fandom is dedicated to this pairing. Since Lexa’s death, I have seen the same view repeated: “Clarke becoming involved with Bellamy would be so disappointing.” This sentiment is focused on the fact that Bellamy is a man. Saying that Clarke being with a man is a bad thing because he is a man—no matter the context—is biphobic.
Fans have created some beautiful ways for us to process our grief, including a whole new character. I hope to join in this groundbreaking jump ‘ship. But just as The Walking Dead franchise is no stranger to representation issues, please don’t disparage those who still harbor a cautious but continued love for The 100. And one last gentle reminder: the LGBT community is not a monolith. Consider us all when you refer to us or speak on our behalf. Because LGBT fans deserve better—we all do.
Update: Showrunner Jason Rothenberg has released a personal statement “The Life and Death of Lexa” in which he addresses concerns presented in response to the interview referenced in this post.
Note: In the original writing of this piece, I noted The 100 follows the “In the Future Humans Will Be One Race” trope. This trope, in both concept and very often in execution, can be harmful. I also stated in the same sentence “but people of color are not treated as interchangeable or disposable.” In a post written 11 months before this one, tumblr user Mahima reviews the many reasons this and similar statements are false. Mahima calls for The 100 to consider its treatment of people of color on the show, noting “representation does not correlate with a lack of racism.” This piece, about bierasure, is about erasure of our identities. It is meant to highlight the many layers of representation the show offers, both its successes and failures. It is imperative not to erase the experiences of people of color when speaking about The 100 and representation, including and especially LGBT representation. Why were the main mountain men, those whose names we knew, the privileged few on the hill, mostly white? The character of Wells was written off the show in season one, leading to the character’s death. But the first death of a named character didn’t need to be a young black man. Furthermore, he didn’t need to die at the hands of a white child because she was told to kill her demons. Is Monty asexual representation? If so, why hasn’t the show been talking about this as a part of their LGBT representation? If this is true, why did they choose an Asian male for this representation? These and more are among the conversations and concerns around race and representation on The 100.