Q&A

Is It Okay to Bury a Gay Character If I Bring Them Back?

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I saw an article you had about “bury your gays.” At first I thought that my story was exempt from that because multiple characters of different orientations die, but then I read the examples you gave and started doubting myself. You said “a big factor in this trope is the image of a queer (most often lesbian) character dying tragically in her partner’s arms, with a death that didn’t really accomplish anything.” I do have the character dying in her girlfriend’s arms, but her death does mean something. She kills a major villain as the villain kills her, saving her girlfriend and consequently dying.

You also mentioned having “other queer characters around, particularly queer characters of the same orientation as the dead character.” I do have another lesbian couple who are fairly prominent in the story, but given that you said lesbians are usually the ones who fall prey to this trope, is this sufficient?

And again, the kicker – the character comes back to life. The next book is focused on her girlfriend taking an epic quest to bring her back, which she succeeds in. They do get a happily-ever-after.

Should I change any elements of this character’s death? Does it fall prey to “bury your gays” stereotypes?

Thanks!

-Sophie

Hi Sophie,

Great question.

Unfortunately, simply making it parallel with a straight couple isn’t enough, just because straight readers have many more romances with happy endings to turn to, whereas queer readers don’t. It does help that you have another lesbian couple and that the death is a glorified one, but it could still upset readers.

However, in your case the death isn’t a permanent end to the relationship like death usually is, it’s just a setback for the purpose of creating a more epic, romantic storyline. So as far as the whole story goes, you’re not actually burying a gay character. (In some stories with circumstances like this, such as Star Trek: Discovery, I would still call it burying because the writers clearly did not intend to bring the gay character back when they killed him.)

Your biggest problem is that your readers probably won’t know this when it happens. It’s no good if they rage quit before they realize that this death isn’t the end. So my advice in this situation is to reveal the quest to bring her back right after the death. It would make a great hook for the next book, too.

If you want to be extra careful, you can also insert some heavy foreshadowing that it’s possible to bring people back to life before this character dies. This will mean that when readers find that she’s dying, it won’t have as much impact because they’ll know she’ll probably come back. In this case, that might be a good thing. It will people from getting upset, quitting, and never seeing what happens after.

Happy writing!

Chris

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Comments

  1. Tony

    “In some stories with circumstances like this, such as Star Trek: Discovery, I would still call it burying because the writers clearly did not intend to bring the gay character back when they killed him.” Yep, it’s like how the Joker paralysing Barbara Gordon with a bullet to the spine is considered “fridging” because the violence was sexualised and intended to shock her father, even though other writers brought Babs back as a disabled badass the year after The Killing Joke came out.

  2. Innes

    I think trying to find a loophole to this trope is a bit of a non-starter, because even if you play this very safe and immediately begin your rescue arc, some people are not going to like it.
    In the D&D podcast The Adventure Zone, two lesbian characters sacrifice themselves in a plot relevant way. The creators of the podcast added other lesbian characters, and later brought the two who died back to life, but that did not stop some people from choosing not to listen/not to continue listening to the show. That’s not a bad thing, since everyone is entitled to their preferences and opinions. As a queer listener I felt seen by the show’s efforts to include more representation and to revive the couple, but a similarly queer friend of mine did not want to start the show due to the presence of the trope in spite of the other mitigating circumstances.

    You can either choose to continue with your plot of a revival arc with the knowledge that despite your best intentions and actions, some people will be turned off (which will happen anyway; there’s no way to create a story that appeals to everyone). Again, it’s not the worst thing in the world to include a trope that some people won’t like, especially if you aim to subvert it by bringing your character back to life.
    Or, you can choose to alter your plot so that the character sacrifices something other than her life, which could still create a satisfying climax and conclusion. Maybe the villain forces her into exile, or forces her to betray her girlfriend in some way.

    However, I think it is important to understand that many queer readers will feel that there is no loophole to the trope, and no way for your to exempt your story from its negative influence without eliminating it entirely.

  3. Paige

    It’s not really burying I don’t think. As long as the character’s sexuality isn’t the reason for their death to the author, than it doesn’t really matter, which is obvious because other orientations are in there too. Gays are allowed to die in fiction lol, same as everybody else.

  4. Alverant

    Personally, I would be hesitant to kill off a homosexual or minority character for any reason. Regardless of whether or not the death was noble or had meaning, it would still be killing a type of character that often gets the short end of the stick. Maybe I need to read more books that are current but until homosexual or minority characters start having an equal chance as other characters of dying I’m going to keep this opinion.

  5. Jeppsson

    This is like the romance between Phyla-Vell and Moondragon in Guardians of the Galaxy (the comic book). It was many years ago now, but if I remember correctly, disappointment over them killing off Moondragon was pretty brief, since Phyla-Vell goes on this epic quest to get her back from death soon after.

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