I'm extremely worried that a screenplay I'm writing is perpetuating the "bury your gays" trope, and I'm in need of other people's opinions on it


#1

I feel like the simplest solution to this is a very logical and understandable one, and it’s probably something like “If you’re so worried about it than it probably is perpetuating a horrible trope, don’t do it.” And that’s a very reasonable response I think. And if that’s the general consensus of the replies to this thread then I’m fully ready to accept that.

I’m gonna try to keep this description/explanation as short as possible. And for the sake of context, this is a horror movie. And feel free to ask me to go into further detail, I’m not worried about someone stealing my idea or anything like that, if only because “execution matters more than premise”. That’s a really shortened version of a point made in this really good video on Funny Games.

There’s a murder in a suburban neighborhood that happens before the story begins. The victim of this murder was a young woman, she was the main characters primary romantic and sexual partner. Her death is the most recent, readily significant and tangible trauma that weighs on the main character. And later information revealed about the death is crucial to events that take place in the final act.

That was pretty short and very vague. Hopefully not too much of either. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.


#2

So, I’m understanding correct in that the arc for this character is that her girlfriend gets murdered and this is then woven into the rest of the narrative as a means through which she is traumatized for the duration of the screenplay? Perhaps I’m taking a harsh interpretation of your post, but I see no difference between that and most “bury your gays” stories, in which a gay person dies and their partner suffers along the way.

If you wish to avoid this trope, take a step back and ask yourself if the protagonist really needs to have their girlfriend be murdered over say, a relative or close friend or so on, and if it has to be a lover, does it have to be a (and possibly the only, from what your wording gives) gay character whose lover is murdered? Unless you can come up with a very good, immediately recognizable reason why both of those things have to be exactly as they are (and even then, I’m not sure it would fix it), then although I may be wrong, as you didn’t say a whole lot about the plot, I don’t think that what you’ve presented it as does avoid such a trope.


#3

This may feel like it justifies your use of the trope, but it’s actually the root cause of why the trope exists. Many writers seem to think that stories about gay characters gain weight, depth, and social import when gay lives are portrayed as endlessly miserable and cathartically tragic. Writers want to shed light on the supposed constant pain and struggle of homosexuality. This is why gay love interests are killed off, again and again and again-- and each writer who does it thinks they made the decision completely independently from culture.


#4

I heartily agree with the advice given by Franziska. The fact that you’re taking the step back to be introspective of your narrative is definitely the biggest first step in my opinion. Especially when it comes to “fridging” in queer stories, the protagonist’s partner is often tossed away after being used as the inciting incident–with everything else being almost coincidental. These narratives often disregard the intricacies of trauma within the queer context, which makes them ring hollow.

If the murder’s main payoff is just for the end-of-story twist, I’m concerned that it would fall into the trope. However it sounds like the trauma is a part of your main character, which makes it sound like something with some substance. Maybe check out some of the stories that have done this particularly wrong? Finding some critical theory to read might warn you of the hazards ahead.

I hope this helps at least a bit. Having a queer main character at all for a horror movie is generally a plus for me. Best of luck with your screenplay!


#5

A few suggestions, one writer to another:

  1. Introduce other LGBT characters. One of the reasons this trope stings as much as it does is because it’s typically applied to an already-minimal presence - if you show that there are other LGBT people who are not victims, that’ll go a long way.

  2. One could argue another problem with the trope is that it treats the dead person as disposable, a momentary source of drama that you’re meant to move on from very quickly (apparently Voltron just did this?). If you make it clear that your main character is fundamentally changed by this loss, that she won’t be the same person after it as she was before, it should be fine.

  3. This is a more complicated question in that you’d have to do a bit more legwork to pull it off: would there be any value in your main character’s lover surviving, and shifting the source of the trauma to, say, a family member? Is there a dynamic you can envision where the lover might have something to contribute to the plot, even if it’s just banter or domesticity with the main character?


#6

If you want in-depth insight, consider spending a bit of money to hire a “Sensitivity Reader”. There’s lots of gay writers who could offer some really valuable insight, and paying LGBTQ+ people for creative work is just generally a good thing.


#7

I don’t that’s a harsh interpretation, but it puts too much significance on her death. What I mean is, its not a traumatic event in a vacuum. It’s very significant in it’s own right, but more than that it’s confirmation for the main character. Confirmation that the world is wrong, broken in all the right ways for her and people like her to be denied happiness, comfort, stability etc. To add more context, the main character is also a POC from a very culturally conservative immigrant family that is both very proud of where they came from, and proud of being American. This conservatism manifest itself in the denial of freedom for the protagonist because she’s a woman.

If you wish to avoid this trope, take a step back and ask yourself if the protagonist really needs to have their girlfriend be murdered over say, a relative or close friend or so on, and if it has to be a lover, does it have to be a (and possibly the only, from what your wording gives) gay character whose lover is murdered? Unless you can come up with a very good, immediately recognizable reason why both of those things have to be exactly as they are (and even then, I’m not sure it would fix it), then although I may be wrong, as you didn’t say a whole lot about the plot, I don’t think that what you’ve presented it as does avoid such a trope.

The main character’s identity is crucial to the story, but no the death doesn’t have to be of another queer woman. Changing it to being a friend or relative definitely doesn’t help avoid this trope though because of what the main character does towards the end of the story. She chooses to do as much damage to the world around her as she can. Not directly but through something else, and by doing this she’s indirectly killed thousands (at least), and she knows this. It’s why she does it.

There are other queer characters in the story that don’t die, but with an ending like this, does not seeing them die on screen even negate the trope? I’m not about to give myself a pass and say it does.


#8

I think that hits the nail on the head, though - if the function of the death is merely to reinforce what the main character already believes, it can easily fall into trope territory.


#9

I don’t think it justifies it at all, the same way I don’t think having the main character decide to let loose an extremely destructive force on the world negates it. I don’t think telling a dark, depressing story where nobody ends up happy is an excuse to engage in what I see as a harmful trope. It’s why I made this thread.

Do you think there’s any way for me to change this?


#10

If the murder’s main payoff is just for the end-of-story twist, I’m concerned that it would fall into the trope. However it sounds like the trauma is a part of your main character, which makes it sound like something with some substance. Maybe check out some of the stories that have done this particularly wrong? Finding some critical theory to read might warn you of the hazards ahead.

I’ve actually got a few critical theory (feminist film theory) books on my reading list. If you have any recommendations I’d be happy to add those to the list.

I don’t even want to call what is revealed about the murder a twist, It’s basically the straw that breaks the camels back. As far as learning from others doing it wrong goes though, no movies come to mind but shows do. Namely “The 100”, that character wasn’t killed off for narrative reason though, she was killed off for contractual ones. That doesn’t justify playing into the trope at all in my opinion, but that’s not an issue I’m likely to run into for an indie horror film. I definitely should do some research into examples of this trope in film and try to learn from those.


#11

While the moderation team understands and respects wanting to find additional voices to provide critique, we feel that this question would be well served by a simple google search rather than needing to create a whole thread devoted to it. We want to discourage people from using the forums in lieu of doing their own research, or to at least come with a basic understanding before reaching out to others for further elaboration.

We believe the work marginalised folks do to educate others in matters such as these to be valuable and worth supporting, and while we’re grateful for the constructive criticism several of you have offered in this thread, we’d encourage those seeking help in their creative pursuits to look to the many channels available to support & invest in this kind of professional advice.

As a result, we feel this thread has run its course, and will be locked.


#12