It’s been a persistent fact in fiction that homosexual or gender-variant characters have tragic endings. Long have we bemoaned this trend, where a gay person will find happiness only to meet their doom at the hands of a murderer or the plague. Has rage become a knee-jerk reaction by now, though? ‘They killed the lesbian again!’ merely the unintentional reopening of old wounds?
I recently read a book in which the lesbian dies. My initial reaction was, as expected ‘great, another gay bites the dust!’ I even tweeted my disappointment.
But then I sat down to think. I put away the whole idea of ‘gays always get killed in mainstream fiction’ as an influential factor. Instead of looking at this particular character’s death as a symptom of an old heterosexist legacy, I would finish reading the book, and look at the story itself, the nuts and bolts of it.
It occurred to me that I hadn’t really looked at the reasons why the lesbian was murdered.
Without giving away the particular book, therefore saving you from spoilers, I will try to dissect the death itself. The character in question was a psychic, and her insights were important in the resolution of the mystery. She had a crush on her partner (they’re FBI agents), and also on one of the suspects in the crimes they were investigating.
The one who murdered her had no interest in her sexuality one way or the other – his motivation lay somewhere else entirely. He had targeted her because of an arbitrary factor, but that factor was enough that he would have tracked her down, had she been out on a date with another woman, or sitting in front of her TV watching Glee. She died because she was involved with the case, as an investigating agent.
The argument can be made that as the sacrificial lamb, she became the ‘token lesbian’ because she would be thrown away halfway through the book anyway. But if the author felt the need to kill this character, would he even bother assigning a sexual orientation to her?
I continued reading.
I found that, despite my best attempts to give this novel the best possible chance, there was something missing. The remaining lead began acting out of character, and while some of it was attributable to grief, it just didn’t feel natural. The banter between the FBI agents was gone, and even though the lesbian’s ghost came back at one point, it just wasn’t the same.
The second half of the book felt slightly awkward, but I can’t blame this on character death – that would not be fair, nor accurate. Without letting this become a book review (which I keep thinking I should just go ahead and do, spoilers be damned), I have to say that there were major flaws in the book, but by the time these flaws became a problem, I was already committed to finding out how the story ends.
My personal conclusion at the end of this book is that the death of the character was vital to the plot – the death of a lesbian was simply incidental. Had the character been straight, she would have needed to die as well. And I think this should be the litmus test for character death. Did the character die because of their sexual orientation/gender identity? Would the character still need to die in order to further the plot had they been straight, and would their death serve the same purpose regardless?
As far as this particular book goes, I can say that I was disappointed that the character died, but it had to happen, even if it made for a few chapters of relationship awkwardness. In the end, if we’re striving for equality, that should mean we want representations of LGBT characters to be realistic, and in real life, people die, particularly people in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day.