We Need to Talk About 'Bury Your Gays'
Updated: Nov 9, 2022
“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” – Oscar Wilde
Queer history is filled with death. However, that doesn’t mean our present has to be. There’s so much death because we had to fight for so much. We still have to fight for so much—just look at all the “Don’t Say Gay” bills springing up around the United States. We’re constantly fighting just to be happy. Just to be people. Just to be equal.
And that’s why ‘Bury Your Gays’ is such a trope.
The trope goes like this: If there is a queer person in the story, they have to die. Because that’s reality, is always the excuse. Queer people have to be martyrs. Obviously, a lot of people take issue with this. Because queer suffering is not all there is. That is a thing, don’t get me wrong—but what about queer happiness?
All things we can be. And those are all ways we can represent queer people.
But why do I bring this up? Because, oh my God, let queer authors kill off their queer characters. This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out.
Nowadays, audiences will read a book where a queer person dies and they’ll call it ‘Bury Your Gays’ just for that. But when the book is packed to the brim with queer characters…just shut up, Susan. Queer people can thrive and also a queer person can die. If one queer person dies in a cast full of queer characters, it’s not ‘Bury Your Gays’. It’s just a character death. Clear? Cool, thanks.
If I sound a little sassy, it’s because I am. I run into this argument a lot with my own book. Elegy for the Undead is filled with queerness. My writing philosophy is: Everyone is queer until proven guilty. And yes (not a spoiler, it’s in the first page) one of the characters—a gay man—is diagnosed with a terminal illness. But one dying queer person is not ‘Bury Your Gays’. This is not the death of a sole queer character in a straight plot. This is the story of queer life—some live, some die sooner than they should. And all have their stories told fruitfully and abundantly. All have more to them than “the gay guy who kicks the bucket.” Really, it’s a nice story, highly recommend, I’m not bias at all, not one bit, 10/10, buy it here.
As I continue to write in this mindset of fully queer casts, I continue to kill ~some~ of my queer characters. I hurt others. I maim a few. I put them through situations in which they suffer. And I don’t do it because they’re queer. I do it because they are people with human stories that encounter the good, the bad, and the deadly. I also give them love, rage, success, life—I give them a character arch that’s representative of something real.
And sometimes, real hurts.
Queer happiness is important. I love the warm stories of Heartstopper, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and 99% of the webcomics on my reading list. They give queer happiness the full spotlight it deserves. But not every story has to be that. Give authors—especially queer authors—the space to tell their queer stories. And if they happen to bury a gay, really consider if it's ‘Bury Your Gays’ or part of a wider queer story that shows everything—trauma and happiness side by side.
Want an example? I will shamelessly plug Elegy for the Undead again. Give it a go.