‘Brokeback Mountain’ and now ‘Call Me By Your Name’ have been lauded as the epitome of phenomenal gay films, and held as the standard for queer stories. They are also films that end in tragedy for the main queer characters.
And honestly, I’m sick of it.
Standing outside a Coles at Fitzroy, with a fresh batch of cigarettes in one hand and a lighter in the other, I struck up a conversation with two other gays, who just like me, were heading to Thursgay.
“Oh my god, yes, yes, yes!” was their response when I told them I had a date, consisting of me and a boy going to watch ‘Call Me By Your Name’.
I was definitely curious. Obviously, I haven’t seen the film but I’ve read the book and without spoiling too much, it’s not a happy ending.
So, why were they so enamored by a story that essentially ends in heartbreak?
“It’s just so much more realistic,” they said to me. Those words stuck with me to this day for so many reasons. But I just think it’s the casual offhand way he just accepts that queer movies depicting queer relationships must always have a sad ending.
It’s painful to think that someone would’ve been so downtrodden by life that they see a happy queer couple on screen as something out of the ordinary. But at the same time, I’m not surprised.
Any marginalized group can tell you that throughout their entire life, their identity and essentially who they are as a person constantly garners negative attention from hateful bigots. This can not be truer for the LGBT community, which only recently has started gaining traction in mainstream acceptance. Even though we have a long way to go, the mainstream narrative seem to recognize that this group deserves and craves media representation. Unfortunately, many storytellers, whether it be novelists or screenwriters or showrunners who decide to feature queer relationships seem to shy away from offering positive and happy endings.
In fact, I will go as far to say that there seems to be a compromise: we’ll show you a queer couple to please the progressive crowds, but to avoid backlash from more conservative (read hateful) viewers, we’ll kill them off so it doesn’t seem like we’re encouraging queerness and “shoving it down people’s throat”.
As an aspiring artist myself, I would hate to think I’m imposing my view or my expectation on any artist just to please a crowd. That’s certainly not what I’m advocating. Artists should have the freedom to create and tell their stories however they want it to be. However, many of these queer characters seem to be introduced to the plot for no other reason than to seem progressive. In fact, there’s a common term I want to introduce to you all: it’s called queer-baiting.
That’s the practice of flaunting and bragging about how progressive and open-minded you are as a person that you are willing to (gasp!) feature gays in your work. Since the queer community is so desperate for attention, they’d flock to anything that feature gays, and bonus points if they are in relationships. Once your views go up, your network orders another season, then, chop! You kill off the gay character because they serve their purpose. And they don’t even have to be well rounded and fleshed out characters, they just have to show their queerness in any way explicitly and you’ll get the entire community applauding you for your progressive thinking. Because we’re just. That. Desperate.
In fact, this is such a common practice that there is a whole list of queer female characters being compiled by furious fans of various fandoms. It’s even classified as a trope, aptly named: Bury Your Gays trope.
But at the end of the day, why does it matter so much?
Growing up queer is hard. Being queer is hard. Period. We don’t need a reminder of how hard it is. We watch movies as a form of escapism and although sometimes it’s necessary to show the nitty-gritty of queer relationships, we deserve to see ourselves as happy as well. With so many countries still punishing their LGBT citizens, and even the hatred and discrimination we receive in ‘progressive’ Western countries, we want to see a world where we’re happy. When seemingly every single piece of media paints queer relationships as sinful, bad, toxic, or ending with one succumbing to AIDS, homophobic violence, shame, you name it; it gets really tiring.
It’s not that hard to portray happy queer couples. Furthermore, I’m sure straight people don’t need a disastrous and devastating ending for queer stories in order to like or relate to us. I’m sure straight people can still consume queer media with happy ending without feeling like their straightness is being compromised. And if you’re arguing there’s no market for happy queer stories, I’m going to remind you that there’s a reason Adam Sandler can still make movies. People like cheesy comedies. And if you’re straight and can only sympathize or relate to queer people through our blood and tears, then you need to stay the fuck away from us.