Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why season 2.
When Courtney Crimsen introduces Tony and Caleb to her girlfriend, Tameka, in the season finale of 13 Reasons Why season 2, she joins a small group of queer women who've managed to find a happy ending on TV (at least, for now). That's huge on a show like 13 Reasons Why, on which a deeply closeted gay woman like Courtney could have easily found her way into disaster territory.
The thing is, queer women frequently come to tragic ends on television. Sometimes they end up in prison, but most of the time, they die. Some call it "dead lesbian syndrome," and some call it "bury your gays," but no matter the name, the common TV trope sees LGBTQ+ characters (and mostly lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise queer women) killed off usually for a totally unnecessary reason. "TV has kind of failed queer women in the past two years," said Megan Townsend, GLAAD's director of entertainment research and analysis at the Television Critics Association’s Summer 2017 Press Tour. "Just since the beginning of 2015, we've lost more than 50 queer women on television — often in violent ways that benefit somebody else's story rather than anything contributing to that character's own arc."
Perhaps the most monumental of those lost women was Lexa from the CW's sci-fi dystopia show The 100. Lexa was the leader of the Grounders and love interest to bisexual heroine Clarke. When she was killed by a stray bullet intended for Clarke in season 3 (right after they had sex for the first time, of course), her death incited a revolution. Queer women took to Twitter to vent their frustrations with the Bury Your Gays trope, a fundraiser dedicated to Lexa raised more than $170,000 for The Trevor Project, and fan outrage eventually forced Jason Rothenberg, creator of The 100, to issue an apology.
"Knowing everything I know now, Lexa’s death would have played out differently," he said in his apology. Rothenberg apologised not only for killing Lexa, but for killing her only minutes after she and Clarke had slept together, a move that many fans felt punished Lexa for loving Clarke. "The thinking behind having the ultimate tragedy follow the ultimate joy was to heighten the drama and underscore the universal fragility of life," Rothenberg said at the time. "But the end result became something else entirely."
Although Lexa incited the revolution, queer women were primed for this kind of reaction. It only took one more senseless TV death to break them, because there had already been hundreds. Soon after Lexa's death on The 100, Autostraddle, a website that caters to queer women, complied a list of 195 dead lesbians and bisexual women on TV. Plenty of the deaths on that list happened many years ago, when LGBTQ+ people were lucky to see queer characters on TV at all, let alone have them survive for more than a few episodes. But, as much as LGBTQ+ representation on TV has gotten better, too many queer women characters still die for no good reason. Just in 2016, the same year of Lexa's untimely demise, Autostraddle counted 30 lesbian or bisexual women who died on TV. In 2017, there were 12.
Many might argue that these deaths aren't a huge problem. After all, people die on TV shows all the time, right? And plenty of straight characters die, too. But lesbian and bisexual characters are already so rare that killing off 30 in just one year is a problem. It sends a message to the LGBTQ+ community that our stories don't matter. "We comprise such a teeny-tiny fraction of characters on television to begin with that killing us off so haphazardly feels especially cruel," Autostraddle editor-in-chief, Riese, wrote in the dead lesbians post.
So, Courtney being able to get over her fear of coming out, have a touching moment with her gay dads, and then end up smiling and dancing with her new girlfriend is something to celebrate, especially because the character lives on a show where bad things happen all the time. Fingers crossed that she'll be able to hold on to her happy ending if the show gets a season 3.