Femslash Crisis: The 100

Warning: Spoilers for The 100, episode 3×07

As a researcher, my primary interest lies in digital communities, often those built around media properties such as video games or TV shows. My secondary interest is in the LGBT community. At the intersection of these two interests is the femslash1 community on Tumblr. This is what I consider my primary fieldsite.

Last night, that community was dealt a serious blow. Not only did the Bury Your Gays trope rear its ugly head, it was at a particularly devious time after what could be the most insidious use of queerbaiting in a generation.

When two fictional women enter into a well-written relationship, this corner of the internet practically explodes. Femslash fans tend to go from fandom to fandom, following those relationships, seeking validation and the experience of seeing people like them on the screen. Since there are so very few of these relationships, word about them spreads quickly. A post circulating for several hours overnight asking how many people started watching The 100 for the Sapphic2 relationship representation had over 2000 notes and it is still spreading quickly, with over 700 reblogs in the time it took to write this post. (Author’s Note: As of a day and a half after the original post, it has been reblogged over 5000 times.)

These fans were especially hooked by the fact that one of the characters, Clarke, was the main character of the show. Usually Sapphic relationships are side stories easily pushed off-screen. The producer, Jason Rothenberg, seemed to be on their side, offering what most of these fans have never had.

Most upsetting is the timing and method of the character’s death. Most of the fans were aware, at some level, that Lexa would die. It was foreshadowed and hanging over them at every turn. What Rothenberg gave them, though, was a tender, romantic scene complete with a post-coital cuddle, and the very next moment Lexa was on screen, she received a stray bullet to the torso meant for someone else. An accidental death in no way worthy of the Commander of Twelve Clans happening directly after consummating her love with a person of the same gender.

As the show ended on the East Coast and fans flocked to social media, soon joined by other fans as the show became available to them, the response almost predictably followed the classic stages of grief.

There was denial, theorizing that Lexa, the lesbian post-apocalyptic Commander of the Twelve Clans, wasn’t really dead. One of the story-lines this season has been a City of Light where death may not mean the end of life. Theories abound, bolstered by leaked stills of Clarke and Lexa in the City of Light itself.

Then, and still, there was anger. Queer fans upset to see yet another queer character killed, moments after finding happiness. Upset that they felt betrayed by a producer and writers that seemed to understand them, that seemed to offer them what they wanted.

Perhaps most heart-breaking was the utter defeat and self-blame. “I thought you were different.” “I should have known better.” Fans were circulating self-care guides and suicide hotlines. Many were crying uncontrollably and couldn’t sleep.

Now, this might seem excessive to many, to have such an adverse reaction to the death of a fictional character, but there a few things to keep in mind. First, mental illness, particularly anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, and suicide are higher among queer people than among heterosexuals, with these higher rates correlated with discrimination. Second, these fans often follow their shows with a passion rarely seen outside of the most dedicated of sports fans, but instead of wearing body paint to a match in frigid temperatures, they are writing, drawing, and dressing in costume.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, one must put themselves into their shoes. Imagine, if you will, a world where people like you are less than 4% of the characters on screen. Now take those characters and imagine half of them are villains. Of those that are left, half are killed. Another large percentage are left heart-broken or damaged. In an article from three years ago, the Guardian made a claim that only four LGBT characters have had happy endings in the last 19 years worth of movies. People like you never get a happy ending. Repeat this message year after year and you might start to understand how this could affect the LGBT community.

Lexa’s death was not simply losing a favorite character to many of these fans. She was powerful, intelligent, strong, agile, beautiful, commanding, strategic, and a lesbian. She was one half of a well-written, extremely well-acted Sapphic couple. Now that this relationship is over, those fans cannot simply turn to one of hundreds of other relationships to experience a love built for people like them. There simply aren’t any.

There have been four confirmed queer female characters in the show. One was killed for loving Lexa and has never been seen on screen. One was beaten up immediately following a sex scene with Clarke. Lexa was killed immediately following a sex scene with Clarke. And Clarke, the main character, a bisexual teenager, has had two of her lovers die as she kisses them one last time. At some point, a pattern emerges.

There is still hope in the community. Like any crisis, there have been those who seek to help and heal. In the same space where people are venting, crying, screaming, are posts validating women who love women as beautiful and important. There are posts of the few successful Sapphic relationships, untainted by Stray Bullets. There are people who have opened their ask boxes, their metaphorical shoulders, for people to cry in and offer solace. There are already fix-it fanfictions in the works, allowing fans to continue engaging with the characters, even if they cannot do so within the show itself.

One author, Rae D. Magdon, offered to give copies of her books, guaranteed to have Sapphic women with happy endings, to people who needed a pick-me-up. Since the first offer, she’s had many followers donating Amazon gift cards to continue the give-away and has so far donated around 200 books to the queer fans who need to see that they are loved and can have a happy ending too. With her royalties, she plans to make a donation to an LGBT charity such as the Trevor Project.

I will continue to observe and document the digital lives of these fans with the hope that Hollywood and their counterparts do eventually hear the message these fans are shouting: “Stop killing us.”

1. [Femslash is a term used to encompass any fictional romantic or sexual relationship between women, distinguishing it from “slash” meant for male characters.]
2. [Sapphic is this researcher’s favored term for women who love women, preventing unintentional erasure of bisexual, pansexual, questioning, asexual, and other queer women by simply using the term “lesbian”.]

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24 responses to “Femslash Crisis: The 100

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I have been following, analyzing (in a non-academic way, although anthropology and cultural sociology are my formal frame of reference) and suffering this for over 30 years. The Xena wound has just reopened and I’m seeing beheaded dead lesbians all over again, so imagine.
    I’ve decided to follow you, because we need voices like this.
    Thank you

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    • Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard a lot of similar statements over the last 24 hours. Thanks to the gunshot wound, most are comparing it to Buffy’s Tara, but it’s definitely existed far longer than that. I hope what I can offer helps in some small way.

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  2. Very well written. There is nothing to add except that this post needs to circulate.

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  3. Great write up. My partner and I have been having at-length discussions over this topic since we watched the episode Thursday night. When Lexa was killed, we both said out loud, in unison “Really? Why does this ALWAYS happen?” On the one hand, we are fans of the show as whole and fully understand that no character is immune to death. On the other, it seemed like there were so many other ways that they could have handled Lexa’s exit from the show that wouldn’t have dealt such a tragic blow to obviously invested fans. I think the heart of the issue in this particular character death is that the character of Lexa, and her storyline with Clarke, were undeniably magical – dare I even say “perfect”. Even when other f/f relationships have played out on screen, few have had the perfect mixture of storyline, chemistry, and acting talent as displayed in this one. Fans in the LGBT community saw the potential for something super rare and special. If anyone in Hollywood is smart and paying attention, they would snatch this particular character up in a second and build an entire universe around her – I know that I would surely be watching!

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    • Thank you. I have seen a few posts with examples of ways they could have done the reveal of the chip without actually killing Lexa. Also, even if the actress was going to another show, she could have been written off in a way that could have kept the character alive and offscreen with minimal guest appearances. I think what most people are upset about, though, is the way that the showrunner dangled “good representation” in front of them, showed them an excellent example of f/f love, and then destroyed it immediately after. Perhaps AMC should be watching The 100 to see if it fails after this and offer Eliza Taylor a role as ADC’s girlfriend on Fear the Walking Dead.

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  4. dbjean@dbjean22

    Kudos for speaking up for us and not succumbing to the pressure of wanting to stay on the good side of the big wigs of The 100. Just a few hours before watching this gut wrenching episode, I tweeted a comment to one of said big wigs about how wonderful it was that people directly involved in the show were making themselves available to fan forums. Now I get it…💡…They’ve cleverly courted some of the most articulate episode reviewers who now probably feel obligated to stand behind this episode. Afterall, reacting negatively would be like shooting yourself in the foot…no more retweets, no more access to big name interviews, no more links posted….Just silence. Thank you for speaking your mind. I am bothered by just how bothered I am, but glad I’m not the lone ranger.😕

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  5. Thank you for writing this up. I was singing The 100’s praises to my mother in an attempt to get her to better understand the LGBT community, and it was one of the few positive portrayals on a network show I could find. I didn’t have a chance to see the episode live–I DVR it to prevent my bigoted stepfather from having an aneurism, and am still technically closeted in the house because I cannot, absolutely cannot let him know, and speak in code and euphemism with my mom for anything LGBT+ related; I then watch it the next day while everyone is at work before my shift starts–but I was following it on twitter and tumblr, checking reactions. Not even having watched the episode, I felt my heart drop and thought, “Why is this happening? It’s Willow and Tara all over again; why did JRoth build up so much hope for something so devastating?” It felt like a betrayal. Yesterday morning, I tried explaining to my mom what happened (I still haven’t seen it) and found myself repeating, “I don’t understand, they killed her, members of that community were so happy. We hoped it might be different. We let ourselves believe it could be. It–there are so many other venues they could’ve taken.” Clexa was a beacon of hope I could show to my mother with pride and say, “Look at this, isn’t it great? Things can be different. Things are changing.” To be faced with how wrong that sentiment was…

    Thank you for articulating the impact this has on the femslash community, again. Sorry for rambling. This was wonderfully written.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this. It’s a really excellent write-up.

    I really appreciate your usage of the word “Sapphic”–it’s a good term, and one that I’ll be adding to my own vocabulary. Do you happen to know of or use a similar, non-erasing term for men who love men?

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    • Thank you. I don’t know one off-hand. Most of the academic articles I’ve read refer to them as “msm” or “men who have sex with men”, but I don’t like the way it reduces the relationship between two men to sex or the way it invalidates men who may be attracted to other men but have never had sex with one. That is one of the few places where women got the better deal, since they are usually “women who love other women” or “wlw”. If I hear of one, I’ll certainly try to spread the word.

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  9. Thank you! It’s wonderful text! Lexa and Clexa’s fans deserve better.

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  10. Thank you for this. I m really happy to hear stories such as this. It makes me feel like all the work we ve done is going somewhere. The fact that more and more articles are popping up about this mess tells me that we are getting something done.

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    • Thank you for your comment. It will be interesting to see what comes next.

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      • dbjean@dbjean22

        In your humble opinion, do you think he will consider changing his blunder and write Lexa back into the story? After all, this is scifi! He earned his season 4 from masterfully whipping us all into a frenzy, so the least he could do is reward us with a storyline that would allow our black blooded Commander to miraculously survive the “oopsy” caused by her right hand man. In fact, Titus could’ve staged this in order to “save” her from the coup that he was so convinced was inevitable based on her feelings for Clark. Lexa may have even been in on it after she and Titus had their heart to heart prior to the death scene. Maybe she realized herself that Clark’s life was at stake on her account, and she could no longer effectively serve the Clans so she stepped down. She did, in fact, tell Clark on her deathbed that she was right about there being more to life…Besides, it struck me as odd that Titus fought Murphy like an unleashed Ninja, yet wielded that gun like a drunken monkey!!! That would be a GREAT twist! Lexa’s still alive, unbeknownst to Clark who would return to her people to play out that storyline, we would tune in from week to week waiting for the occasional opportunity for an unexpected reunion between the two, and The 100’s apple cart would be righted. It’s a WIN/WIN situation all around!…or is this what is known as fan fiction. 😦 Personally, I think this could be a plausible turn of events. If nothing else, we uncover evidence in the Polaris space shuttle that all black blooded peeps are able to run on a quart low…and still survive!!!! 😊

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      • I can’t say, from an academic standpoint. My focus is on the fandom side. I don’t know anything about the other side besides what he says publicly. Unfortunately, this is not the appropriate place for me to discuss the rest of the comment.

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      • dbjean@dbjean22

        Is there a more appropriate place to discuss this, because I’m all ears? You have access to my email. 😐

        Like

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