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Cancel your Gays: Streaming services continue Great Sapphic Cancelation of 2022

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First Kill — Photo courtesy of Netflix
First Kill — Photo courtesy of Netflix

Just as Queer women were getting used to seeing themselves represented on screen, TV networks and streaming services have begun slashing many of their most popular shows with women-loving-women (WLW) representation. As of August 2022, 18 television shows featuring a main sapphic romance or female Queer lead have been canceled.

These characters have faced a unique struggle in Western media over the last two centuries. While female homosexuality, like the male variety, was persecuted throughout much of the early days of American history, Lesbians ultimately became a more popular topic of media toward the end of the 19th century due to the fetishization of the male gaze.

While depictions of male homosexuality were still seen as vulgar and uncouth, at the turn of the 20th century, male authors began writing cheap "pulp" fiction novels featuring Lesbian romances and sex scenes. The books became incredibly popular with cis-het men. Depictions of homosexuality remained on the page, however, as the 1930s "Hays Code" (conservative motion picture guidelines) prohibited showing LGBTQ+ people on screen.

Lesbian novels became a staple genre of pulp fiction and soon developed specific tropes. One required the degenerate woman (typically the "real" Lesbian who had tempted the "pure" woman with her sinful ways) to meet an untimely demise, reinforcing the moral that homosexuality was villainous and corrupt, and would ultimately lead to the perpetrator's downfall.

This trope became known as the "bury your Gays" cliché. It persisted throughout the 20th century and also included male homosexuals, Bisexuals, and Transgender characters (although the latter two were much less represented in media). Even as LGBTQ+ representation became more popular and the restrictive code was forgotten, the trope remained.

Even the most sympathetic characters often met tragic endings, giving the impression to viewers that Queerness is a bigger threat to LGBTQ+ persons themselves than it is to anyone close to them. Most recently, Queer tragedies such as Moonlight, Stillwater, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post have included some form of this message.

The trope has become so ingrained in American pop culture that LGBTQ+ mental health researchers have even cited it for the alarmingly high suicide rates in the community.

The "bury your Gays" trope was brought to the forefront of the conversation around LGBTQ+ representation in media in 2016, when viewers noticed that female LGBTQ+ characters were targeted at an alarmingly high rate. In 2015 and 2016, 42 Lesbian and female Bisexual characters were killed off in US TV shows.

Tipping point
The tipping point for the trope came in 2017, when the popular Bisexual character Lexa was killed off on The CW's The 100. Fans of the show started "The Lexa Pledge," demanding TV writers and producers write significant storylines and character arcs for LGBTQ+ characters, refuse to kill off a Queer character only to further the plot of a straight character, and "consider that the deaths of Queer characters have deep psychosocial ramifications" for viewers.

Since then, networks have moved to significantly improve LGBTQ+ representation by adding such characters to some of the most popular TV programs, such as Stranger Things, The Umbrella Academy, and Euphoria.

However, in 2022, fans are now calling out the networks yet again for "burying their Gays" by canceling Queer programs altogether. In 2022 alone, 18 sapphic-led television shows across networks and genres have been canceled.

While some shows, like DC Legends of Tomorrow and Dynasty, may have just run their course, fans are questioning why other young and popular shows have gotten the boot. One of the latest to get canned was Netflix's popular teen fantasy drama First Kill. Despite remaining on the platform's Top 10 list and receiving over a hundred million viewing hours since it premiered in June of 2022, Netflix decided to drop the show.

It cited "low completion rates" as its primary reason for canceling the show, but the creator, Victoria Schwab, thinks the streaming platform was a bit misleading in how it advertised it. "The art for the initial marketing was beautiful," Schwab said. "I think I expected that to be the beginning and that the other equally compelling and important elements of the show — monsters vs. monster hunters, the battle between two powerful matriarchs, etc. — would eventually be promoted, and that didn't happen."

Fans, however, think the show was doomed from the start. "Mind you, Sapphics defied the fucking ODDS for First Kill," wrote one fan on Twitter. "Netflix had already canceled it before it even aired, and the lack of promo alone tells you they had no intentions of it making it past s1. Just anti-blackness and lesbophobia."

The Wilds — Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios  

First Kill wasn't the only casualty of the Great 2022 Sapphic Cancelation. Amazon Prime announced at the end of July that it would be canceling The Wilds, another popular teen drama. Unlike First Kill, The Wilds was heavily promoted by Amazon Prime and received positive critical reviews.

The Wilds was also a fan favorite and the first Amazon Prime original teen drama. Critics have pointed out that the program's success may have been a big reason behind the studio greenlighting several other teen-focused shows and movies, like Paper Girls and The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Like First Kill, The Wilds also featured a main interracial Lesbian relationship, and primarily focused on the bonds between women, both romantically and platonically. The show has also been praised for its racial diversity and inclusion of neurodiverse characters.

The second season of the hit series, which premiered in May 2022, was one of Amazon Prime's most-watched shows. The network still has not disclosed why it chose to cancel it, but fans have continued to rally on social media platforms, using the hashtag #savethewilds in hopes the program might get picked up by another network.

While viewers are continuing to rant, mourn, and rally for their favorite shows, one thing is for certain: fans of sapphic TV know not to get too attached. One way or another, the networks will find a way to bury their Gays.

Below are all the Sapphic-led TV shows that have been canceled in 2022 so far:

Gentefied — Canceled Jan. 2022
Work in Progress — Canceled Jan. 2022
Batwoman — Canceled March 2022
DC's Legends of Tomorrow — Canceled April 2022
Charmed — Canceled May 2022
Dollface — Canceled May 2022
4400 — Canceled May 2022
Dynasty — Canceled May 2022
Queens — Canceled May 2022
Legacies — Canceled May 2022
Naomi — Canceled in May 2022
Pivoting — Canceled in May 2022
Promised Land — Canceled May 2022
Q-Force — Canceled June 2022
Why Women Kill — Canceled July 2022
Gentleman Jack — Canceled July 2022
The Wilds — Canceled July 2022
First Kill — Canceled August 2022