When I first saw a queer character on my televsion screen, I was ten.
I'm fifteen now, but I can still remember the way my dad was slumped on the couch, fast asleep, his light snores filling up the empty space of the living room.
I sat cross-legged on the floor beside his armchair, rigid and unmoving. I had this primal urge to look away- I shouldn’t be seeing this. Two girls were kissing. Hands splayed over hips, fingers gently caressing cheekbones.
I shouldn’t be seeing it.
So why did it ignite something deep inside my chest, a well filled to the brim with fire and everything I wanted but knew I couldn’t have?
I shut the tv off and took a deep, burning breath.
But couldn’t stop thinking about the scene for weeks on end.
As it turns out, (I did research), those characters were doctors on the show Greys Anatomy. Lesbian doctors. Lesbian doctors in love.
My tiny ten year old brain couldn’t handle this foreign territory I was slowly, but surely, stepping into, barefoot and terrified. A realization so deep and true shook me to the core-I was like them.
I was a girl who wanted to love other girls.
I didn’t know my twelves times tables or my science vocabulary words, but I was sure of one thing; I wanted to kiss a girl the way my friends wanted to kiss boys.
So, this leads me to a general statement, one that I will shout at the top of my lungs over and over and over again for the rest of my life: representation in the media matters.
Arizona Robbins and Callie Torres are two of hundreds of queer characters that exist in shows and movies and books and video games.
Two of hundreds of characters that show kids what being themselves can really feel like.
Which is why, when they’re killed off like fleas, it’s a big deal.
A victim of this specific act of unnamed cruelty towards queer characters is Lexa, a beloved warrior/goddess/beauty from the show The 100.
She was canonically gay and in love with Clarke, a spunky blonde who never took no for an answer. Us viewers watched every week, eager and enthralled, as the pair fell fell into a romance that stole the air from our lungs and made our hearts flutter inside our chests.
Blog posts were written, fan accounts were created. We were in too deep for it to be considered healthy, and we felt so lucky to be able to witness this special bond.
That was, until Lexa was hit by a stray bullet and died in Clarke’s arms before the words I love you could even leave her lips.
Immediately, what was excitement and hope and admiration before, turned into outrage and hurt and betrayal among the Clexa community.
We were counting on this. For many of us, this relationship was an escape from a life of otherness. A life of never quite fitting in anywhere, a life of hiding who we truly were from the people around us.
For many of us, Lexa was a lifeline.
We saw ourselves in the way she looked at Clarke like she was everything, the way her eyes hid so much pain behind them. We could relate to her on a level that wasn’t present anywhere else.
When she was hit by a stray bullet after surviving things far worse than that, we took it personally.
A pattern similar to this can be found in countless plot-lines; always singling gay characters out and killing them off in unconventional ways.
Maggie Sawyer is a character from the show Supergirl. Her light and legacy paved a path for many teenagers to follow, myself included.
There was this one scene, in season two, that managed to burrow itself inside my brain and my chest. They were in a bar, the low light illuminating their faces, as Maggie stared into the eyes of her love interest, Alex Danvers. Alex didn't know how to deal with her new feelings for Maggie, or for women in general, and was ready to push them back. The words that Maggie offered, then, slipped right into my soul and stayed there for months.
"It's real. You're real. And you deserve to live a real, full, happy life. Okay?"
This wasn't just directed towards Alex, it seemed. It was directed towards me. Towards thousands of other teens all around the world. It felt like a miracle, almost, the way our fears and demons were displayed in front of us, out in the open.
Maggie ended up leaving in season three, just five episodes after her engagement to Alex. Just two episodes after promising to love her forever. But, the problem wasn't her leaving. Characters leave all the time. It was the fact that the writers and producers of the show stripped something away from all of us.
They stripped away comfort from ten year old girls, sitting on their living room carpet, gazing up at what they hoped their future would look like.
Queer characters are vital.
Black characters are vital.
Hispanic characters are vital.
Disabled characters are vital.
Everyone needs something to relate to, something to hold inside their chest to squeeze on days when their heart is worn out and tired from beating.
So, create diverse characters and send them off into the world, marching and fighting and living. Let people take comfort in their skin color or their body type or their sexual preference.
Because representation matters.