Gay Tragedy

Steven Harper PiziksThis is 2017.  Marriage equality is legal.  And yet we still have a media filled with Gay Tragedy, Gay Tease, and Gay Promise.

The Gay Tragedy is when a same-sex couple, usually two men, fall in love and it ends badly.  Often one of the men dies.  At minimum, the two are separated and their relationship isn’t allowed to end happily.  BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the most famous example.  When I saw that movie in the theaters, I thought it was poorly done. The characters’ relationship is neither believable nor explained–they love each other because the script says so–and in the end, one of them is murdered because he’s gay, leaving the survivor, who has lost his entire family as well, to weep alone in his isolated trailer.  Because, you see, two men can’t have a happy, loving relationship that ends well.

TORCHWOOD does the same thing with Jack and Ianto.  Just as their relationship is deepening, Ianto is killed.  The producers said it was deliberately for tragedy, to change Jack so he could do important things later.  Yeah, sure.  But on an SF show that brings people back from the dead, they sure didn’t hurry to resurrect Ianto later.  In fact, they only twist the tragedy knife by having Ianto’s ghost show up and make Jack feel even worse in a later episode and make it clear that Jack and Ianto won’t be together even in the afterlife.  Because gay men can’t ever be happy.

Now, apparently, we’re getting more of it.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a gay tragedy novel (“beautifully written,” says one reviewer, which is code for “uses lots of flowery, incomprehensible language to camouflage the lack of actual story”).  A seventeen-year-old Italian boy meets a twenty-something American visitor in Italy.  They have a mad, tempestuous relationship in secret, but in the end, the American has to go back home.  The seventeen-year-old is unable to forget or let go, and twenty-odd years later, he goes to Boston to find his long-lost love, only to find him married (to a woman) with children.  Their love goes forever unfulfilled.

The book was made into a movie that got a lot of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and was just recently picked up by a major distributor for wide release.  Because, you know, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, right?

Screw you, Hollywood.  And you, too, BBC.

Apparently, the only kind of gay relationship you can show is one that ends in tragedy.  I won’t go see it.  I won’t buy or rent the DVD.  I will happily trash it, though.

After a thousand years of Gay Tragedy, I refuse to have anything to do with the idea until we’ve had a long, long history of Gay Happily Ever After.  Straight people get the HEA as a matter of course, and the tragic ending is the exception rather than the rule.  Showing Gay Tragedy after Gay Tragedy says that you think there’s something wrong with LGBT people, and we’re sick of it.

LATER: Gay Tease and Gay Promise

–Steven Harper Piziks

DANNY on sale now at Book View Cafe.

Danny Large



Gay Tragedy — 5 Comments

  1. So now there’s a Refrigerator Guy as well as a Refrigerator Woman? Just what the culture did NOT need, ever. “She dies” is a theme of a good many TV episodes and movies, where the Hero is supposed to go on and be free having learnt something. Sounds like the media mavens just brought that infuriating trope right over.

    In the book I published as Kathryn Jordan, FLICKERS, the gay co-hero goes off the World War One, where, I’m sure, the reader expects him to die. He does get shot up, this being the trenches, but he comes home to become head of a motion picture studio (silents, of course) and be successful. I did this deliberately. But it was one reason that the book, which I wrote in 1980, didn’t come out until last year. Publishers thought he should die or worse yet, be edited right out.

  2. And that was when I stopped watching Torchwood. Ianto was my favorite character. Killing an awesome character just for “tragic value” makes no sense.

  3. You have an excellent point, but I did want to note that neither Jack nor Ianto, in your Torchwood example, is gay. Jack in particular is explicitly pansexual. I don’t think it’s fair to ignore that in the service of a larger point, even one as well-observed as this.

  4. Forget that bullshit, there are so many gay stories of there waiting to be told so why bother with tired old tropes?