This Valentine’s Day is the first time in 20 years I have a valentine, and she also happens to be my first girlfriend in a lesbian relationship.
As I wrote in an essay around last Valentine’s Day, I never had much LGBTQ representation in my life. The only time people around me spoke about the LGBTQ community was to condemn it. I was led to believe the confusing feelings inside me were my own fault and that I was choosing a lifestyle that would lead to eternal damnation.
However, I also grew up during the rise of social media. Through new platforms like Tumblr and Instagram, I found “The 100,” which was a typical mid-2010s dystopian television show with a ‘strong female lead’ struggling to decide between two almost identical guys for her romantic interest — until it wasn’t.
Clarke, the show’s female lead, started dating one of the first lesbian characters I’d seen on television, Lexa. Their relationship meant a lot to me at age 14 and although I was a fan of the young adult genre, I’d rarely seen LGBTQ characters that validated my identity.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Lexa was killed off in the show. I remember the backlash from LGBTQ fans that came with Lexa’s death. It was the first time I watched the “bury your gays” trope. There are many variations of the trope, but it always ends with television shows killing off their few or only gay characters.
Being myself wasn’t supposed to lead to inevitable early death, it was supposed to make me happy. While LGBTQ characters shouldn’t be a monolith, seeing a sliver of myself in a character was validating. Viewing characters I related to dying early in different storylines and more frequently reinforced the idea that my sexuality would lead to some form of punishment.
As I started accepting my sexuality, I stopped wanting to consume media that didn’t feature positive queer representation. I’d spent almost 19 years not seeing myself in mainstream media, but luckily social media could still help me find representation.
Through TikTok, Instagram and Tumblr, I discovered “The Last of Us,” a post-apocalyptic video game about a deadly fungus outbreak, featuring a lesbian main character named Ellie.
Last month, HBO announced a television adaption of “The Last of Us,” and I was excited to see lesbian representation in popular television. However, the recently released third episode, featuring Bill and Frank, two rogue survivors of the outbreak, took me by surprise.
In the game, Bill, an emotionally-closed-off survivalist, and Frank, a cheery idealist, were partners with an implied romance. In the show, the romantic relationship between Bill and Frank was expanded beyond passing references.
Watching their relationship transform was one of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve seen on television because I was finally able to watch a gay couple grow old together.
Though Bill and Frank’s story ended with their deaths, it didn’t fit the ‘bury your gays’ trope. The show was set before the legalization of gay marriage, but on their last day alive, Bill and Frank got married.
Watching their relationship reminded me of when gay marriage was finally legalized in the United States; it gave me hope for the future. I’d grown up being told what love and marriage could be, and until then, same-sex couples were never allowed in those parameters.
My friends and I were emotional disasters. Their relationship had something that I’d not seen growing up: a love story.
Growing up I’d only seen love and passion reserved for heterosexual couples, only they got their fairytale endings. Seeing a same-sex marriage on mainstream television helped combat the toxicity I’d grown up with that consistently categorized LGBTQ people and couples as immoral, perverted or predatory. That idea is wrong; gay love is none of those things.
Queer representation doesn’t mean that all stories end happily ever after, or that LGBTQ characters cannot have flaws. Representation means showing all facets of people who are members of the LGBTQ community, including their struggles and authentic love.
As someone who didn’t have much representation growing up, I hope one day to create media that helps young queer kids struggling with their feelings.
The LGBTQ community is not a monolith; members of every race, class, ability and identity should be represented because everyone deserves to have their story heard and seen.