QSFer Christian Baines has a new mm paranormal/urban fantasy book out, #3 in his Arcadia Trust series: Sins of the Son. And there’s a giveaway on the blog post!
Abandoned by his werewolf lover, the only thing Reylan wants is to return to his vampire life of blood and beautiful boys. It’s a solid plan, until his first meal as a single man tries to kill him.
Hoping to free his young would-be assassin from the religious zealots that sent him, Reylan enlists the help of Iain Grieg, a charismatic priest with unsettling knowledge of the night’s secrets. Surrounded by conflicting agendas and an army fuelled by hate, Reylan fights to secure his future, if he can only trust the mysterious priest and bury the ghosts of the past.
WIN your choice of one e-book edition of either of the first two Arcadia Trust novels, The Beast Withoutor The Orchard of Flesh. Comment on this post below for a chance to win.
SINS OF THE SON Blog Tour #4: Wrath
BURY YOUR GAYS? REALLY? WE’RE DOING THIS AGAIN?
Hi everyone, and thanks so much for having me back at Queer SF! I’m a big fan of the site so I’m excited to include it on the Sins of the Son blog tour, especially on release day.
That’s today. You can buy the book NOW from your favourite seller.
Okay, shameless plug over.
If you’re just joining us, each of the posts on this tour focuses on a different sin. Today is all about wrath, specifically something that earns the wrath of many of us LGBTQ readers, writers, and viewers alike. That tiresome trope, ‘bury your gays.’
You may scream melodically or punch something squishy now. I’ll wait.
Feel better? Neither do I and here’s why. ‘Bury your gays’ is when the only queer presence in a narrative is conspicuously killed off, often in a way that’s unsatisfying, perfunctory, or just plain makes you go ‘why?’ Sometimes it’s just because they’re queer, which exacerbates the idea that queers don’t get happy endings.
Doctor Who, whose writers should frankly should know better,recently earned the wrath of viewers by killing off a gay supporting character within minutes of his introduction. I haven’t seen the episode in question and to be fair, I probably won’t. I haven’t much watched Doctor Whosince Russell T Davies quit. Still, there’s no denying how massively popular and influential the show is, so when there’s a brush with troublesome or insensitive tropes, it matters. Likewise, Star Trek Discovery, which the internet did a fabulous job of spoiling before I got to see it and decide for myself whether this was a ‘bury your gays’ moment, or if the narrative justified the death in question.
More on that in a minute.
My paranormal series The Arcadia Trusthas a mostly queer roster of characters and a pretty high kill rate. Each book in the series combines paranormal with a different genre. The first is noir, the second is body horror, and the third and most recent book Sins of the Sonis the ‘action movie’ of the series, with fight scenes and carnage aplenty. Gay characters die in all of them, forcing me to consider if each death is earned or necessary. Making that decision means being aware of the ‘bury your gays’ trope and why it’s harmful, without compromising the narrative. Making sure each death is logical, necessary, or earned to ensure readers don’t feel cheated.
This isn’t something I’ve been conscious of my entire writing career. Thinking about this trope now reminds me of my first ever manuscript – that one every writer has that’s stuck in the back of a drawer that will probably never see the light of day. It included a sizeable character roster, not a lot of whom were nice people. One of the nicer ones was my gay character. He certainly wasn’t the protagonist and – Oh no! We can’t give him a happy end! This was 2002, and I don’t remember up to that point reading any book where an explicitly gay character featured prominently.
Spoiler alert, I killed the character. I didn’t do it becausehe was gay, and there was no shortage of death going around the non-queer characters as well. Nonetheless it ‘felt’ right for the story, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on at the time. Reasons that are quite insidious and get at the heart of what makes ‘bury your gays’ so toxic. This character was not killed for his sexuality, but because ‘that’s just what happens.’ It’s what I expected to happen. That was what I was used to seeing, so that’s what I wrote, not even thinking at the time that this might be homophobic or damaging. It was just ingrained in the way I understood stories, particularly action-heavy stories, that I reproduced it without question.
Was it still right for the story? Maybe. But the fact that I was so pre-programmed to write it is what’s so troubling. When we’re exposed time and again to genre stories that reinforce death or some other inevitable tragic fate as a response to who we are, that’s poison, and we need to resist it.
So how do we beat the trope and bury our gays with the dignity and respect they deserve?
One way is to make sure there are plenty of other queer characters. If you’re writing a bloodthirsty genre like horror, action, sci-fi, fantasy, or crime, you’re going to have deaths, and making your queer characters mysteriously immune, besides looking insecure, can break your reader out of the story. If, like in The Arcadia Trust, you have a bunch of queers on the board, you can bump a few off, and it’s expected. Victim in a crime novel? Totally fine for them to be queer, though to steer well clear of the trope, I prefer the story to have living queer characters as well (ideally the investigator, but not necessarily). It’s also fine if nearly all of your characters are dying. If we’re in a slasher movie for instance, or a bloodthirsty narrative like Game of Thrones, we expect it. There’s no issue unless they’re killed specifically because they’re queer, and that death presented as positive or played for humour. This was common up until about 20 years ago, but thankfully, most writers seem to have abandoned it.
More problematic is when your queer character is the onlyone to die – sometimes even when there are other queer characters in play. This one maybe shouldn’t be such an issue, particularly in a situation where it ‘could have been anyone,’ but genre’s long tradition of queer-culling is the exact reason this form of execution (I use that word deliberately) doesn’t sit well. It’s a reminder of how so many stories have treated us and often continue to treat us when they don’t feel our wrath over it. If it’s the only death, that reminder is searing and distracts us from the story, which is a problem. If you can make a better choice, do so.
The third way to avoid ‘burying your gays,’ specifically when you have to kill one is to make it matter! Make the death memorable, perhaps even heroic, or make it absolutely clear that the character’s death is earned for reasons other than their queerness. Game of Thrones handles this pretty well. Its queer male deaths have usually been the result of hubris. You can also make the death a serious plot development. On that note…
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK DISCOVERY IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS
Ah, Discovery, you thought I’d forgotten you? I completely understand why this death upset people. It comes out of nowhere with almost zero consequence after the fact. Perhaps scenes were trimmed for time, but as released, it doesn’t play well. The second season will see the character’s return in some form, presumably to further the plot of his surviving partner.
If we’re honest, the good doctor just wasn’t that interesting, which never bodes well for a character’s safety, and there’s nothing wrong with killing a character to clear dead wood. In this instance though, the ‘dead wood’ was a queer character who arrived after much media hype. We were left unsure whether this was his whole raison d’etrein the series. The show’s powerful female Hispanic security chief also meets an early, senseless demise, and both deaths serve to advance the plot of a straight male character. It’s a great story, but some of the writing choices made to get there are… unfortunate. I’m putting my faith in Discovery’s writers – overall, I thought season one was excellent – to ensure the doctor’s death was well earned, and that he’s more interesting in death than he was in life.
DISCOVERY SPOILERS END HERE
In the second Arcadia Trustbook, The Orchard of Flesh, I also killed a character whose death plays a major role in the newly released third installment Sins of the Son. Deaths as plot triggers are risky, but they can work. Just don’t forget the effect your character’s death is going to have on your survivors. This is your audience’s opportunity to feel and grieve that death with them. That can enrich it, and give your follow-up plot pathos. Again, you need to be careful if your victim is queer, or represents some other marginalised group, because for readers in that group, the character becomes an avatar. Killing them is a reminder of ‘their place’ in hetero/white/cis/etc-centric narratives, and on a technical level, it pulls them right out of the story, which you want to avoid.
With so many legitimate and logical ways to kill a character that don’t further this harmful trope, how do so many writers – including queer writers –continue to get it wrong? I don’t know how productive it is to analyse that. Maybe the expediency of such a death is too convenient at times, and maybe this is just one of those ‘fail better’ situations. But deaths are a necessary part of the genres we love. We need to understand how they resonate both within our fictional worlds and with our readers. It doesn’t mean we cover our queer characters in bubble wrap and tiptoe around, worrying about who we’ll ‘offend.’ That’s a sure path to tepid, lousy writing. Instead, be bold, be consistent, and give your queer characters the respect they deserve in life and in death.
And when it is a good day for your character to die, make it glorious.
NEXT:Is it admiration, or just plain LUST? Find out when I unveil my dream Arcadia Trust cast, January 21 at Kimmers Erotic Book Banter.
I ducked in time to avoid the stake that shattered the glass cabinet behind me. When I looked up, my young attacker was already closing in, a shining blade in each hand. Balancing my weight on the kitchen counter, I pushed my feet hard into his chest. A blade nicked my ankle. I leapt upon my target and pushed him the floor, gripping his chin and pinning his right shoulder.
He blindsided me across the jaw with the dull edge of the other blade, breaking my hold.
I staggered, sizing up the left-handed assassin. Narrowly avoiding his weapon as he lunged again, I grabbed hold of his hair and threw him into my dining table with a crash.
I clapped a firm hand over his mouth, muffling his cries as I slammed his left wrist against the table, forcing him to drop the knife. The blade in his opposite hand flashed as he struck out with it.
I yanked him off his feet and dragged him across the floor before he could find his mark. Ignoring muffled roars of protest, I buried my teeth in his shoulder, puncturing through his flimsy mesh vest. His youth, his anger, his alarmingly good health, all brought such a warmth and sweetness to…
The foul taste of bitter roots spoiled the stream. Poison. I shoved the boy away, spitting rancid blood over his face. When he came at me again, I used his momentum to topple him into the living room. I snatched up the knife he’d left on the kitchen table and trained it on him as he regained his feet.
The boy had to have known the true nature of his prey. Why else would he lead with a wooden stake, knowing he was far outclassed for natural speed and strength? Or was he?
He lunged again, this time happily using his right hand. Was he ambidextrous? I couldn’t tell, not while ducking his blows. He kicked me in the gut before pivoting his back foot up and into my chest.
I dropped to the floor just in time to sweep his legs out from under him. His forehead glanced off one of the side tables, though this didn’t stop him from grabbing the lamp and throwing it at me with a force that plunged the room into darkness. I caught his weight as he came at me again, spinning him into the living room, bound for a set of shelves which splintered and collapsed, spilling their contents and my attacker to the floor. He sprang to his feet and snatched up a piece of broken wood.
Contrary to the myths of horror fiction, it would take more than a splinter of wood through the heart to kill me outright. I was not, however, in a rush to be paralysed, nor left unconscious at the mercy of whatever lethal objects remained in the boy’s backpack. The one he’d collected from the club’s cloakroom, that he’d so adamantly held onto when I’d offered to carry it. The one he’d taken with him, when he’d retreated to my bathroom to change.
Did I have to start bag checking my trade now?
He sliced the air before me with his knife, following it up with a staking attempt. I grabbed his knife-wielding hand, but he twisted his arm out of reach, nicking my hand in the process. I licked the wound as I backed off, kicking away a broken cat figurine from the rubble that had once been my bookshelves.
“Alright, you little bastard,” I muttered under my breath. “Are we going to talk, or does this get nasty?”
“Maledetto.” He raised the stake once more.
“Maledetto!” He cried, striking out at me. I ducked to avoid it only to have the hand holding the knife slam into my jaw. I barely realised I’d been faked out before the stake plunged into my chest, missing my heart by inches. Choking down the pain that shot through my entire body, I caught the boy’s arm before he could slice my throat. Not that that would have killed me either, but to quote a wise and much underrated human expression, that which does not kill me still stings like a bitch.
Christian Baines has written on travel, theatre, film, television, and various aspects of gay life, factual and fictional. Some of his stranger thoughts have spawned novels, including queer urban fantasy series The Arcadia Trust, the horror novella Skin, and Puppet Boy, which was a finalist for the 2016 Saints and Sinners Emerging Writer Award. Born in Australia, he now travels the world whenever possible, living, writing, and shivering in Toronto, Canada on those odd occasions he can’t find his passport.