Another Gay Buried… Will It Get Better?

Anyone else watch Kingdom? No, just me? Maybe this isn’t the target demo for the MMA-centered drama, which just had its series finale a couple weeks ago. The Audience Network (yeah, it’s only on DirecTV) show featured a variety of complex and troubled characters, including Matt Lauria (of Friday Night Lights & Parenthood fame) and Nick Jonas (of smokeshow fame).

TBH, these two are the main reasons I started watching in the first place, because fun fact about me: I hate violence – in media and obviously IRL. But then I got sucked in to the family drama of it all and watched all three seasons until the very end. An end that I was not pleased with. On the scale of bad finales, it wasn’t How I Met Your Mother, but somewhere near Dawson’s Creek and Jen’s heart condition.

For some background: Revered MMA fighter Alvey (Frank Grillo) runs his own gym, where his two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and youngest Nate (Nick) train to keep his legacy alive. Nate is a rising MMA fighter with a lot of promise, but has been weighed down by the fact that he’s gay and constantly trying to hide it. His mom and brother are the only ones who know about his secret since they live in a bubble fueled by testosterone. By the final season, Nate actually finds a match in Will, even though they still keep their relationship (and his homosexuality) on the DL. But his secret starts to make its way around the MMA circle, and in the final season, another fighter passes him in the hallway before a fight and calls his a faggot, giving Nate even more pause in considering his decision to come out.

This brings us to the penultimate episode, in which Nate finally decides to come clean to his father during a drunk night out. So maybe telling your dad you’re gay when he’s absolutely shitfaced isn’t the best idea, but he did it. He finally got the courage to live his truth to the biggest influence in his life, and it doesn’t go well. In fact, Alvey even says to Nate, “You gonna tell me you’re a fucking faggot?”, which clearly hits a nerve. Nate understandably gets mad and walks out of the bar, drunk Alvey attempts to get him to stay, and in their inherent violent nature, Nate takes a swing at his father to let out all that pent up anger and frustration of his Alvey’s lack of acceptance out. Jay butts in and pulls Alvey off, but when Nate thinks Alvey’s going in for a second round and it’s actually the bouncer with a gun, he shoots him. Dead. Right there in a bar parking lot in front of his dad and brother.

It’s a harrowing scene that sets up the series finale, in which we learn that, yes, Nate is actually dead. The entire finale focuses on how his loved ones to cope with the untimely loss of the one truly good guy in their family.

Ok. So. A few things. Let’s get this one out of the way first – Nick Jonas is a fantastic actor. If you’ve only seen him in Camp Rock, Kingdom will definitely change your mind about his skills. His performance is subtle, yet commandeering, natural and not over the top. He’s an animal when he gets in the ring, but plays the purest of hearts when taking care of his drug addict brother and mother. Just look at this scene when he confirms to his brother/idol that he’s gay. The nuances of his acting is comparable to that of any award-winning actor.

Alright, so back to Nate’s death. Let’s discuss how annoying it is in general that his death came in the second to last episode, which inherently meant the finale HAD to focus on his family & how they struggles in the aftermath. Too much time was spent in memorializing a character who didn’t need to die in the first place, when the finale could’ve spent more time giving fans insight on the path each of the main characters was heading, long after viewers leave them behind. To their credit, they did do this to some extent, but most of their character developments were propelled by Nate’s death, not of their own volition.

But most importantly, I couldn’t help but think of one thing while I was watching this all go down – WHY? Why did they decide to kill off a character just moments after he came out as gay to his alpha male father? What is the “lesson” to be learned from all of this? Here’s what Kingdom creator Byron Balasco told EW:

“I wanted there to be real consequences for Alvey in terms of the mistakes he made as a father and as a man. You have to be mindful of the way you treat the ones you love because you do not always get a chance to go back later and fix it… I wanted a tumbling of emotions that gathers momentum where things get away from the control of our characters. I didn’t want his death to be cloaked in any kind of shame. It’s not about Nate being gay; it’s more about the inability of these two men to understand each other and to be honest with how they truly feel about each other.”

Sure, ok. A relationship between father and son is tender and complicated, but does death justify your storytelling? And while he says it’s not about Nate being gay, the truth of the matter is that it is. You can’t tell me that writers during this golden age of television don’t know about the Bury Your Gays TV trope, and if they do, they obviously choose to ignore it.

Just in case you missed the memo, this trope is usually related to lesbian TV characters, but expands to the LGBTQ community as a whole, in which there has been a trend of disproportionate deaths of said characters, and more likely than not, used to advance a main (straight) character’s storyline. In this case, Nate died because Alvey needed to truly understand and comprehend the mistakes he’s made as a dad and general human being, and his resolution comes in the final scene of the series, in which he breaks down alone after winning the most important fight of his life. But none of this was worth it.

In fact, Nate’s death was even more infuriating due to the lack of acknowledgement of his homosexuality in the final episode. Yes, Jay honors Nate before his dad’s fight by confirming Nate was gay and calling out anyone who had ever been homophobic towards him when he was alive. But it bothered me so much that Nate’s boyfriend Will wasn’t even in the episode. Not at his funeral. Not when his family spread Nate’s ashes out on the ocean. He wasn’t even mentioned. No, Nate didn’t “die because he was gay”, but for sure let’s not actually mention anything related to the fact that he was gay with another man.

Of course, there are many TV viewers who wouldn’t be surprised to hear yet another gay character has been killed off a show:

At the recent Television Critics Association summer tour, GLAAD hosted a panel where they revealed research which showed that there are 278 regular and recurring LGBTQ characters on TV, a majority of them (142 to be exact) are on cable (EG: Audience Network), and most of them are gay white men (EG: Kingdom). Of those 278, there have been 62 gay and bi female characters who have fallen to the Bury Your Gays trope over the past two years.

Yes it’s great that more LGBTQ characters are popping up on TV, but why is it so difficult to give them a happy ending? Or at least one which doesn’t result in death? What does that say to viewers who relate to them in a way they never have before? Similarly, I mentioned this in my #FirstTimeISawMe post, but it bears repeating – yes, representation is important, but it’s the accurate portrayals of minorities that must also be given weight. Yes, more black characters! But no thanks on black thugs. Yes, more lesbian characters! But no me gusta tomboys being used as a punchline.

In this era of division amongst America in particular, those who find themselves in charge of creating shows and films shouldn’t make characters just to fill a quota or portray a particular narrative. Falling for harmful tropes such as Bury Your Gays is a disservice to fans who are obviously connecting to a show for a certain reason, and how non-LGBTQ members react to the already marginalized group as a whole. I hope the more backlash showrunners get, the more they realize this type of storytelling needs to stop. It get better? Guess we’ll have to wait see.

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Black History Spotlight #4: Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson, trans activist and all-around personality, was vibrant, generous, kind-hearted, hilarious and a wholly singular person. She was also a gay and trans advocate from the 1960s until her death in 1992. With some of the news that has come down this week, today we thought it was appropriate to shine our Black History Spotlight on Marsha P. Johnson, a person who greeted inequity with resilience, resistance, generosity and humor.

A Boy With Dancing Feet

Marsha P. Johnson was born Malcolm Michaels and began wearing dresses at age 5; young Malcolm stopped because of the neighbors’ reactions. Malcolm’s senior yearbook entry read “Willing to help others — a boy with dancing feet.” During the early 1960s, the teen began making the short trip into New York City to see other drag queens. “Malcolm” moved to Greenwich Village, living on the street when necessary, at age 18. By age 22 she had legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha used to say that the “P” stood for “pay it no mind,” her response to people who would ask whether she was male or female (at times, Marsha would choose to identify as Malcolm, and as male and would describe herself both as a “drag queen,” a “transvestite” and as gay; Marsha also frequently used female pronouns and those seem to be the ones that her friends and contemporaries use for her, so that is what we will use here).

Serious Drag

Before long, Marsha became a sensation.  Marsha was frequently given leftover flowers by florists at the end of the day, wearing them in elaborate crowns on her head. Asked if she ever “did drag seriously,” Marsha laughed that she didn’t have money to be serious about it. She used trash and thrift items to create fantastic ensembles. Friends agreed: “she wasn’t a well-dressed, coordinated kind of a drag queen.” By all accounts, Marsha was beloved by most. However, she faced some discrimination within the gay for community for her gender presentation. For instance, there was an attempt to exclude trans women and drag queens from the Gay Liberation Parade. Marsha just marched in front of the parade so that it appeared she was leading the whole thing.

Stonewalled

The Stonewall Riots were an uprising against a discriminatory police raid that took place at the Greenwich Village bar The Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. The event served as the catalyst for the Gay Liberation movement that continued throughout the 20th century and into the present day. It is imperative to note that Marsha P. Johnson, a Black, trans person was a hero of the movement. Marsha announced “I got my civil rights” and thew a shotglass – “the shotglass heard ’round the world.” A rebellion began and a movement was born.

In the documentary Pay It No Mind: The Life And Times of Marsha P. Johnson, Marsha’s contemporaries emphasized just how important the Stonewall Riots were. “It was a horrible world before that,” and the changes that we have seen “didn’t just happen this way.” The world as we know it might look very different without that act of resistance at the Stonewall Inn.

 

Saint Marsha

One story involves Marsha sleeping in the flower district under the lilies during her early days in New York. An employee explained why they let her: “she’s holy.”

Numerous stories involve Marsha panhandling on the street, then giving the change she received to somebody who needed it more. Within the community, Marsha’s generosity and warmth led to the moniker Saint Marsha.

Marsha’s message of love wasn’t an act of respectability politics. Rather, she reached out and connected to other people’s humanity so that they could no longer deny hers. She was known for “converting people into fans and friends” simply by being friendly and polite.

Marsha  frequented all kind of churches and noted that “we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Rising STAR

Together with Slyvia Rey Rivera, Marsha founded STAR: Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries. The group reached out to homeless trans youth, the first group to specifically serve the vulnerable homeless trans community, particularly young people who were no longer welcome in their homes. Eventually STAR was able to establish a shelter, and the group also provided food to people living on the streets.

During this time, Marsha was photographed by Andy Warhol. This photograph didn’t make Marsha notable; instead, she was already a popular figure in her community. Still, the photo had the effect of making Marsha, in the words of Michael Musto, ” the transgender version of a Campbell’s soup can.”

 

The End

In 1992, Marsha’s body was found in the Hudson River. The death was ruled a suicide and wasn’t investigated. However, Marsha’s friends reported that she had been harassed by a group of people on the day of her death, and they did not believe that she was suicidal. In 2012, Marsha’s case was reopened. Although there are no leads, this is at least an acknowledgement that we cannot be sure what happened to her.