The lesbian and bisexual characters I saw on TV kept dying, so I switched to comic books.

There is no shortage of ways to kill off a lesbian, bisexual, or queer woman on TV.

Gun violence. Cancer. Suicide. Car accidents. Poison. Crossbow. Sunken ship. Even murder by a murder of crows.

Merritt Wever as Dr. Denise Cloyd, "The Walking Dead." Photo by Gene Page/AMC. Samira Wiley as Poussey Washington, "Orange Is the New Black." Photo by  Eric Leibowitz/Netflix/Everett Collection. Naomi Campbell as Camillia Marks-Whiteman, "Empire." Photo by Chuck Hodes/FOX. Alycia Debnam-Carey as Lexa, "The 100." Photo by Cate Cameron/The CW.


Is it too much to ask to have perfectly imperfect complex characters with speaking parts and partners (or a rich dating life) who survive more than five episodes? Apparently the answer is yes.

It's not that characters don't get to die. For some genres, that just comes with the territory. But as Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, said in her piece on the topic for Autostraddle, "We comprise such a teeny-tiny fraction of characters on television to begin with that killing us off so haphazardly feels especially cruel."

But there is a magical place where queer characters are leading stories, falling in love, being heroes, and (GASP!) not dying: comic books.

Finally, there's a place for LGBTQ women and femmes to kick ass, fall in and out of love, travel through time, grow old, work together as a team, and save the day.

From "Wonder Woman" to the hardcore campers of "Lumberjanes," queer heroines are staking their place in an industry long dominated by white, cis, straight men.

"Lumberjanes" cover via Noelle Stevenson/BOOM! Box, used with permission.

As an adult, it's refreshing. As someone with eyes on the next generation, particularly LGBTQ kids, it's inspiring. Kids — especially kids who aren't cisgender or straight — need to see themselves in the media they consume. What better place to stoke the imagination and power big dreams than the pages of comic books?

Author and cartoonist Sarah Graley writes queer characters to tell the stories she wishes she had.

Graley, 25 and from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, is the creative powerhouse behind "Our Super Adventure" and "Pizza Witch." Her latest comic book, "Kim Reaper," follows Becka, a college student with an unrequited crush on Kim, a goth girl with an untraditional side hustle — she's a part-time grim reaper.

"Kim Reaper #1" images via Oni Press, used with permission.

Including a queer couple was an obvious choice for Graley, a bisexual woman who never imagined a space for herself in the superhero comics she saw growing up.

"Growing up though, I don't remember any media that featured queer woman, let alone starred?" she writes in an e-mail interview. "I really wish I had that as a kid! Or as a teen! I just want that all the time to be honest, more media featuring rad queer women. So I make my own!"

"Kim Reaper #1" images via Oni Press, used with permission.

For many, including Graley, web comics and crowdfunding are helping underrepresented creators break into the industry and tell their own stories.

"I think webcomics being more of a thing and possible funding avenues like Patreon and Kickstarter have given people the platform to write/draw their own comics featuring underrepresented women, which is awesome!" she writes. "I think publishers have taken notice that these are stories that people want."

The renaissance of queer women doesn't leave behind women of color as characters or contributors.

The Marvel superheroine Miss America has been in print since 1943. But a brand new iteration, America Chavez, debuted in 2011 as part of the miniseries "Vengeance" and later appeared in "Young Avengers," "A-Force," and "The Ultimates." This year, America Chavez got her own story. And she's got a helluva story.

"America #1" variant cover by Jamie McKelvie, used with permission.

The daughter of two women, America is a queer, Latina college student with exceptional strength and the ability to kick down doors between dimensions. The book was written by Gabby Rivera, the gay, Latinx author of "Juliet Takes a Breath."

"I’m a queer brown weirdo, and I love every short inch of myself," Rivera said in an interview with Autostraddle. "I’m bringing all that round, brown, goodness to this story. All the things that make me laugh and make me feel strong, they’re going to be in America’s world."

America is joined by countless LGBTQ characters of color in comics and webcomics like "Witchy," "Agents of the Realm," and "Trans Girl Next Door."

No matter your genre of choice, there are queer women and femme characters ready to transport you to other worlds, new dimensions, or provide some insight into another person's lived experience.

There are spaces where TV writers aren't burying your gays and characters (and writers and artists) to fall in love with.

In addition to the books and sites I've mentioned already, check out "Bitch Planet," "Rat Queens," and Alison Bechdel's widely acclaimed strip "Dykes to Watch Out For."

Creator of "Fun Home" Alison Bechdel attends the re-opening of the Curran Theater in San Francisco, California. Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Curran.

There are new books, zines, anthologies, and webcomics coming out every month, so make friends with Tumblr, the amazing Autostraddle series "Drawn to Comics," or your local comic shop to keep up to date.

By supporting the creators who are making these stories happen, we can continue to see these queer characters grow, save the day, and — most importantly — live.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

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The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, as global and domestic travel came to a screeching halt last spring. When the pandemic was officially declared in March of 2020, no one knew what to expect or how long the timeline of lockdowns and life changes would last.

Two weeks after the declaration, Delta pilot Chris Dennis flew one of the airline's planes to Victorville, CA for storage. He shared photos on Facebook that day of empty planes neatly lined up, saying it was a day he would remember for the rest of his life.

"Chilling, apocalyptic, surreal...all words that still don't fit what is happening in the world," he wrote. "Each one of these aircraft represents hundreds of jobs, if not more."

He added:

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."