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Why Catra’s Survival Means Everything for LGBTQIA+ She-Ra Fans

Catra and Adora in Netflix's She-Ra finale.

I think that if Netflix had a straight person in charge of the She-Ra and the Princesses of Power finale, Catra wouldn’t have survived.

Whether or not that’s true, it’s not like Lexa’s brutal death on The 100 four years ago gave me any reason to believe otherwise; the Bury Your Gays trope continues to thrive, unlike the dozens of LGBTQIA+ characters who have fallen victim to it.

When that episode of The 100 aired in March 2016, barely a month had passed since the unexpected death of one of my real-life friends, and losing Lexa while already in mourning took an incalculable toll on my mental health. This past spring, because the universe sometimes sucks really hard, I lost another friend out of nowhere—someone who was perpetual warmth and strength and enthusiasm, the ultimate hype-woman and advocate, who always gave her all to everyone and everything, simply because she couldn’t not.

I found out about her death right after leaving work and cried the whole train ride home (shoutout to the social distancing that kept my tears somewhat private), then did the only thing I could: took the next day off and watched all 13 episodes of the new season of She-Ra in one sitting. Anything Noelle Stevenson touches is a hell of a balm for a broken heart, and my grief momentarily disappeared into the magic and rainbows of Etheria. Nevertheless, I worried.

Catra is my current favorite disaster child, fierce and sad and mean and complicated in endlessly delicious ways, and we all know how much television loves its most tragic archetypes to meet the most tragic ends. The only reason I stayed mostly chill about her fate as I neared the finale was that I’d seen some vague reactions on Twitter, and I assumed there wouldn’t be quite so much caps-lock joy if my worst fears had become reality. But throughout that first viewing and even each one after that, I still felt an underlying queer dread that Catra (and Adora, by proxy) wasn’t allowed to have a happy ending.

Surely someone had to be lost to this final battle.

That someone ended up being Shadow Weaver, and Catradora saved the entire goddamn universe in the shiniest, glowiest, most homosexual way possible, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been more grateful for a happy ending in my entire life.

(Okay, there was that one time with Orphan Black.)

But with each sigh of relief, I found myself haunted by the mere idea of losing Catra in the same week that I was already mourning someone I care about deeply. I see it staring me in the face to this day: Catra telling Adora to go with Shadow Weaver and not surviving her fight with the monster, Best Friend Squad closing the series with a solemn conversation honoring their fallen frenemy, and Adora saying something about how she always assumed Catra would be back by her side once the war ended.

That alternate reality is one that officially will never happen, yet somehow feels tangible, close enough to touch, and believable enough to feel sitting at the bottom of my stomach, reminding me how scarce this kind of storytelling is across the current media landscape.

This unshakeable anxiety is why the Bury Your Gays trope is so harmful and toxic, and why happy endings for queer characters matter so damn much. Now that I’m on the other side of Catra and Adora riding off into the sunset (moonset?) and as god-awful as this year has been in general, I can’t help but feel like this very small piece of 2020 gave me the do-over I didn’t know I needed.

2016 was Marlena, then Lexa, then Pulse and the presidential election, and very few reasons to feel even a modicum of positivity; 2020 has an international pandemic, indefinite quarantine, and Natalie dying of cancer at only a year older than I am now, but it also has hope.

Hope, because sacrifice isn’t what ultimately saved the day—it was, in fact, gay love.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Kelsey O'Regan is the Chicago-based writer of queer comedy BIFL (@biflseries), an Alexis Rose enthusiast, and has been crushing on Kristen Stewart since 2004, thank you very much. Their superpower is that Carly Rae Jepsen follows them on Instagram and once liked a picture of their face. Jake Peralta on the outside, Amy Santiago on the inside.