Bernie Wolfe is dead. Fans the world over, from the UK to India, Dubai, Canada and New Zealand, are mourning the loss of our Big Macho Army Medic. Major Berenice Griselda Wolfe was truly an international phenomenon. Her first appearance in Holby City was in “Serenity” on February 2, 2016. She left Holby to join Serena in France in “Go Ugly Early” on August 8, 2017. She returned to surprise Serena in the “Primum Non Nocere” episodes in June last year, and again in “Love Is” and “The Right Sort of Animal” in December. She died in an explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia, while serving in the RAMC. News that her body had been found reached us this week. She was 54.
For many, Bernie Wolfe was the catalyst to coming out, to being brave. She gave a generation of young women the role model they needed to know that living their authentic self was ok. And an older generation with a peer, a rare fictional character who reflected them, their struggles with their identity, their place in the world. Bernie Wolfe was strong, vulnerable, intelligent, capable. She succeeded in a man’s world – both in the army, and as a surgeon. She served her country selflessly. She put not only her life at risk but also her self – for almost all of her time in the army, her sexuality barred her from serving. She faced the discrimination and erasure we face every day. And yet she chose to be brave enough, someone who could have the life and love she chose – a good relationship with her kids, a successful career, and a relationship with the woman she loved. We watched her slowly come out of her shell, gain more confidence in herself and her sexuality, become fearless, open, honest. Comfortable in her skin.
Only to be punished for it, of course.
For Bernie Wolfe is dead. She succumbed to #DeadLesbianSyndrome this week. It took her just under ten months to die. She had been out for 41. She died in the service of furthering a cis-het, white, male character’s storyline. A cis-het, white, male character that is apparently no longer on the show. Between her finally being brave enough and her death, she fell in love, supported her lover through the death of her only child (who died just after they had consummated their relationship and after an argument about the relationship), watched the woman she loved leave her in her grief, had her career at Holby taken out from under her with the dismantling of her trauma unit, discovered that the love of her life had cheated on her with a woman half her age, had her heart broken and, it appears from the storyline these past few weeks, again lost contact with her children.
And Berena is over. It took Holby City exactly a year to destroy them. Leah Faulkner’s first appearance was on October 2. Bernie Wolfe was confirmed dead on October 1. That’s 365 days precisely. And in the process of this destruction, the baiting of fans only intensified.
It seems that the decision to kill off Bernie Wolfe was made in February – that’s right, February. After the Berena fandom had risen up in protest on social media (whether they joined #BerenaDeservedBetter or not), after hundreds of us began flooding the BBC with our complaints. As BBC CEO Tim Davie was acknowledging our open letter and copying in Simon Harper (Holby City executive producer), Ralph Lee (director of content for BBC Studios Productions), and Martyn Freeman (general counsel for the BBC). As he was assuring us that “senior members of the production team” would read it, that he took “this type of feedback seriously”. Clearly. They may not have got the bisexuals cheat trope, the we-love-each-other-but-cannot-be-together trope, the lesbians-cannot-be happy trope. But the #BuryYourGays trope is difficult to ignore. Especially with the growing mainstream media attention given it in newspapers such as the Independent and Guardian following the end of #Kana. In light of all this, the decision to kill off Bernie Wolfe is simply staggering. The disrespect is blatant.
And Bernie Wolfe is dead. I didn’t want to write this blog. I resent having to write this blog, to write the words “Bernie Wolfe is dead”. I never thought I would. I didn’t think they’d dare. The promises, the interviews, the self-promotional hype, the patting themselves on the back. The DIVA article and radio interview downplaying our protests because “they didn’t kill any lesbians!”. But here we are. Heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell the fury, like a woman scorned.
What I know is that people the world over are not only now aware of the #BuryYourGays trope, but they are also aware that they no longer have to accept this trope – and many are actively working to change it, using social media and the internet to challenge the stories told about us, to reshape the stories told about us, to challenge the mainstream, to finally make canon ours, to write new canon. Because if there is one thing I have learnt in all of this, it’s that the power of the mainstream media is not absolute. Bernie Wolfe is dead. We don’t have to accept this. We can change the stories told about us. The Holby City powers-that-be have shown us exactly what they think of strong, vulnerable, intelligent, independent, capable, courageous, sexually-aware older women. So Bernie Wolfe is ours now. Long live Bernie Wolfe.
By River Kingston