I write this with the awareness that everything that could possibly be said about “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” has most likely already been said in a much more eloquent way. Not to say I’m a shitty writer or anything, but there have quite literally been academic books and journals published on Buffyology, with perspectives on philosophy, sexuality and women’s studies to name a few. I mean, college courses across the globe existed to analyze the show’s significance. Yet here I am urging you to take the plunge into the 144 episodes of pure genius, when I’m just a big fan with a measly degree in American Literature who often forgets if “Anywho” is even a word or not.
So, queer women. I’m glad you’re here. Honestly, it’s taken 20 years (today! It’s the 20th anniversary of the show’s premiere), but now is more well-timed than ever. I mean, a show about a girl who was underestimated by demons and vampires yet fought against all odds to save the world, a couple of times? Doesn’t that sound like the universe we wish we were living in right now?
“BTVS” is basically a queer woman rite of passage. Aside from the obvious “There’s a gay character!”, here’s a whole bevy of reasons why you, yes you, Emily (strong chance that you’re an Emily if you’re reading this), should watch “BTVS.”
Willow + Tara 4Ever
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. In the late ’90s what was more realistic than two practicing Wiccans, both with equally tragic sweater collections, falling in love? For the fans who watched from the beginning (not just the thirsty ones who have only watched the “Willow and Tara Kiss” and “Tara Goes Down On Willow Kind Of” videos on YouTube), you’d know that Willow’s questioning, awareness and acceptance of her sexuality was a slow realization, evolving over an arc of multiple seasons. “The OC” could’ve taken a cue from that when they decided to spontaneously make Marissa Cooper bi for a few episodes with Olivia Wilde. (Like, if she’s bi, that’s awesome, more people should be bi if you ask me, but that show’s execution reeked of a rating stunt. Where did that come from? Why did they do that? Why am I still mad about that?)
Where was I going with this… Oh yeah. Willow and Tara. And Marissa Cooper. Unlike Marissa and Olivia Wilde, Willow and Tara’s relationship was a slow build that crescendoed into quite possibly the healthiest depiction of a romantic relationship in the entire series. The writers took care and immense thought with their storyline, it wasn’t just a ploy for viewership (I got my fucking eye on you, “The OC.”) When Buffy was absent, Willow and Tara became Dawn’s guardian while building a household together in their early twenties. With both characters being the group’s moral compasses (I mean, minus that *one* part that I can’t really talk about but let’s just say it had “dark roots”), they bonded on their shared empathetic approaches. But I will say one stand-out aspect of their relationship that’s different from most depictions of a queer female couple onscreen was the genuine affection that they had towards one another that wasn’t sexualized. As an audience member, it struck a perfect balance between “See! Queer couples can be romantic!” and “Ha, try getting off on that sweet hand hold you male gazing son of a bitch.”
The Slayer “Coming Out” Storyline
When Buffy tells her mom, Joyce, that she’s the slayer, Joyce’s reactions are far too familiar for the queer watcher (watcher as in viewer, not watcher as in Giles). Lines like, “Have you tried not being the slayer?” “It’s because you didn’t have a strong father figure, isn’t it?” or my favorite, “How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing and you still haven’t figured it out?” Buffy, who has been “out” as the slayer for two years and has fully accepted it, leaves the house at the end of Season 2 after Joyce’s confusion and anger towards her daughter’s destiny. It’s heartbreaking, real and super gay. (Obviously the moment where Willow comes out to her friends is pivotal also, but the allegorical one is so strong!)
The Buffy-Faith Sexual Tension
My sister got me a book for Christmas three years ago called “What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as a Spiritual Guide.” And this past year she got me a book called “Herscopes: A Lesbian’s Guide To Astrology.” (I’ll pause for the “Awws.”) Aside from my sister’s impeccable taste in literary gifts, inside the Buffy Spiritual Guide was an early Eliza Dushku interview, appropriately titled “Keeping the Faith” (true comedy). For those just tuning in, Eliza Dushku plays Faith, another slayer that comes to Sunnydale. (Keep in mind, there is only ever one slayer at a time, so them both being on Earth is unusual.) Faith is a high school dropout with stories so colorful, you thought only your drunk grandpa could tell them. Alas, this 17-year old has life experience! And Hot Topic accessories! She wrestles alligators, could tune up your motorcycle and oozes with vibes of “I would’ve been a fucking nightmare on ‘The Real World.'” Anywho (see?), Faith and Buffy have one of those “really quick best friendships” (ones in my life I later realized were gay crushes) but then eventually turn into bitter enemies.
So in this interview, Dushku is talking about what it was like on-set with Gellar, mirroring how they interacted as Buffy and Faith: “My relationship with Sarah was the same way, art imitating life in a way. We had a real chemistry that was similar to Buffy and Faith. And I was like, ‘Hey this is fun! Let’s have fun!’ And she’d say, ‘This is my job. This is work. There’s responsibility, and there are consequences.’” Their chemistry was perfectly palpable, and you could never tell if they wanted to make out with each other or kill each other.
Straight Girl Crush: Cordelia
How does one even sum up the goddess that is Cordelia? To the casual observer in the first two seasons of “BTVS,” Cordelia Chase is the arrogant popular girl who was so brutal to any non-popular clique that Willow and Xander erected an anti-Cordelia organization called the “We Hate Cordelia Club.” However, as her on-screen time grew, so did our love for her. Her quips, her fashion sense and her inability to hide her distaste for anything Buffy-related are some of the earlier season’s best moments.
Sarah. Michelle. Gellar
Once you come away from all seven seasons of Buffy (not counting the comic books, obviously get those now), you will have a larger appreciation for the acting brilliance of Sarah Michelle Gellar. Nay, an admiration that knows no bounds. Bypassing any mention of the obvious aesthetic allure, she’s been coined by some of the show’s producers, writers and cast as being “the most talented actress they’ve ever worked with.” I mean, the chick can cry while delivering a monologue like no one else on the planet. SMG had to go into the depths of darkness to pull off some of the show’s most grim moments. Babygirl had to endure some shit. And she executed the character of Buffy with radiance, vulnerability and strength. Not to mention, her songs in “Once More With Feeling” are my favorite of the bunch. Oh yes, there is a musical episode. Not sure why I didn’t lead with that.
Kennedy is kind of OK once you get past her cockiness. Andrew’s complete lack of self-awareness (including him being gay) is brilliant. Jenny Calendar is the hot, young computer teacher we all wish we had. Bonus: She taught herself how to use computers because she believes “knowledge has been kept from people as a result of systemized patriarchy.” I mean, come on, sign me up.
Where Do We Go From Here?
If you’re just starting “Buffy” (either on Netflix, Hulu, all today on POP or borrowing my DVD set), you’ve got a handful of accompaniments to take the journey with you. You can follow along with one of my favorite podcasts, “Buffering The Vampire Slayer” hosted by two queer women, Jenny Owens Young and Kristin Russo. You can also catch up with Brittani Nichol’s tweets because judging from a few days ago it seems like she’s in Season 3 now. And lastly, 20th Century Fox just released a bunch of new merchandise in honor of the anniversary, including: An adult coloring book, a “Buffy The Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia” and a board game that I just got and will be playing with a bunch of queer Buffy fans, and it will be the best night of my life.