Though I’m a child of the 90s and early 2000s, I only watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer in its entirety last year. The show, about a group of underdogs taking on the supernatural entities in their town, was campy at times and thoroughly amusing.
With Halloween just around the corner, I’ve been seeing a lot of Buffy memes in my newsfeed — not to mention the buzz of a sequel in the works with a woman of color as the Slayer.
Willow and Me
One of my favorite characters on the show was Willow Rosenberg (played by Alyson Hannigan).
Why did I relate to Willow so much? Like me, she’s a Jewish redhead. A bit quirky, nerdy, and, like myself, beginning to explore witchcraft. This past year, I have come to fully embrace my bisexual identity after years of uncertainty. Like Willow, understanding my sexuality was always a work in progress.
Willow’s romantic life
Over the course of Buffy, Willow had quite a few crushes (on both men and women) but two main romantic interests: Oz (played by the adorable Seth Green) and later, Tara (played by Amber Benson).
And honestly? If I had to ship her in either of those relationships, I’d pick her and Oz.
Willow and Oz dated for a few seasons of the show, both in high school and college. It was only shortly after their amicable breakup that she started seeing Tara. And suddenly, the Whedonverse decided she was now a lesbian.
It was as if her very real, very meaningful relationship with Oz never occurred. Willow was calling herself a lesbian, calling herself gay.
Yes, theoretically, if Willow were a real person, coming to me in an actual situation to assert her identity, things would be different. Of course I would believe she’s the one who knows herself best. But at the end of the day, we must acknowledge that this is a scripted show taking place in a fictional world.
The writers could have said whatever they wanted when writing Willow’s character. They had the opportunity to portray sexuality more like the spectrum it is. They chose not to.
When the fandom upholds this perspective, that Willow would know best, they ignore how media influences real life; and harm bi+ people in the process.
Representation matters. After all, we are the B in LGBTQIA+.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who found this sudden switch uncomfortable and irresponsible.
‘I always hated the Willow was defined as gay after she started dating Tara. She had had deep loving relationships with men,’ Talia Squires, editor-in-chief of Bi.org, told GSN earlier this year.
‘Even worse Dark Willow was explicitly bi. To me, both Willows were clearly bi, but only Evil Willow talked about it. I would like if we could critically examine why the show made that choice.’
Back in 2014, GSN included Willow’s storyline in Buffy in our list of the biggest offenders of bi erasure in the media.
Even now, years later, the cast of Buffy still talks about how important the Willow-Tara relationship was for gay and lesbian youth. And indeed, it did make quite the impact. But what about bi people like myself?
The media needs to do better
‘Willow never brings up the possibility of being bi,’ writes Gail Wald for Bitch Flicks. ‘Had she brought it up and dismissed it – well, firstly, the word “bisexual” would have been uttered on television, which seems to be a difficult feat to accomplish, and secondly, it would be a lot easier to accept that she was a lesbian for us bi folk. Because there are real bisexual people out there who experience bi erasure, who are told they’re gay or lesbian when they’re with a person of the same gender and heterosexual when they’re with a person of the opposite gender, who are told they’re confused, who are told they must choose.’
This was exactly my experience. Since I’ve only officially dated/been intimate with male-identifying people, I felt that I would be dismissed by coming out as bi. That I’d be told it was a phase, or I was just doing it for attention.
So for a relatively progressive show like Buffy to reinforce the binary of gay or straight was hurtful to me, and clearly to other bi people.
Hopefully the upcoming Buffy sequel will handle sexual orientation with more nuance than the original.