Why didn’t the show explicitly say she was bisexual? (Picture: WB)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer was one of my favourite TV shows growing up, and still is to this day.
I was only five when Buffy first hit our screens, so naturally I got into the show much later. But I still recall around nine years old watching the newer seasons on BBC Two, even if I didn’t know exactly what was going on.
Horror is one of my favourite genres so to have a show that was also full of comedy, wit and teenage drama was so wonderful to see.
One of my favourite characters is Willow Rosenberg (played by Alyson Hannigan). Going from the shy, awkward, nerdy girl crushing on her dork of a best friend Xander to becoming a hugely powerful witch was incredible growth.
However there was one element of Willow that subconsciously affected me in quite a negative way – her sexuality. In earlier seasons, Willow was attracted to Xander, a man. She then had a long term relationship with Oz, another man.
From what we could see, Willow appeared to be a straight woman. However, this changed in season four when she started showing attraction to Tara, another woman. From that point on, she would identify as gay, despite continuing to have lingering feelings for men.
So why didn’t the show explicitly say she was bisexual?
In 2002 and while Buffy was still on air, the show’s creator Joss Whedon said: ‘We can’t have Willow say, “Oh, cured now, I can go back to c*ck!” Willow is not going to be straddling that particular fence. She will just be gay.’
Revisiting Willow’s sexuality last week, Whedon claimed that society at the time ‘wasn’t ready’ for an openly bisexual character. This is because her attraction to women would seem like a phase ‘because that’s what people do to deny their existence’, he said.
It’s true that this is a common biphobic stereotype bisexual people are all too familiar with. It’s used to invalidate bisexuality as just an in-between phase between straight and gay.
As someone who was experiencing attraction to multiple genders and struggling with what this meant, this trope was quite damaging
Whedon may think the world wasn’t ready for that type of representation, but many bisexual people were desperately craving it. It would have helped me, and I’m sure many others, in figuring out their sexuality.
Willow was my first encounter with the ‘No Bisexuals’ trope. This is a common theme in media where a character is always either straight or gay, with no room to explore any identities in-between, such as bisexual.
It was played out time and again in TV shows. Characters would be introduced as straight, only to eventually come out as gay. Sometimes their past would be retconned, saying that all their previous relationships were only done to keep up the denial, despite the show never alluding to that fact.
In other cases, they would even flip back, chalking it all up to ‘experimentation’.
The 90210 reboot did this on quite a few occasions. One character, Teddy, was introduced on the show as a ladies man, a player. He was an ex of one of the main characters and ends up in a relationship with Silver, a woman. But in season three, he drunkly sleeps with another man and eventually comes out as gay, revealing that he’s been struggling with this for years.
I should make clear that all of these experiences are valid. There are plenty of gay and lesbian people who would have been able to relate to these storylines.
Coming out can be difficult, and plenty of people find ways to hide their sexuality. Likewise, many experiment or discover new things about themselves and may go from identifying as straight to gay or lesbian.
But as someone who was experiencing attraction to multiple genders and struggling with what this meant, this narrative was quite damaging. It fed me this idea that sexuality was binary – gay or straight – and there was nothing in-between.
I couldn’t resolve my feelings into either one of these, so I chose to just bottle it all up and ignore it. I was 10 when I first started to think I wasn’t straight, but I didn’t learn the word bisexual until I was 17 and a classmate came out as bi.
As some consolation, Whedon recently said that if he was making the series today, he’d make sure Willow was openly bisexual. But bisexual people like me needed that representation then more than ever.
This complete lack of representation meant that I didn’t see bisexuality as valid for a very long time.
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Hiding in the closet can have a detrimental effect on someone’s mental health and in fact, statistics from Stonewall show that bisexual people have some of the worst mental health in the LGBTQ+ community. This often isn’t talked out.
Representation of bisexual people has increased over the years since Buffy, but more can still be done. We are still underrepresented on screen and are often portrayed in a negative way, where the representation plays into tired biphobic clichés.
I commend Whedon for speaking out on this and if the character of Willow were to return in the Buffy reboot – announced in July 2018 but still without a release date – I would love for her to be bisexual. Whether the reboot could ever hold a candle to the original though is another question entirely.
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