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March 13 2011

Coming out of the broom closet: Willow's sexuality and empowerment. An examination of the journey from "a nerdy computer geek filled with heterosexual longing to powerful witch and lesbian".

Does anyone else still see her as bi? I just can't believe that her love for Oz meant nothing in the long run. I still say she goes both ways.
The show says otherwise. It doesn't thrill me, granted. Having other people along the queer spectrum represented would have been much preferred, but it is what it is. Willow is 100% into the ladies.
I'd never raise an eyebrow at them declaring she's lesbian-not-bi if I didn't feel a near metaphysical certainty that absolutely nobody would have ever let them get away with deciding, after Season 4, that she was definitely heterosexual. I mean, there's nobody in this fandom who'd consider the "nothing queenie" man from the interstitials in "Man on the Street" 100% into the ladies, and all he did was talk about it. Willow has actually had the sex.

It's also not helpful that they do things like the thin non-metaphor in Season 6 of Rack wanting to "take a tour" (magically, which, "Who Are You?" says "'sup?") and Willow clearly goes along with it. I mean, I don't know, does anyone know any rock bottom junkie lesbians that can ask if they will let a male dealer cop a feel and/or sleep with them for drugs? Is that a sexuality-question raising issue in real life when its consentual but strictly business?
More Blackberry nonsense, sorry.

[ edited by KingofCretins on 2011-03-13 13:51 ]
I yearn for the day when people aren't characterized by their bedroom behavior, but rather for their character. This yearning, however, is tempered by the age-old admonishment that one's character is truly defined by what one does when nobody else is looking.
Hey, all you authorial intent folks, Joss said she was gay.

:-)
I think he might have flip-flopped her a bit more if he wasn't so concerned about ship/fan backlash.
Once Willow started going out with Tara, it never crossed my mind that she was bi. Which is testament to Alyson's acting and the writing.

Jaymii if Joss was so concerned about ship/fan backlash he wouldn't have killed off Tara and then brought in Kennedy.
As one of those authorial intent folks, what follows is critical analysis of how well realized that intent was. Put bluntly, I don't question Joss' intention, I question his performance. The coherence of Willow's sexuality in the story is one on a not-long but not-short list of things in the Buffyverse that don't really line up well between intention and presentation.

But, that said, it's more of a cultural point. Like I said, I could ignore various things in favor of the clearly told "gay now!" if I thought for one second that "straight now!" would be given the same deference. There's simply no way it would, though, which isn't Joss' fault, but it still leads to me rolling my eyes at the inconsistencies.
I thought the quick application of Kennedy was to reaffirm to people that she was lesbian because of the schtick he got for killing Tara in the first place. I'm sure I've heard it said he wouldn't have been so fast, he would have explored more etc if it weren't for people shouting "homophobe". I obviously haven't got the facts and wasn't in the fandom at that time so I'll just retreat.

edit: I was talking about backlash from the LGBT community, not the Tara/Willow fandom. Sorry for not being clear.

[ edited by Jaymii on 2011-03-13 16:08 ]
The Willow bi/lesbian debate always seemed a little bit too politically charged for my taste. In that, both sides have big points they can make, and yet both sides always really, really, wanna be right about it.

I go both ways on it. :) Joss in his interviews has been fairly straight forward that she is gay. And truthfully, I don't see much past Tara that suggests that she isn't. So to his credit, I don't think he's written himself a hole on this topic. The writing post-Tara really doesn't seem full of ambiguity.

Where I see the counterarguement though, is that Willow's lesbianism had very little arc to it. Tara was the arc and that was it. The only time we see Willow with tendancies prior to this would be doppleganger Willow which I always viewsed as an evil id version of the original. But that version, freed of all expectation of social norms most certainly was bisexual.
I've long felt that Willow's "hetero history" actually bolsters the idea that she's gay. For starters a lot of gay folks try to be straight for a while. (Witness Larry in S2.) Secondly, notice who she crushes on: Xander, her closest friend, and Oz, who is pretty darn sweet compared to, say, the Percys of the Sunnydale High dating pool. I won't for a second argue that Xander and Oz are more "feminine," but they are certainly a bit less masculine than the stereotypes, and it's definitely an emotional relationship first and foremost in both cases.

Does that make sense?

On the other hand, as azzers points out, Vamp Willow does seem to enjoy Xander quite a bit, and when she "plays with the puppy" it's at least a little sexual. If we're admitting Vamp Willow evidence (and Angel starts to corroborate this before thinking better of it, in one of his funnier moments), then the evidence does seem to cut both ways -- or should I say swing?

But to be honest I know nothing at all; I'm a straight guy trying to make sense of a gay woman.
Azzers, to be sure, I tend to think she is "bi" insofar as I think she could fall in love with a man again, but A) I don't really assert it as an argument of fact, and B) I don't really care all that much. My position is more that... this is what "gay now!" looks like?

The point about Vamp Willow is valid, especially since she's in part there to tease the eventual change (reveal, if you prefer, but I'd still say "change" because we're talking about a fictional character; nothing they do is self-motivated)) -- the play with the Puppy isn't a little sexual, it's a lottle sexual. And, yeah, obviously with Xander (who, as indicated in "Doppelgangland", is definitely her most important playmate going by her reaction on seeing him). But that gets into the muddy details of how Buffyverse vampires are somewhat omnisexual anyway.
It's true; a lot of 'em will bite anything that moves.
GilesQueen, just because Willow is now exclusively homosexual (as I believe her to be, anyway) does not mean that her love for Oz meant "nothing" in the long run. Love is not the same thing as sexual orientation.

As a gay man, I'm of the opinion that one's sexual orientation can change over time -- on its own, of course, and not as a result of forced therapy or any of that nonsense -- and when Willow was with Oz, she was indeed heterosexual. Then things changed, and she effectively became or grew into being a lesbian. You could also look at it from the perspective that she's had bisexual tendencies all this time, and she's merely come to prefer women. I could fall in love with a woman in the future. Anything is possible.

Either way, I don't think her feelings for Oz meant nothing -- if they did, there wouldn't have been so much tension with her and Oz in season 8. =)
Willow's sexuality is a sore spot with me. I get that she fell in love with Tara, but there was nothing to indicate that she'd gone full-lesbian other than her saying she was a lesbian. I've fallen in love with plenty of girls, and that alone doesn't make me full-lesbian. I wish they had developed it a little more.
I was just about to make Waterkeeper's point. Sexuality is fluid, no batter what label you throw onto it. It was at least strongly hinted that she and Oz had sex, and it was never painted like Willow was secretly against it. She hurt for a long time after Oz left, they were in love.

Now in the comics Willow is written as if she never went for the man males. I think it's too easy to paint her with the simple lesbian brush. It could be argued that Willow wants to distance herself from her heterosexual past, as it doesn't mesh with her current Wicca Woman Power identity. But words don't erase actions
Whedongeeky, I would suggest that Willow falling under RJ's enchanted jacket love spell...thing...and then wanting to turn him into a woman would imply she's now a lesbian.

And rocknjosie, I think Willow does mention early in season 8 that even she had a thing for Xander way back when. Something about going in for smoochies even though she doesn't truck with the stubbly crowd? =)

Actually, wow, that really makes things a bit more complicated now that I think about it...
Willow even mentions stuff like that in the show proper, I can't remember the context but things to Xander like "ohh, how come you couldn't have worked that out a few years ago?" or something. I can hear it in my head better than what I wrote out.
Willow is not bi. She's a lesbian. Look no further than her own words and reactions:

Episode: Hell's Bells

WILLOW: It's a good thing I realized I was gay, otherwise, hey, you, me and formal wear…

Episode: Triangle

WILLOW: No it was not! Well, yes it was so, but ... that was a long time ago. Do you think I'd do that again?

ANYA: Why not?

WILLOW: Well, hello, gay now.

Episode Him:

After they realized they were admiring Dawn in a sexual way:

XANDER: Oh. Oh! No! "Daddy"— No, I wasn't— When I was looking, I wasn't— Oh, God!

WILLOW: (leans to Xander) Right there with ya.

I rest my case.
Jaymii-Your quote was from The Gift:

Buffy: I like this. (to Anya) Thanks.
Anya: Here to help. Wanna live.
Xander: Smart chicks are soooo hot. (looking fondly at Anya)
Willow: You couldn't have figured that out in tenth grade?


quantumac-While I do respect authorial intent, everyone has the right to interpret what they've viewed in their own way and BtVS almost demands individual interpretation. That's why so much has been written on the series.
Re: Vamp Willow. The real Willow's comment at the end was to note that she was "kinda gay." Not kinda bi.

But this is an old argument, in which the personal becomes political. I am not an authorial intent kinda guy (no kidding!) so I can easily understand reading Willow either way. From my perspective, which is indeed political, I think it is important for her to be gay because to bring her back to guyville would damage the importance of her coming out in the larger culture. The one in which we live, not the one in which she does. I personally believe that Joss agrees with me, which is why he and Marti Noxon made sure to keep her gay in S7 when they began considering hooking her up with a guy again. They sure as hell did not want to cause any further pain to people who had invested in the Willow Tara relation, and they also did not want the backlash hooking Willow up with a guy again would have brought. Or so I believe.

In fact, writ large, this is the problem I had with Batsu. I just thought it was cheap and meaningless in terms of cultural impact, more of titillation and Marissa than of real importance to the story being told. Willow had real meaning; this did not. And yes, I know all the argument sin favor of it, but I reject your reality and substitute my own- quoting Adam Savage...
Re: Vamp Willow - true, but Willow only saw Vamp Willow coming onto her in that episode, she didn't see Vamp Willow from "The Wish." But I also don't discount that by the end of S3, this was already on the radar and the writing is picking up on a specific direction.

My main point has been, that direction wasn't consistent which is why I can see this argued both ways. I have no dog in the hunt, but I also understand why (at the time at least) Joss had to make her emphatically one or the other.

Personally I agree with his choice simply because I think it kept his fanbase together. And, at the time specifically, making a character gay was often a reversible stunt for a few shows so there were artistic reasons for doing it.
Gah, stupid internet deleted my comment.

To be honest I think 'authorial intent' isn't a particularly relevant argument here. Lots and lots of gay people have relationships with or crushes on the other sex when they are teenagers. I for one (and I'm sure many others) would be rightly pissed off if someone were to tell me I was bi and not gay because of some early heterosexual experiences. I'm sure you can understand that whether you're gay or not.

Willow obviously struggle with her sexuality, she knew she'd been in a loving, sexual relationship with a man and yet here she was falling for a woman. It took a long time for Willow to come to terms with her sexuality and admit that she loved Tara, I think it's safe to assume one of the reasons it took her so long to do this was because her sexuality was complicated by her previous heterosexual feelings.

In the end though, Willow says she is gay, a number of times throughout the series. Whether the audience thinks she is bi because they witnessed her teenage heterosexual realtionship is pretty irrelevant compared to Willow's decision that she is gay in my opinion.
I liked this essay a lot. Despite the stated intent of the title, it went a lot deeper into Willow's character than just examining how her emerging realization that she was gay was handled.

Willow is my second (to Spike) favorite character in BtS, in terms of a fully realized, complex and utterly absorbing character arc, and I think this essay did justice to that wonderfully complex character, as well as to the beauty of she and Tara's relationship.
There is an interesting question here, digupherbones: Was it really that long for her to come to terms with her sexuality? In terms of the story, I read this as being no longer than 4 months at the most, and likely a bit faster than that. I do not feel she fought her feelings. At no time did I ever get the sense that she was concerned about how she felt, outside of the fact that once Oz returned she had to face her real feelings- and did.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2011-03-14 13:03 ]
Well I'd say about half a season so yeah maybe 5 months, but I think that's a pretty long time really. I didn't mean to imply that she fought her feelings just that she must have asked herself whether she was gay or not and come to a conclusion on that matter. In asking herself that question her relationship with Oz and feelings for Xander would have played a part, as would her feelings for Tara.
Willow definitely had trouble facing her feelings and sorting out who she was in Season 4, if this dialogue from 'Primeval' is anything to go by:

WILLOW: I--I kept secrets. I hid things from everyone.
BUFFY: That's not your fault. Will, you were going through something huge.
WILLOW: I wanted to tell you, but I was so scared.

But the writers didn't show this angsting and soul-searching on screen, except for a little in 'New Moon Rising' - an artistic decision I have absolutely no problem with. They concentrated on the positive side of showing Willow's growing relationship with Tara instead.

And for the record, Willow was still worrying about her identity issues in 'Tough Love' a year later; she was scared Tara would think she was just experimenting and would soon head back to Boytown.

Maybe that argument they had (and what happened to Tara immediately afterwards) did have something to do with why Willow insisted on identifying as a lesbian afterwards, rather than "Well, I suppose I'm technically bisexual but I definitely prefer women, and I can't really see myself ever having another relationship with a man, though I guess I can't ever say never but honestly that's not me any more, so I guess I kinda am a lesbian for all practical purposes". Which is how I imagine she'd describe herself otherwise... ;-)
stormwreath- I think you are right but perhaps in an after-the-fact kind of way. During the actual time on screen as the relationship developed, we never saw any indication that she was "going through something huge" as she herself saw it. I recall her sitting with Buffy in NMR and saying simply that it wasn't something she was expecting. Same words Buffy might say about loving a vampire or Xander about loving a demon. But prior to Oz's return I never really got much of a sense of angst over the change, save for perhaps Willow not answering Buffy's question about being gone all night.
Of course, when our heroes lie to each other about why they were gone all night, it usually does mean something huge is going on: "Smashed" comes to mind.

Perhaps Willow's bi from now on but only in Istanbul.
However, we do not know why Willow never answered the question, right? Could be she simply did not want Buffy to know she was in any relationship at all until she knew herself she was. Just saying.
Here are the problems I'm having, having now looked at the article --

1) the author seems to discuss the two parallel developments (Willow becoming a witch/becoming a lesbian) as unambiguous "upgrades". Is there something "wrong" with "heterosexual longing" that is fixed or improved upon by being a lesbian? Doesn't equality demand that Willow's sexuality be greeted with all the moral neutrality of replacing an AC filter?

2) If the insistence is that these are parallel improvements, did the author not notice that Willow going from "nerdy computer geek" to "powerful witch" brought little but obsession and ruin to almost every aspect of her life and many of those around her? Other than that it was a metaphor for lovely lady kisses, rather, if it wasn't, can anyone point to what got better for Willow through her growth in magical ability? I mean, we have Willow, through sheer insecurity and not a shred of rational thought or fact, who might tell us that it brought her Tara, but... no, not really, Tara would say different, without hesitation. We have various arguments one could raise that her magic was the sine qua non to resolving this or that plot. But for Willow, personally, did any good come of it?

I don't think I have a more frequent complaint about academic looks at the Buffyverse than that things can get so abstracted and wrapped up in the symbolic that they abjectly ignore the things the literal. Here, what's literal is that Willow becoming a "powerful witch" was actually pretty ruinous for her in most regards, and that if one wants to couple that with her becoming a lesbian, they might be well-served to discuss them as inverse of each other.
But for Willow, personally, did any good come of it?


It helped her become her own person and stopped her from living in Buffy and Xander's shadows. By the end of Season 7 she was actually confident and happy with herself.
As well as a goddess and the most powerful person in the world right then. Who did great good (until the S8 comic came along, anyway...).
She never was a literal goddess, I've never understood where that came from and it's not low on the least to be happy the Seed is broken; it's moot now.

I think she was solidly her own person early in Season 3, and certainly by "Choices", which pre-dated both her sexuality and, for the most part, her magic as well. She may have stepped out on her own... but that's sort of like how Anakin in the first Star Wars prequel mentioned he was going to be known on a thousand planets. Magic Willow was confident, and ravaged the laws of nature, assaulted her girlfriend's mind, tried to destroy the world, and nearly sacrificed the entire world again in Season 8 to protect the source of her magic. Which, by the way, you both answer as though the math on this stopped in "Chosen". It doesn't. The argument is a non-starter. Magic brought Willow to the place we saw her in "Retreat", going from happy and relieved to be rid of her power in one moment and weeping and clawing at the earth in fear and anxiety to have it back the next (which she'd almost echo perfectly in "Last Gleaming").
I really felt that they were pushing the magic=drugs metaphor in season 6, but I always thought Willow's problems with magic were actually problems with power, and how power corrupts and all that. She was doing by force what she couldn't or wouldn't do through diplomacy or negotiation.

Willow had to learn to not always use her power, which seems the opposite of how Buffy used her power.
I dunno, aside from the addiction angle, to me magic was Willow's chance to live the Spider-man maxim "With great power comes great responsibility", just as Buffy had to as a Slayer (and all the powered characters had to to some extent).

To say it wasn't an unalloyed blessing seems true on its face though whether it initially drew her out of her shell/helped her attain happiness is less clear-cut. She certainly blossomed while using it but then she started using magic seriously at the same time as going to college - where someone like Willow would very much come out of her shell and that's reflected on the show both in her appearance and attitude - and meeting the love of her life so magic certainly correlates with her blooming, not convinced it caused it though.
Agreed, saje- and which is why it has been problematic for me to consider magic=sexuality/lesbianism.

As to Willow being a goddess: in the moment that she cast that spell, I am convinced she was. This accounts for her crone-white hair and the power of what she did. She might not be a goddess moments later, but at that split second, yep. Prove me wrong. :-)
Is a woman who only gets involved with women but is still if she's honest attarcted to men bi or gay? and why should anayone except hehr care?

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