How ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ helped me embrace my queer identity

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During the process of writing my last essay of my undergraduate degree in film, focusing on representation of queer women in Orange is The New Black and how it shows more diversity than earlier tv shows, one show that kept coming up was Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It surprised me. Buffy has been a huge part of my life, and I thought I knew everything there was to know about the show. But through the course of my research, I learned something I didn’t realize before: How much trouble the creator, Joss Whedon, had to go through to write about Willow and Tara, one of the first lesbian couples shown on TV.

Because I started watching Buffy when I was about 8 years old, I’d never realized just how groundbreaking some of it was until I started studying film and understanding representation in the media. I remember when Willow announced that she was in a relationship with Tara. I remember feeling so happy for her because she was one of my favorite characters and she was in love! My parents had never taught me that same sex relationships were anything but normal so it didn’t feel like a massive revelation or even something important. Instead, it just felt like life. Something within me just understood that Willow could love a man and a woman. No questions asked.

As I grew up, I became part of an amazing community that helped me find happiness, raised me up in leadership and gave me a voice. I was learning to be a happy and powerful young woman but I was unaware of the ways people were hindering me in that way too. It started with subtle things, like older men making comments if I was too assertive as a leader, the unhappy looks if I was too loud and the focus on traditional gender roles. Then I started going to conferences and festivals where I heard multiple talks about sexuality and gender. I repeatedly heard that being gay was a sin and that it shouldn’t be acted upon. I heard stories of “conversion” and how families had been destroyed by people coming out and how hard it was that their son or daughter was gay.

I knew these views didn’t sit well with me, I knew I disagreed but I couldn’t fight people on it, because I was the small voice amongst the many who disagreed with me. It also hurt because I knew I liked both men and women. When I was 17, I mentioned this to my youth worker. I had never seen it as a problem, it was just part of my identity and I thought it was normal, until I got told that it wasn’t. I was conflicted and I didn’t know what to do. The church told me it was something I couldn’t act upon, that I had to repress it and live as a heterosexual woman. The next year and a half of my life consisted of a lot of feelings of shame and guilt. I chose to convince myself I only liked men. Then I started university and my degree in film.

I had a completely new life away from my conservative, middle class, town and church, and I had to find out what my identity meant to me. That’s when it came back to Buffy. Within the first week of university I had met multiple people who loved the show. I had so many nerdy, excited conversations about what Buffy meant to us and it all came back to powerful women. It came back to female characters who were strong yet emotional, who survived their everyday demons as well as literal ones! It encouraged me to be like that, to stand up for what I believed in, to have a voice and to accept who I am. I got more involved with feminism, I started learning that it wasn’t okay to feel like I had to change who I was because a man told me to. I thought about my sexuality and I accepted myself and learnt to love myself. The shame and guilt began to fade away and I felt like I could fight my demons and win. At the start of my second year of university, I went to a tattoo shop in town and got “Five by Five” tattooed on my arm, a phrase that the character Faith says in the show. It means “I’m okay,” because for the first time in my life I felt okay. I felt secure, happy and strong. I felt like a slayer. ​

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Nathalie Saunders is currently finishing her film degree at the university of Kent and continuing on to a masters in film. Follow her on Twitter or on Soundcloud.

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