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If "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is the hottest gay show on TV, why are all of the characters straight?

Published January 12, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Dear Joss Whedon,

Please. Please. Please.

You have power now. You like lesbians. For Christ's sake, you're a guy who minored in feminist film theory!

Do this one thing with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for us and we'll never even complain about the sucky macho politics of "Angel."

Make Willow gay.

You heard me. You must know that millions of your lesbian- and gay-adoring fans (some of whom are straight) held their breaths the other week when Willow held hands with that cute Wicca girl so they could make really, really strong magic together! (Afterward, the girl told Willow she was "powerful" and "special.")

It's not just that Alyson Hannigan looks adorable with that red dye job, or that she made nerds and people who read Latin sexy forever. There are fundamental principles at stake.

You suppose you're radical because you made Willow a lesbian in that "It's a Wonderful Life" alternate-reality episode where she was also a torturer and a vampire. Well, my Laura Mulvey-reading friend, that's just not good enough!

I am sick of the characters of fantasy TV only being able to be queer in alternate universes, or when they get blows to the head, or go through really special wormholes. Do you really want to be no better than "Star Trek," where it's the 24th century but there are still no lesbians or gay men anywhere but our imaginations? And no, it's not enough that you have the occasional boy-loving vamp, or Larry the football player, or the evil queen from the costume store. I want a recurring, human, demon-fighting, likable, complex gay or lesbian major character, a member of the Scooby gang in fact.

What's the good of a show that's so smart about sex and love when it doesn't even acknowledge that it comes in more than one variety? (And no, it doesn't count that Riley once helped the campus lesbians hang their banner. Hets get the Buffy-Angel love thing in all its pathos, beauty and terror and we get a sly reference with a banner?)

You think you're pro-gay because you've occasionally had homo-symbolism on the show, of the sort that only lust-crazed queers could ever uncover. "It's very doubtful we'll bring Larry back for a gay arc," you had the remarkable chutzpah to tell me two years ago, "because we're doing a gay arc already with Buffy." Oh really? Buffy's a lesbian? Funny no one ever noticed!

Perhaps no one ever figured out about her lesbianism because, uh, you never really showed it existing. One scene where Buffy comes out to her mom as a vampire slayer is supposed to bear the weight of lesbian and gay desire forever? Well, fuck that! Do you think we can eat symbolism? We need stories, as you so obviously know because of the reasons you've said you created Buffy in the first place: because girls and women "needed a movie where they could walk through an alley and take care of themselves."

I have needs too, Joss. Do you have any idea how galling it is that the smartest, most feminist show that has ever been still makes me read myself into the characters and construct elaborate fantasy love-lives for them behind the official versions? Your lesbian and gay fans live on crumbs: Buffy and Faith do a sexy dance one time and we sigh in ecstasy as though they had had an entire Buffy-Angel Virginity Arc lasting three seasons.

I don't need gay characters on boring, conventional shows like "Will and Grace." I need them on fantasy shows where people like me -- all people -- participate in the hero's journey. I need them on shows like "Buffy" that deal profoundly with all those subjects Americans don't like to discuss, like intimacy and sexual vulnerability and loss.

Anyhow, Willow doesn't have to be exclusively gay. Let her be bi, like the exploring Wiccan smart girl she is. That would be fine, and there wouldn't be any retro-unpleasantness about explaining all those feelings for Xander and Oz.

A simple question: Who is "Buffy" intended for? Teenagers and young adults. Who are the people who beat up and kill gay people? Teenagers and young adults. (Almost exclusively. Look at the stats.) Talk about the need for new kinds of stories.

Oh, while you're at it, have Professor Walsh come out, too. (She's obviously not evil -- she's just butch! And so alluring.) Time to make it real, Joss, and live up to all those things you've said about making audiences identify with the most marginalized people you can. Demon liberation is one thing, but your human viewers have more urgent needs. Take the plunge.

By Donna Minkowitz

Donna Minkowitz is the author of the memoir "Growing Up Golem: How I Survived My Mother, Brooklyn, and Some Really Bad Dates."

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