I’ll admit that when I heard that Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics were adding a gay male slayer to the lineup, I was skeptical. I’ve always been invested in Buffy as a story specifically about what it means to be a girl and then a woman, what it means to have your strength devalued and underestimated because you’re female, and what it means to create an identity of your own within a larger cultural context that imposes its own requirements and expectations. And I worry that, rather than creating new tools that can both explore those questions, franchises tend to sequester their efforts to represent women, gay people, and people of color in narrow tranches, like DC Comics has done with the Green Lantern corps.
But as soon as Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg, the authors of the book, explained what they were doing in an interview with Out, I started to feel a lot better. Jane put the comic on the context of her work on Husbands, particularly her co-writer, Brad Bell:
I already knew Cheeks, and he has a line in Season 1 of Husbands, that Brad [Bell] wrote, that really struck me about how Cheeks has an “exotic femininity” that’s equated with weakness. I thought, Gee, all the work we’ve done with Buffy is about being female, and how that doesn’t mean that you are lesser. It suddenly struck me: If being feminine doesn’t mean that your’e lesser, then liking guys also doesn’t mean you’re lesser. For very good reason, we’ve focused on the female empowerment part of Buffy, but I wondered, Did we leave something out? What if someone in high school is looking up to Buffy as a role model, and we’re saying: You can’t be a Slayer.
And Drew puts the comics in the context of a larger conversation about misogyny and femininity that stretches across the gay and straight communities:
I have no problem telling a story about a boy who’s always felt more comfortable identifying with what society tells him is more of a feminine role. So much crap gets heaped upon us as gay men — crap from straight people and, frankly, crap from other gay people — about how it’s important to be masculine in this world, how your value is determined by your ability to fit into masculine norms prescribed by heterosexual society and, sadly, co-opted by gay society as a way to further disenfranchise and bully those who don’t meet those norms…And those attitudes are a reflection of not just our own internalized homophobia, but of our misogyny, too, and that’s something I’ve never understood. So if this is a story that causes people to examine traditional gender roles and think of them as something more fluid, I’m thrilled.
This is a critically important point, and not just for these conversations. Sexism and calcified gender roles hurt men as much as they hurt women. Having people believe you’re strong because of your gender presentation can be empowering, but it can also deny you the opportunity to express certain emotions or have certain reactions because that would make you weak, strip you of your social capital and authority. If your gender performance and your physical sex don’t match, people will try to reconcile them. Buffy‘s core mission, it seems, is still in place. This is just a reminder of how widely it’s needed.