7 trailblazing queer moments in Buffy the Vampire Slayer that really didn’t suck

Josh Milton
·5-min read

Buffy the Vampire Slayer blazed an LGBT+ trail, dusting tired gay stereotypes and staking ancient evils that said TV characters can’t be queer and badass.

Twenty-four years ago, a chosen few sat in front of their boxy television sets, peeled off their TV dinners, and were introduced to Buffy Summers.

To viewers in 1997, she didn’t seem like much. A plucky, wise-cracking teen who had a seemingly neverending collection of halter-neck tops and shawls. Oh, and she fought vampires.

But decades on and Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, has become one of television’s most enduring and inspirational characters (even if her clothing choices were the real Big Bad, to be honest).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003, is a cultural cornerstone of its time. It was a sweet, campy series that celebrated female empowerment and, with clever metaphors and a handful of historic firsts, explored countless LGBT+ themes.

On the 24th anniversary of the first episode airing on 10 March 1997, here are seven of the queerest moment both on and off-screen of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

1. Absolutely everything about Willow and Tara

Amber Benson (Tara) and Alyson Hannigan (Willow) share a kiss. (Screen capture via YouTube)
Amber Benson (Tara) and Alyson Hannigan (Willow) share a kiss. (Screen capture via YouTube)

When wallflower-turned-witch Willow Rosenburg met shy, bookish Tara Maclay, it was the start of one of the show’s most loving relationships.

The pair’s first kiss in season five’s “The Body” was not only a moment for the silver screen history books – the first lesbian couple to share a televised kiss – but gave countless queer youth hope.

Witchcraft in the show came to act as a vehicle for the characters’ sexuality – a clever workaround for perceived viewer hesitations about on-screen queerness. Willow, over time, learning that her magical abilities – and her sexuality, too – were perfectly natural.

2. Doppelgänger Willow flirting with Willow at any available opportunity

Drenched in black and tight red leather, Willow meets her evil dopplegänger in the third season who, with her flirtatious behaviour, foreshadows her queer journey to come.

Willow’s evil vampire twin from an alternative dimension is dating Vampire Xander but constantly flirts with Willow – prompting Willow herself to even comment that her double seems “kinda gay” (although, bisexual is a lot more accurate here, but more on that later).

3. Buffy ‘coming out’ as a slayer to her mother

For a young queer kid watching the 22nd episode of Buffy‘s second season, it was a conversation that might have seemed familiar.

“Honey, are you sure you’re a slayer? … Have you tried not being a slayer? … It’s because you didn’t have a strong father figure, isn’t it?”.

Buffy revealing to her mother, after years of secrecy, that she is the fabled slayer doesn’t go down too well at first. Joy is confused and refuses to accept it, as Buffy pleads that she didn’t “choose” to be this way, before being kicked out altogether.

4. Willow coming out – and how it could have been different

Willow coming out as lesbian paved the way for the LGBT+ representation that came on screen in the decade following, with Buffy weathering criticism from fans who felt it was incomprehensible that a witch whose best pal is a vampire slayer and whose ex was a werewolf could ever be lesbian.

But looking back, it was clear to some fans that Willow appeared to show an attraction to males in the first three seasons of the show – she may have fallen under the bi umbrella, they say.

Whedon would be inclined to agree, he told Metro.co.uk last year. If the show were made today, he said, Willow would identify as bisexual rather than gay.

He admitted biphobic attitudes and stereotypes limited him, weary that audiences may reduce Willow’s queerness as a “phase”.

“There are things you can’t do, thanks to [the society at the time],” the director said.

As things turned out, Willow came out as a lesbian and Buffy remained her biggest champion. Even Alyson Hannigan, who played Willow, has suggested that the slayer “should have dated Willow“.

5. Tara’s family threatening to ‘fix’ her

In season five episode six, “Family”, the Maclays come to town – and they aren’t best pleased to see what their daughter has become.

As in, a witch. In a not too obvious allegory to conversion therapy, Tara’s family threaten to take her away and “fix” her “problem”.

“She belongs with her family,” her conservative father barks, while her sister calls her a “disgusting demon”.

But the Scooby Gang all stand up for Tara. “We’re her blood kin,” the dad seethes, “who the hell are you?”

“We’re her family,” Buffy emphatically hits back.

6. Willow and Tara reaching new highs (and heights) in their relationship

“Once More, with Feeling”, the season six musical episode, is one of the most beloved of Buffy.

When the Scooby Gang and the town of Sunnydale are placed under a demonic spell that makes everyone burst into song – revealing secrets left, right and centre – Tara tells Willow that she’s “under her spell” as they dance in a park.

At the end of the song, Willow moves down out of shot and does something to Tara that makes her literally levitate in ecstasy. “You make me complete,” she croons.

7. The time Buffy aired the first lesbian sex scene ever shown on television

Willow (L) and Kennedy, played by Iyari Limon. (20th Century Fox)
Willow (L) and Kennedy, played by Iyari Limon. (20th Century Fox)

We owe Buffy a lot when it comes to queer representation. It didn’t just leap over hurdles – it dusted them.

In the show’s final season, Willow, now with potential slayer Kennedy, climbed into a creaky bed and made love – a momentous moment for a primetime soap as the first lesbian sex scene shown on an American TV network.