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Well, Hello, Gay Now
by Rachel Anton
Okay, so you wanna write Willow/Spike, but there's just one pesky problem. Well, okay, there's like, ten pesky problems, but this essay is only about one of them. As she so frequently reminds us, Willow's gay now. Right? And Spike is most definitely of the male persuasion. What's a writer to do?
You could, as many have done before, take the easy way out and set your story in an alternate universe where Tara never existed, Willow was never "gay now", and, for good measure, Spike never fell in love with Buffy. This certainly makes things a lot simpler, but tends to lead to really awful stories where the Willow and Spike characterization is forever suspended somewhere in the middle of season four. They've both grown and changed so much since then, and so much of that has to do with their relationships and the way they loved the people they loved. It seems, to me, a great disservice to the characters to ignore or discount those very strong feelings and how they've chosen to deal with them.
More to the point, I believe it's unnecessary to ignore Willow's relationship with Tara. I believe it's entirely plausible for Willow to fall in love with a man because Willow is easily and naturally read, not as a lesbian, but as a bisexual woman.
Yes, I know, Willow says she's gay. We have no choice but to believe her, and if we don't we are, according to some, delusional and/or homophobic. Well, you probably don't know me, but let me tell you, the very last thing I am in the world is homophobic. Delusional...maybe, but not about this.
Let's take a look at Willow's sexual history. When we first meet her she is very obviously in love with Xander, her best friend. Her feelings for him are quite deep and genuine, and they seem to stem, most of all, from their longtime friendship. He is her favorite person in the world, it seems, and so she loves him, wants to become even more intimately connected with him. She responds to him physically as well as emotionally, getting sweaty palms, butterflies in the tummy etc. at the thought of kissing him.
When it becomes obvious that Xander is not prepared to return her affections, she begins dating Oz, and soon falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Xander does in fact begin to return her feelings at this point, and Willow and Xander end up kissing several times. Both are involved with other people and feel very guilty about the cheating, but their attraction is so great that they seem unable to control themselves. Eventually they get caught and Willow has to work to get Oz back. He does end up forgiving her, they get back together, and that's the last we see of Willow/Xander smoochies.
Willow has her first sexual experience with Oz and, judging by her reaction, seems to enjoy it. They carry on a committed, sexual relationship for a relatively (by Buffyverse standards) long time and Willow seems completely satisfied with him. One can surmise that if Oz had not decided to leave, the relationship would've continued and Willow would have been happy with this.
In the midst of her relationship with Oz, we meet vamp Willow and are given our first hint that Willow might not be entirely straight. Vamp Willow seems equally interested in boys and girls. She plays with puppy Angel in a sadistic, sexual fashion, hangs on Vamp Xander, and in a later episode, comes on to her own doppelganger. "Kinda gay" is probably a pretty accurate descriptor. Kinda. Not entirely.
After Oz comes Tara. It's obvious when Willow and Tara meet that there is something very real between them. Unfortunately we don't get to see much of what goes on in the early stages of their relationship, but we can guess that they become friends, then lovers, and Willow falls in love again. Tara opens Willow up to the possibility of being with a woman- something she doesn't seem to have considered until that point. Sometime after they begin their relationship, Oz comes back and wants to pick up where he left off with Willow. Willow does some soul searching and in the end chooses to stay with Tara. Some people point to this as the moment where we learned the truth once and for all. Willow chose Tara. Willow is gay.
But is it really that simple?
When I watch "Wild at Heart", I don't see a woman discovering that she is really a lesbian. I see a woman with two lovers, forced to chose between them, and deciding in the end who she loves best. Who makes her the happiest and who she truly belongs with. I don't see gender playing any role in her decision. This is the episode that proved to me, once and for all, that Willow falls in love with people, regardless of gender or species or anything else. She loves who she loves because of how they make her feel and the kind of person they are inside. To me, saying that she chose Tara simply because Tara was the girl and that's what Willow really likes demeans the choice and demeans her feelings for Tara. Willow loves the heart, not the naughty bits.
Okay, you say, but once again, Willow has repeatedly insisted that she's "gay now". Why would she say it if it wasn't true?
Well, let's start with the problem of bisexuality in general. Bisexual people are oftentimes shunned by both gay and straight society and feel a sense of isolation and lack of belonging. They are commonly thought to be: traitors, in denial, closeted homosexuals who can't admit what they really are, promiscuous, unable to commit to a relationship, confused...the list goes on. The truth is, lots of people find the very concept of bisexuality extremely threatening. Some people refuse to admit that it actually exists. With a few exceptions, there isn't much of a place in society for bisexual people, and let's face it- Willow is a person who needs a place. Willow needs acceptance. Willow needs to belong somewhere. Willow likes to label herself. Willow might not like the fact that she's attracted to men and women because it doesn't really "fit". So she chooses to define herself based on the person she happens to be with at the time. When she was with Oz, she was straight. When she was with Tara, she was gay.
There is a very real possibility that bisexuality never occurred to Willow as an option. Lesbianism doesn't seem to have occurred to her until she met Tara.
There is also the need Willow seems to have to prove herself to Tara. To reassure her, one assumes, that she's in this for real. I'm going to quote some bits of the conversation Willow and Tara have in "Tough Love", because I think it's very relevant:
WILLOW:... I mean, I just feel like the-the junior partner. You've been doing everything longer than me. You've been out longer ... you've been practicing witchcraft way longer.
Just a quick comment here before we get to the bulk of it- I think, technically, you have to be "in" to come "out". Willow was never really in the closet, in the general meaning of the term. She kept her relationship with Tara a secret for a short time, but that's an entirely different thing. Not telling your friends about a particular relationship, when you aren't feeling very close to them in the first place, is very different than keeping your whole identity a secret from everyone you know.
WILLOW: what is it about me that you don't trust?
TARA: It's not that. I worry, sometimes. You're, you're changing so much, so fast. I don't know where you're heading.
WILLOW: Where I'm heading?
TARA: I'm saying everything wrong.
WILLOW: No, I think you're being pretty clear. This isn't about the witchcraft. It's about the other changes in my life.
TARA: I trust you. I just ... (looks down) I don't know where I'm gonna fit in ... in your life when...
WILLOW: When ... I change back? Yeah, this is a college thing, just a, a little experimentation before I get over the thrill and head back to boys' town. You think that?
TARA: Should I?
WILLOW: I'm really sorry that I didn't establish my lesbo street cred before I got into this relationship. You're the only woman I've ever fallen in love with, so ... how on earth could you ever take me seriously?
I think it's pretty clear from all this why Willow would want Tara to believe that she is completely, without a doubt, 100 percent lesbian. She doesn't want Tara to doubt her sincerity, her commitment to the relationship. Her mistake is in thinking that being bisexual would somehow call into question her intentions to stay with Tara forever, but it is certainly an understandable feeling. She has a very real motivation for convincing herself and everyone else that she's gay.
The thing of it is, being deeply in love with a person can be blinding. You can't imagine yourself loving anyone else the same way, and very often you don't feel an inkling of genuine attraction towards anyone else. It's fairly common for people to identify their sexuality based on who they happen to be involved with. It's easy to see why Willow might consider herself to be entirely gay. She loves Tara, a woman, and can't imagine loving anyone else.
She has, however, been at least mildly attracted to a few other people since she got together with Tara. Two examples that spring to mind are the Aprilbot and Dracula. A woman and a man. Both times she expressed her attraction in front of Tara, then backtracked when Tara seemed upset or confused. From Buffy vs Dracula:
BUFFY: I guess. Just - the way he said it, you know, I mean, he made it sound so...
WILLOW: Sexy? I bet he made it sound sexy. (Grinning. We see Tara coming up behind her.)
BUFFY: Kinda. He of the dark penetrating eyes and lilty accent.
TARA: (sits on arm of couch and gives Willow a glass of soda) You thought Dracula was sexy?
WILLOW: Oh! No. He, he was ... yuck.
Hey, there's an argument in there, not just for males in general, but for Spike. Maybe the only men she's attracted to are the vampire kind
Willow has loved before, and she may love again. If she were a real person, a friend of mine, I would say the odds of her loving a man rather than a woman are about fifty-fifty. But she is not real, she is a television character, and I'm not counting on ME taking the truly challenging route and having her fall for a man because it would piss off far too many people. Most of the people who supported the Willow/Tara relationship and Willow's lesbianism would call it at best a copout and at worst unforgivably offensive. People who hated the relationship would figure well, she was never really serious about Tara. It was just a little experimenting and now she's back where she belongs. I think they'd both be wrong, but I am in the extreme minority. Honestly, it would probably be best for everyone if they left Willow single for the rest of the series. The situation is almost too delicate to do anything else.
On the other hand, we have fan fiction. This is where you come in, aspiring Willow/Spike author. This is where you take what the show has given us, and turn it into something new, but entirely plausible. So what are you waiting for? Write me a story!