’90S KIDS AROUND THE WORLD REJOICED WHEN NBC announced that it had ordered a new Xena: Warrior Princess pilot from Javier Grillo-Marxuach, 15 years after the original series ended. Grillo-Marxuach, the producer behind The 100 and Lost, says that “fully exploring” the romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle is the only reason to revive the series at this time. Shippers rejoice: the new Xena and Gabrielle will be, canonically, a couple!
So far, the response has been largely positive, but it’s only a matter of time until someone steps in to rain on the Xena reboot’s pride parade. My money is on Hercules star Kevin Sorbo, who has a history of making sexist and homophobic comments toward the original series and its star, Lucy Lawless.
Regardless of who starts the anti-gay fire against Xena, the backlash will take familiar forms. The “think of the children” crowd will turn out, in spite of the fact that watching queer characters on television cannot cause kids to “turn gay,” and that Xena won’t be directed at children, anyway. You can also expect plenty of murmurings about the “Gay Agenda” in general, and more than one person will lament the reboot’s mission by questioning the need to revive classic TV shows and films for new generations.
This assault on the sparkly, bloody rainbow that is an openly queer Xena is inevitable. We won’t lose the battle, but we need to prepare, nevertheless. If you often find yourself at a loss for words when presented with a social justice argument, you can use the LGBTQIA+ statements below to combat ignorant attacks on the Xena reboot.
1. Xena was always queer.
Many will argue that Grillo-Marxuach’s Xena represents a radical change made under the influence of SJWs. However, Xena was always a bisexual character, as even Lawless herself has stated. Even though queer communities latched onto the subtext that made up the bulk of Xena and Gabrielle’s on-screen sexual relationship, having that bond portrayed openly wasn’t possible at the time, but it’s something that we can honor today. And that’s important, because…
2. LGBT representation is up, but we need more.
For the first time in history, the percentage of LGBT characters on television matches the percentage of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. However, this doesn’t mean that all is well and we can stop representing queer people on TV, because there are still plenty of problems with media portrayals of queer characters.
Although 4 percent of series regulars are non-heterosexual, considerably fewer are transgender. According to TV Line, “broadcast TV currently offers zero transgender characters, even on a recurring basis, while cable has three recurring trans characters,” and “[s]treaming services [have] four transgender characters.” Additionally, LGBT representation is overwhelmingly white, with roughly 70 percent of characters portrayed by white actors.
3. The Xena reboot can combat the Bury Your Gays trope.
Another major problem with queer television representation is the frequent use of the Bury Your Gays trope, in which queer characters die sooner and more frequently than straight characters, often because of their queerness. In recent memory, The Walking Dead and The 100 have made this mistake, killing off fan-favorite lesbians in both cases. When asked whether the use of this trope in The 100 would impact the Xena reboot, Grillo-Marxuach said:
i am a very different person with a very different world view than my employer on the 100 ... [Xena] will also express my view of the world. [sic]
It would be almost impossible for the Xena reboot to put the Bury Your Gays trope to use. Xena and Gabrielle are the series’ main characters, which offers some aegis against being killed off. It is important to note, however, that the original Xena employed this tactic, at least to some degree, by killing its title character in the series finale. Whether the Xena reboot will follow suit is anyone’s guess, at this point.
4. The Xena reboot can combat bisexual erasure.
Since the announcement, most media coverage has represented Xena and Gabrielle as a lesbian couple. There’s just one problem with this: both Xena and Gabrielle had romantic relationships with men. Although there is no rule against lesbians sleeping with men, there’s a very big problem with changing a person’s sexual orientation according to the gender of her partner.
Bisexual erasure is real. Series like Orange Is the New Black frequently present their bi characters as alternating between gay and straight. Some shows label polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy as “bisexuality,” even though the two are not the same.
The Xena reboot is in a position to change the game once again. It would be wonderful to have a strong, openly bisexual character on television. If showrunners choose to have Xena and Gabrielle enter into romantic partnerships with men, Xena could offer television the blueprint that it needs for respectful representation of bisexuality.