Created by [redacted], Buffy the Vampire Slayer starred queer fan-favourite Sarah Michelle Gellar (Scooby Doo, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cruel Intentions) as the ‘slayer’, a teenage girl bestowed with supernatural abilities to defeat vampires, demons, the forces of darkness and – of course! – the patriarchy.
The series received universal critical acclaim during its run – with many individual episodes hailed as some of the finest in television history (Hush, The Body, Once More, with Feeling) – and has been credited with influencing other series in the same genre, such as Charmed, Doctor Who, Lost and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (among others). Buffy also received praise for its trailblazing queer representation, with the show’s resident witches Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara Maclay (Amber Benson) making history as the first long-term lesbian relationship on American television.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s premiere on The WB – and because the show is still inspiring a whole new generation of queer youth around the world – we took a look back at some of the show’s gayest moments, from Becoming to Doppelgangland and Storyteller.
2×22 – Becoming
Plot: Buffy teams up with her arch-nemesis Spike to take down Angelus and Drusilla before they unleash the demon Acathla, who aims to “swallow the world” into hell.
Why is it queer? Buffy is forced to reveal that she’s the slayer to her mother, which she doesn’t take well. Joyce, confused about Buffy’s calling, responds like a parent who refuses to believe their child is queer. She asks questions such as “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 is then kicked out of her home. Although she doesn’t identity as queer (on the show, comic book is a different story), Buffy became a champion for LGBTQ+ youth who also feel ostracised because of their identity.
3×16 – Doppelgangland
Plot: A horny, vampire version of Willow is summoned from an alternate dimension.
Why is it queer? Doppelgangland foreshadows Willow’s coming out journey in the fourth season with her undeniably queer and evil doppelgänger, who comes on to Willow at every available opportunity. Good Willow (obviously) finds it disturbing and questions her: “Would that mean we have to snuggle?” Also, Vampire Willow wore a lot of black and red leather. We know this was the 90s, but c’mon… very gay.
4×19 – New Moon Rising
Plot: Oz returns to Sunnydale after honing his werewolf instincts, but loses control when he finds out about Willow and Tara’s relationship.
Why is it queer? After their romance was alluded to all season, Willow finally comes out to Buffy – and the audience – revealing that her feelings for Tara have transcended friendship. Although her fellow Scooby Gang members are taken aback by her coming out, they accept her wholeheartedly and the couple’s queerness is never presented as an issue going forward. At the end of the episode, Tara tells Willow that she should be with the person she loves (assuming she wants to be with Oz), with Willow replying, “I am.” At the risk of sounding soppy, it’s one of the most beautiful moments in the series.
5×06 – Family
Plot: Tara’s family visit Sunnydale and threaten to take her home due to her “demonic” blood.
Why is it queer? Tara’s family threatening to take her away to “fix” her demonic side (even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with her), screams metaphor for gay conversion ‘therapy’. Buffy and the rest of the Scoobies stand up to her conservative relatives (including a pre-Oscar-nominee Amy Adams!) and make it clear they will fight to defend her; declaring that while the Maclays may be her blood kin, her friends are her real family – her chosen family. Our queer little hearts…
6×07 – Once More, with Feeling
Plot: A dancing demon compels Sunnydale to randomly break into song to express hidden truths.
Why is it queer? Once More, with Feeling is not only the queerest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s one of the queerest episodes in television history. It’s a musical, so there’s that. There’s also a dancing demon called ‘Sweet’, singing vampires and an erotic scene with Willow and Tara that shows (off-screen) the former performing cunnilingus on the latter as she sings, “You make me complete,” before it cuts off with, “You make me com-“. Watch this episode now. (The Mustard Man is also iconic.)
6×20 – Villains
Plot: After Tara is killed by Warren, Willow embraces her dinner Dark Phoenix.
Why is it queer? After several episodes of quitting magic – essentially becoming ‘sober’ – Willow relapses, becomes a master of the dark arts and embarks on a murderous rampage to seek revenge on Tara’s killer. She tears through Sunnydale and ultimately kills him in a very non-Buffy, Saw-esque manner: by flaying him alive. Ye, gross. To deal with her loss, Willow eventually becomes the Big Bad of season six, battles Buffy in an epic martial arts smackdown and tries to decimate all life on Earth. It was rare to see such positive queer representation during this era of television, let alone a queer female witch becoming the modern iteration of Dark Phoenix because her lover, also a queer female, dies. Ground – say it with us – breaking.
7×13 – The Killer In Me
Plot: After sharing a kiss with Kennedy, Willow transforms into Warren, the man she killed.
Why is it queer? This episode saw the beginning of Willow and Kennedy’s relationship, the second major queer romance of the series. After kissing the self-proclaimed leader of the potential slayers, Willow morphs into Warren, Tara’s killer, as a physical manifestation of her guilt and grief. For anyone who’s ever lost someone close, this episode hits hard.
7×16 – Storyteller
Plot: Gay icon Andrew shoots a hilarious video documentary called Buffy, Slayer of the Vampyrs.
Why is it queer? Andrew is the most flamboyant character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer history, and the whole episode revolves around him with a video camera. [Redacted] really dropped the ball when he failed to give Tom Lenk his own mockumentary-style spin-off series, didn’t he?
7×20 – Touched
Plot: Spike comforts Buffy after she’s kicked out of the house, while Faith and the potential slayers interrogate a Harbringer.
Why is it queer? Willow and Kennedy have sex, making history as the first ever lesbian sex scene broadcast on national television. It’s a shame it couldn’t be with Tara, because – no shade to Iyari Limon – Kennedy was an incredibly irritating individual. But it can’t be denied that this episode, and their relationship, was another landmark moment for queer representation.
All seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now available to stream in the UK on Disney Plus.