Whoosh! Issue 43 - April 2000

THE DISCRIMINATION IN THE XENAVERSE:
NEWS AND VIEWS FROM THE GREAT DIVIDE

IAXS project #748
By Nancy Lorenz
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
4432 words



Introduction (01-04)
Xena: Lesbian Hero (05-09)
And Then It All Went Wrong... (10-15)
You Call Yourself a Xenite? (16)
Subtext (17-20)
Welcome to the Heart of Darkness, my Friends... (21-26)
When The Factions Meet... (27-36)
What's Going Wrong With Subtext? (37-42)
Discrimination (43-50)
Where Do We Go From Here? (51-54)
Notes (55)
Biography



The Discrimination in the XenaVerse:
News and Views from the Great Divide




Introduction

[01] As fan bases go, the Xenaverse would have to be the most unique and diverse without a doubt. Xena caters to a wide audience, from children, to adults, to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals. Xena has a quality of escapism and fantasy that appeals to people across the board and it is one of the many reasons why it is so integral to the popular culture of our time.

[02] This essay is written from the standpoint of an open-minded heterosexual woman. I have socialized with gay people, and I feel for their struggle in society. This does not make me an expert on the gay culture, merely someone who appreciative of their side of the coin. However, with all things taken into account, what we have in the Xenaverse is a real smudge on the great culture that is the gay community.

[03] In real life, my encounters with the Xenaverse have been joyous, accepting, diverse, and wonderful. It is one of the places I feel liberated, even though I am straight. Why bring real life into this? The answer is simple. Online life reflects off-line life very closely, and it is a wonderful microcosm of societal workings. It clearly shows the way humanity sorts out the natural order in their day to day dealings. The truth is that there is a lot of hostility towards Xena fans on the net that do not see lesbian subtext and not all of it is fair.

[04] I am not talking about the backlash towards right wing Christian Fundamentalists who rave on about lesbians being sick and perverted. I am talking about the quiet Xenites that wander into alt.tv.xena and say, "Wow, Xena's a great show. I dunno about them being lesbians though -- I just do not see it. But great show anyway," and then get the life blasted out of them for having that opinion. If they are not severely flamed, they are laughed at, called 'delusional' or fobbed off for being 'in denial'. It is not uncommon for them then to be treated like social lepers. Do not get me wrong, I have met glorious, wonderfully kind subtexters who I have been really honored to be able to talk to. Unfortunately for my ilk, that is a rare experience in the Xenaverse.


Xena: Lesbian Hero

[05] One of the first things that I had heard about Xena was that it was "full of lesbian stuff". Fresh out of high school and on my way to art school, I never really gave Xena a second thought. Why? At the time, it seemed like a really stupid show, lesbian subtext or no lesbian subtext.

[06] When I finally got hooked (through a Hercules TV-movie, ironically) it occurred to me how much fun this show was, and how it was not just about Xena showing off leg and armored cleavage. It was two women, close to each other, battling foes through thick and thin.

[07] I liked how close Xena and Gabrielle were. I thought it was sweet. I liked how Xena was tender, but also kicked *ss. She was sexy. She was tough. Her hair looked good. She taught the guys a thing or two. I liked her. I totally understood why the lesbians took her on as a hero. I did not understand the whole 'subtext' deal, but I figured it was one of those things, like Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies (TV, 1962-1971).

[08] Wandering onto the Internet, the nature of subtext was revealed to me. And you know what? I thought it was cool. If I said "I like Xena" to someone, and they said "What, the show with the lesbians?" my answer would be "Hahahaha, so what if they were, mate?"

[09] Those were the days. I was a part of the larger Xena online community. I talked about Xena, I liked her style. I did not really take much notice of subtext because I did not see it. I did not have to, it was optional. This was not to last. Though I entered the online Xenaverse too late for the larger and more memorable subtext debates on different online forums, I would stumble onto similar forays and my exile from the main Xenaverse arena would begin.


And Then It All Went Wrong...


You know what they say... small knife, small... never mind

Joxer reveals his shortcomings in CALLISTO.

[10] It all started with a bumbling wanna-be called Joxer. Yes, I am one of those.

[11] Here was this fellow with a silly hat, a larger than life swagger, and a grin five miles wide. He was stupid. He was silly. I fell in love. He was my hero.

[12] I saw RETURN OF CALLISTO (29/205) first, and to me, the unit was complete: The Warrioress, grand and noble; the Bard, thoughtful and intelligent; and the Bumbler, with a heart of gold. This spurred me on to search for Xena stuff on the net, and to my despair, quite a few people hated him. He had some ardent defenders and I joined their ranks. We felt those that despised him really did not see his full potential. Many of his defenders felt this way. This defending led to my first experience with 'angry subtexters'.

[13] I do not support the myth that all pro- subtext people are Joxer haters and all anti-subtexters are Joxer fans. Joxer fans are a wide and varied animal. I recommend Rebecca Littlehales' essay featured in Whoosh! on Joxer Fans as it is very thorough on this subject [Note 01]. I do not consider myself anti-subtext. I consider myself a Xena Fan that happens to like Joxer. I stand by the right of others to see into the show what they will. It is their right. But unfortunately, the issue of subtext seeps into another issue, gay rights.

[14] Along comes Joxer and with it, Joxer/Gabrielle romance. Not an active romance, but it has always been there, like the GJ [Gabrielle-Joxer] fans. From FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS (40/216) the GJ element was strong, and Joxer was seen as an immediate threat to the subtext in Xena. This is surprising for many reasons. Joxer quickly learned to pay respect to Xena and Gabrielle. It was acknowledged on screen that he understood how close Xena and Gabrielle were and never thought to come between that. The animosity still reigned however, between those that would have Xena and Gabrielle as lovers, and those that saw them as 'just friends'.

[15] It was not only on alt.tv.xena. The cold shoulder treatment was given wherever a non-subtext-seer went. Worse, they were treated as if they were not real fans of the show. Those who did not see the subtext were excluded from the Xenaverse and exiled in a supposedly free-thinking fandom.


You Call Yourself a Xenite?

[16] As an artist myself, I like to share, especially when it comes to fan art. Be it filksongs, poetry, fan fiction, or art itself. From day one I wanted to express myself in this way, and share it throughout the net, but alas, I smacked into many walls. Some were my own doing, but one large formidable one stood in my way, and would not let me through no matter what.


Subtext

[17] It was the stark and undeniable truth. I submitted my fan fiction, my art, and though it was put up, no one has made a big deal out of it. Not that I expect it to be, but it strikes me as odd seeing as the quality equals, if not betters, some of the Xenaverse greats. This is something that has been evident with dozens of artists and writers of a non-seer nature. I have read some truly fabulous general stories, but you know what? I had to really dig for them.

[18] To understand my view of the show, one must understand that it is not the fact that Gabrielle and Xena are both women that decided whether I liked them as a couple or not. It was just a matter of the dynamic not sitting right with me. I much preferred Lao Ma and Xena together than Xena and Gabrielle. It was not till I talked to someone at a recent Xena convention (Pasadena 2000) that it occurred to me why I did not like them together. Their relationship had always seemed too abusive to me. The way they started to treat each other through the arc and then the bonding afterwards seemed unreal and forced to me.

[19] Naturally, being a straight non-seer, I found myself seeing heterosexual tension in the show between male and female characters. It is something I have been damned for over and over again. Being a bit of a romantic at heart, I like to portray my heroines in the arms of favorite Xenaverse men. Ares and Joxer feature significantly as a result. However this tendency was also my own damnation in the Xenaverse.

[20] I have submitted my art to the same places other major online "Xenaverse Celebrities" have. I have worked as hard as they have. My writing is just as good as Melissa Good's, and my drawings and paintings as skilled as Lunar's. My comics are as well drawn as Jeanette Atwood's. So I ask the Xenaverse, "Why won't you accept me?" The answer comes back harsh and clear. "You aren't a subtexter."


Welcome to the Heart of Darkness, my Friends...


Smitten at the thought of her own houseplant

Gabirelle swoons in Joxer's arms in FOR HIM THE BELL TOLLS.

[21] Many great and talented people are forced to cut themselves off from the larger Xenaverse, but to extend on my point that non-seer Xenites are discriminated against I feel I have to point out that it is not just me. What does a non-seer go through on the larger World Wide Web, especially when their page might contain material hetero- romantic in nature?

[22] First off, a very common occurrence is mocking entries in guestbooks. Sometimes the entries are just downright abusive. Do not just take my word for it. Go to any Xena page hetero-romantic in nature (Like the Gabrielle Joxer Romantics' Society ) and peruse through the guestbook. Many angry posts are there, asking why on earth we would think Joxer and Gabrielle are good as a couple, and how we could deny Xena and Gabrielle their happiness. Fair enough, but if they read the page content they would learn why we think the way we do. The thing I want to know is why will they not let us think what we like, just like we let them think what they like?

[23] If a Gabrielle Joxer Romantic were to waltz into a subtext page and leave a stinky message, it would make us look very bad. Not only that but we would not want to. We have had that treatment enough without putting others through it.

[24] Non-seers simply cannot afford to be critical. Subtexters can say what they like, act how they like, be a little arrogant and get away with it because they are the 'louder' group, and on the Internet, the somewhat bigger demographic, though no one has actually gone and counted. Non-seers, GJRers in particular, have had to learn NOT to say their opinion, because hordes of fans with different views would sort them out quickly, tearing their words apart and ridiculing them piece by piece.

[25] So fans like myself keep to our corner -- mailing lists, pages devoted specifically to our views, forums created just for us -- because generally we are kept OUT of the other parts of the Xenaverse as a whole. No one is holding a gun to our heads when we decide to leave places like alt.tv.xena or the Netforum, but with the cruel treatment and harsh words, as well as being totally ignored or deliberately and quite vocally snubbed can we be blamed for leaving? What other choice do we have? It is painful to go to these places and see the way others are treated as well as being put to the treatment ourselves. Such places are hives for subtext fans, who wrap themselves up in the myth that Gabrielle and Xena ARE lovers. There is no other interpretation and that anyone else not seeing this are obviously not proper fans of the show.

[26] Here is the wake up call. You are not right. You are not wrong. It is just your opinion!


When The Factions Meet...

[27] Recently, as I mentioned, I attended a convention in Pasadena. On the whole, I had a fantastic time, meeting some very friendly fans of all sorts. I wore my Gabrielle/Joxer badge with pride, right next to my Ares/Xena one. A few people from the Gabrielle/Joxer Romantics Society (GJRS) list I am on turned up as well, and I handed out badges to them.

[28] I expected that in a place that was practically the real life incarnation of the Xenaverse, I might expect to run into some people who did not agree with my views. I had in mind the altercations I had had with people on the internet, I was hoping to avoid this at the convention and maybe enjoy some variety in my company.

[29] Behind where I was sitting with some friends were some subtexters, and we smiled and exchanged greetings. I did not run into any trouble, and the only time I exchanged a raised voice with one of them was when I was being truly obnoxious after the screening of LYRE LYRE, HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510) on the Saturday. I had persisted in crying out that Gabrielle was in love with Joxer with my best friend. As I said - we asked for it.

[30] That day we had given out badges to a young girl in our society, 14 and barely taller than 5' 3" (165 cm), a skinny little thing that was pretty inoffensive to look at. The only mistake she made that weekend was wearing a Joxer/Gabrielle badge.

[31] She was sitting amongst a large group of subtexters, and they constantly heckled and verbally abused her, even going so far as to turn her badge over. The comment was made to her "Hey honey, if you've got the sense of humor to wear that badge, you've got the sense of humor not to be annoyed when someone turns it over."

[32] Here we have a young girl being abused by older women, supposedly WISER women, behaving like 5 year olds at grade school.

[33] This is the most atrocious thing I had ever heard of. What really got me angry was that NONE of them approached me -- 5' 7" with a 4 foot sword done up as Xena, and four tall friends in tow. Nope, pick on the solitary kid with the GJ badge. Real brave.

[34] This sort of behavior is not uncommon, and it is seen everywhere in the major supposedly 'mainstream' mailing lists, chatrooms and forums.

[35] Take Palace Chat for example, the only place I can wear my Gabrielle/Joxer kissing avatars is at Joxer Nights. If I wear them to a regular chat, the room becomes empty very fast. When I first put it on, I will be greeted with a chorus of 'ewwwww's. Now, you may say "Aww, can't you take a joke?". What if I put on a Xena/Gabrielle avatar portraying the exact same circumstance, the two of them kissing? If anyone dared to say 'ew' they would be called homophobe and get heckled out of the place quicker than you can say "Joxer's pointy hat". Yet when a person puts on a GJ avatar -- heckle away! Make them feel really welcome! Show them how much you respect their views in the show!

[36] These are but two circumstances of what your regular Joxer fan will put up with on the Xenaverse just to be a part of it. Many have given up. I have seen them come and go. I stuck with it, and thankfully, the show has taken a quite unexpected turn that's been incredibly rewarding.


What's Going Wrong With Subtext?


Joxer, this isn't even cubic zirconium -- it's a block of salt

Wedding bells in MARRIED WITH FISHTICKS.

[37] Simple question. Complex answers.

[38] First off, lets compare two very similar camps in the Xenaverse. They are startlingly alike. Yet one striking difference sets them miles apart.

[39] They both love Gabrielle. They both want their respective hero to be with the beautiful bard. They misunderstand their opposing camp constantly, and as a result animosity breaks out. The lines of communication between the two are spotty, when in actual fact they should both be arm in arm. I am talking about none other than the Xena/Gabrielle Relationshippers and the Gabrielle/Joxer Romantics.

[40] It seems amazing to me that these two factions have such problems getting along. Especially when they are so similar on so many levels. The one thing that is different between them, and this statement will cause a few flame mails, is that the subtexters assume that they are right. Anyone else is wrong. The Gabrielle/Joxer Romantics and many other camps of this ilk quietly support their favorite part of the show, and do not assume that they are right at all. They just accept to see what they like in the show. Whilst they have been particularly quick to defend themselves, and ardently so, they are often vilified for such an action, and told, in so many words, to shut the hell up.

[41] A good example of this was the great "Gabrielle/Joxer Fan Fiction" Strip by Jeanette Atwood. Many people could not fathom why such a cartoon insulted us so much. We made our voices heard, and as a result the Subtexter camp rolled their collective eyes at us and called us 'rabid'. Rabid GJRs, no respect, no dignity. Though we did get an apology, of sorts.

[42] It really is a flaw in the subtext camp. I have seen this unerring conviction over and over that Gabrielle and Xena are lovers, and that anyone else seeing otherwise is deluded homophobic bigot with close-minded pretensions in action. I have also encountered subtexters that think otherwise, and have been very accepting on my views in the show. However I think there are some fans that do not even realize they are being discriminatory, and here is the crux of the whole issue!


Discrimination

[43] Those that may have been discriminated against in real life have turned the tables in the Xenaverse, and are dealing what they receive in real life. As I said, online life is but a microcosm of offline life. Is this society of cordoned off Xena fans, afraid to speak their mind on their favorite heroes, a reflection of the life we live in?

[44] Dare I say it? Yes. Majority rules in this society of ours. The most vocal, the most ardent and ferocious Xenites are subtexters, because in real life, lesbian and gay people are discriminated against, a minority in the bigger real life society we live in. I feel for them. I am sad for them, knowing how painful rejection can be. I have lived closely with people going through this and I have seen how needlessly nerve-racking the 'coming out' process can be. It is totally unnecessary, and the attitude towards gays and lesbians in our supposed 'enlightened' time is one of the most shameful things in our history.

[45] But you know what? It gets worse.

[46] You would think, having such a hard time being recognized in society, that perhaps those that support lesbians and lesbians alike would be open or accepting of those different to them. Heaven forbid they deal out to someone else what they have had themselves. Much to the disappointment of many, this is not the case.

[47] A worrying trend that has really struck me is how the subtext fans' behavior denotes 'ownership' of the show and its fandom. Fair enough. The subtexters have supported the show fairly well and helped gain important publicity, but it did not help Renaissance get the pilot for Xena past Universal. It was not there from the beginning and it initially was not written into the show. It was something perceived by fans, and taken to heart by said fans and made into a 'relationship', and worse, a symbol. Xena and Gabrielle are closer than words can say. Nobody can deny this. But the official truth is that they are not having sex on the show at this point. They are not lovers, but the option of perceiving them as that is deliberately left open to fans. That is the official line. You cannot deny that, nobody can.

[48] Yet say this to a subtexter and expect to be flamed, again and again and again. State anything about the Joxer/Gabrielle dynamic, an official dynamic written into the show and expect similar treatment. I do not know about you but this seems like a gross double standard, one that needs to be looked at seriously.

[49] Maybe the subtexters do not want to accept these views that seemingly oppose theirs. Maybe the argument in the other camp is pretty d*mn*d good and they are not willing to look at it in fear of their precious house of cards. Gabrielle/Joxer Romantics and the Non-seers, a separate camp with overlapping members, deal with the brunt of subtext rage every day.

[50] We do not know why, we do not know how, but we GJ Romantics are getting a bit of Gabrielle/Joxer sugar. It is now, after the slew of recent episodes, an official, undeniable, inarguable element of the show. Gabrielle may, or may not, feel towards Joxer in a way other than platonic emotions. It has been in scripts, it has been in episodes. Yet believe this openly in the larger Xenaverse, speak your mind and tell people how much you love Gabrielle and Joxer together like many a subtexter do, and prepare to be decried as deluded. Prepare to be told that you are in support of Gabrielle's rights being abused because of Joxer's apparent 'stalker' behavior (how can one stalk someone who WANTS you to be around?!), and that you do not at all honor Gabrielle's choice to not be in love with Joxer (even though it is still rather vague as to what she is feeling). Prepare to be forced to find smaller mailing lists to hang out in, and to cut yourself off from the larger Xenaverse because you cannot stand the constant abuse and off the cuff remarks that are offensive to you. That is what a lot of people -- including myself -- have to survive on the Xenaverse.


Where Do We Go From Here?


The old 'breath of life' trick works again!

Gabrielle pulls Joxer toward her while still in a dream state... or is she?

[51] What now? How do such different and opposing groups of fans get along? The way anyone gets along. It is not hard. The things that make life tolerable are common decency and respect. Many subtexters need to accept that there are other fans out there with different views of the show. Xena did not start out a 'lesbian orientated' show. Whilst the Powers That Be (TPTB) treasure their lesbian/subtext fans, those fans have to realize that TPTB treasure other fans just as much. Xena does not belong to the subtexters, it does not belong to anyone but Renaissance Pictures.

[52] People like myself have to realize that plenty of subtexters are nice people and do not have any problems with the straight or non-seer fans at all. It has taken me a while to see that, but the thing that encourages me is slowly, surely, is the change in tone I have noticed in many conversations I have had with subtexters of late. The GJRS even declared itself a sister page with the XGRS (Xena Gabrielle Romantics' Society). The Xena fandom is growing bigger and bigger and it is not just subtext fans with the loudest voices. People cannot afford to ignore others any longer, or they will miss the train of online Xenite traffic.

[53] When you are on the Official Xena NetForum, or on a Xena newsgroup, ask yourself these things before flaming the life out of another Xena-loving individual whose ideals differ from your own:

  1. Where are these people coming from with this argument?
  2. Why do I dislike this so much?
  3. What bothers me about their reasoning?
  4. What intelligent, calm and rational thing can I say in response to this argument?
  5. How would I feel if the situation were reversed?

[54] The Xenaverse can be a glorious and exciting place. Whilst the fans are in panic over the closing seasons, concern rising over what will happen, who will do what to whom, who will move on to what show, we need to remember that behind the screens and words are people. They put their heart into their stories, their posts, and their pictures. Perhaps people need to put their own hearts into the responses, and try to see the beauty in the diversity of others.


Notes

Note 01:
[55] "Debunking the Myth of the Joxerphile" by Rebecca Littlehales. Whoosh! #35 (August 1999)
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Biography

Nancy Lorenz Nancy Lorenz
I went to a seaside high school and took particular delight in studying music and art till 1996 when I graduated to the Claremont School of Art. I attended there for two years, majoring in painting, and was generally known as 'Xena' there for my very vocal love of the show. It was there I was able to take part in a charity supporting Gay & Lesbian artists, and better acquainted myself with the GLB community. I left CSA before finishing my degree to devote more time to my music, acting and my job as an html editor for the Western Australian Transport Department. I've now left that job, and I am now devoting myself completely to music whilst working as a book cover illustrator.
Favorite episode: LYRE LYRE HEARTS ON FIRE (100/510)
Favorite line: Xena: "Make it fast Gabrielle, I have a lot of single Greek losers to turn down."
First episode seen: CALLISTO (20/120)
Least favorite episode: KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410)

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