Whoosh! Issue 53 - February 2001

ARE XENA & GABRIELLE TOGETHER?
AN ISSUE BIGGER THAN TWO CHARACTERS

By Anna Dooland
Content copyright ©2001 held by author
Whoosh! Edition copyright ©2001 held by Whoosh!
1800 words



It Does Matter (01-03)
What It Is Really About (04-07)
Refutations (08-10)
Conclusion (11)
Bibliography
Biography



Are Xena & Gabrielle Together?
An Issue Bigger Than Two Characters




It Does Matter



Indigestion and other unpleasantries follow Gabrielle's bean recipe

Xena and Gabrielle, watching the stars together.


[1] An experience I had today prompted a rather in depth consideration of just why the romantic connection between Xena and Gabrielle is so personally important to me. The scriptwriters, the crew, and the actors seem entrenched in their policy of "neither confirm nor deny" [Note 01] in an effort to keep ratings high and the audience broad. What concerns me is that those who would protest if Xena and Gabrielle became a queer couple are having their ideas nurtured and treasured. People with homophobic agendas are being rewarded for complaining about Xena and Gabrielle being together. On top of that, many XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (XWP) fans are telling me that it does not matter whether or not they are a couple.

[2] I initially began watching XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS because of THE QUEST (37/213). I recall having seen earlier episodes but not really paying attention to them. I saw the ad for THE QUEST where Xena was leaning in towards Gabrielle in the spiritual planes, and my first thought was, "Wow! Finally a show that has lesbians!" Of course, I sat poised in front of my VCR the night THE QUEST aired. I was only mildly disappointed that the XWP folks managed to sidestep a backlash by inserting a heterosexual smooch justifying Xena's affections for Gabrielle. I thought, at the time, that this would just be a once off. Surely they weren't going to tease subtext fans with episodes like THE QUEST and A DAY IN THE LIFE (40/216) by waving the meat underneath our noses but never letting us get to the bone. Apparently, that is exactly what they intended to do.

[3] Of course, I would be able to appreciate the subtext on its own if the only reason it was being kept "sub"text was because it did not fit the plot of the program. However, that is not the case. As said by many of the XWP folks, the reason subtext remains just that is because they do not want to alienate their heterocentric audience. This must be examined in detail if we are to understand the implications of what this single generic intention can mean to every person watching XENA everywhere.


What It Is Really About

[4] Let us start at the very beginning of the complex issue by discussing what this is not about: ratings and viewer-numbers. Everyone is discussing and worrying about ratings because good ratings bring more funds and justify the long hours and hard work the XWP folks put into their program. I am told, every time I introduce the idea of Xena and Gabrielle "coming out", that it will never happen because the producers are worried about ratings. Let us not forget that the highest rated episodes were those that contained the queerest content, such as THE QUEST, which rewarded the XWP folks with a massive 7.7 share. [Note 02] Season 5, infamous for becoming almost completely subtext-free, was the lowest rated season in the history of XWP. Any television station concerned that airing a show with queer subtext will affect the number of people who choose to switch stations has nothing to fear. Queer subtext has been shown to attract viewers rather than alienate them.

[5] Consequently, the problem is not anything concrete such as the number of viewers and the amount of money they get from advertisers. The real problem is the terrible homophobia still apparent in society. The only reason advertisers would take their money from a program would be because they do not want to be associated with a queer audience, not because of the number of people watching. There is a remarkably negative "tolerant" attitude surrounding queer relationships of any kind in society. That tolerance is only given to queers and relationships if they are kept a secret and not talked about. Alternatively, if it is talked about, it is trivialized for the entertainment of heterosexuals. What this is inherently about is the homophobic attitude in society that is so deeply entrenched into our belief structure and our everyday lives that we cannot even recognize it anymore.

[6] For a long time, I could not figure out why I was so upset about the actors of XWP refusing to comment about the romantic inclinations of Xena and Gabrielle. It was more than just an itch to know the truth. There was something deeper, another layer. I have finally managed to figure out what it was. It was that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS was trying to appeal to the homophobes out there, just like every other show produced. As of today, there is no show out there made specifically to cater to a queer audience. Of course, there are a few token queers in a number of shows, but their presence is purely for heterosexual entertainment and not intended to raise queer issues. As Liz Friedman, a producer of XWP pointed out, we are a "representationally starved queer audience." [Note 03]

[7] Yet, no one is game enough to break that barrier and produce a queer show intended for prime time. XWP has the ability to do that. They have the ability to break new ground, to not only redefine women in television but to redefine queer relationships on television. The coin is there, but they just will not pick it up. This occurs because of the ingrained idea we have that it is okay to sideline queers for the heterocentric viewer. Furthermore, it is okay to never quite address the subtext issue with an answer because it might, heaven forbid, challenge the archaic beliefs of the intolerant members of the audience.


Refutations

[8] People tell me I am selfish when I comment that I want the Xena and Gabrielle relationship as a romantic couple to be confirmed. I am selfish because I am not thinking of the heterocentric and homophobic members of the audience who will be upset by the ideas of their heroes being romantically in love with each other. I am selfish because I have a small hope that for once lesbians will be represented on the box. The people who tell me this never think to consider their own motives, or to ask themselves whether my motives really are selfish. What the queers and queer fans of XWP want is one show, one show out of however many thousands that does not have a queer couple in it purely for the entertainment of the straight audience, and one show where a sexuality other than heterosexuality is normalized. Queers want representation in a medium in which there has previously been very little. Anyone who says this is a selfish request wants to continue to hoard the heterosexual-addressing angle of XWP and stop queers from ever really getting any grip on it.



And we're cuter, too!

Willow and Tara have openly declared the nature of their relationship.


[9] Another argument I get from those who would toss XWP to the heterosexuals is that there are other shows that deal with homosexuality, such as WILL AND GRACE (TV, 1998- ), and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (TV, 1997- ). This is a puny argument when you give yourself a broader view. I have no idea as to the number of shows that are being aired internationally at the moment. However, there must be thousands. Keeping that in mind, you can literally count the number of shows that have on-going queer characters. The rest of the non-queer characters are confirmed heterosexuals. The queer characters are never ever central, or, if they are, they are never shown to have happy lives and fulfilling relationships. I do appreciate that Willow and Tara are together, although, like Xena and Gabrielle, they can never admit it outright. However, using them as an argument as to why Xena and Gabrielle do not need to come out is problematic. This argument suggests that because there is one moderately confirmed lesbian couple on television, there does not need to be another. Are these people suggesting we are being represented on television when there are a scant few queer couples who cannot and do not ever declare that they are together?

[10] It is very easy to dismiss my argument as coming from a bitter, under-represented queer. It is very easy to continue surfing and never have to read these words ever again. However, it is not that easy for queers. I cannot find a single program on television this week that has a queer couple in it. If a heterocentric person does not like a show with queer characters, all they need to do is switch channels, and I can almost promise there will not be a similar show on the next channel they turn to.


Conclusion

[11] For you, it might just be a matter of Xena and Gabrielle. For me, it is about the whole question of queer representation in television. That is why I get so upset when people tell me it does not matter whether Xena and Gabrielle are romantically in love with each other. It matters so much more to me than just Xena and Gabrielle. It would be a television show finally recognizing that queer people exist and that we are worth their risks, time, and effort. It would be a television show recognizing I exist, and finally listening to me, telling me that I matter.


Notes

Note 01
Lucy Lawless, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, January 30th, 1996.
Return to article

Note 02
WHOOSH! XWP ratings 1995-2000
Return to article

Note 03
Liz Friedman, "One in Ten", BOSTON GLBT radio show, October 1996.
Return to article


Bibliography

"Xenaphilia", ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, Mike Flaherty, March 7th 1997.




Biography

Anna Dooland Anna Dooland

Born and bred in Australia, I gets my kicks out of theatre and my cash mostly from working for SALMAT. I have been acting and dancing since I was three. I love singing and perform in musicals whenever I can. A very recent addition to radio and television, I hope to continue contributing to both. I've had the opportunity to do some stageplay writing and directing in there, which was by far the most fun, if the most stressful, of the lot. When I am lucky, I also manage to slot some queer activism and studying for a Linguistics degree somewhere into that schedule.

Favorite episodes: THE BITTER SUITE (58/312), A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215)
Favorite line: Xena: "I'm worried we'll get there and the fish will be ARMED." FINS, FEMMES AND GEMS (64/318).
First episode seen: THE QUEST (37/213)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515), ULYSSES 43/219), FORGIVEN (60/314)

Return to Top Return to Index