By the way, I love Xena!

As I was arranging my Netflix queue to start some Babylon 5 flowing my way, I realized that somewhere in the last few months I had stopped watching Xena. Needless to say, this has been remedied!

There are so many obvious things that are awesome about it that I feel a little silly listing them: woman as Hero, Sidekick, and Villain, with the only recurring male character as Comic Relief. The fact that the women can be feminine and strong, and have romances without ever being made stupid by them. And, y’know, it’s just a stupidly fun show.

But it’s also been really important for me for another reason: it’s the only bit of media that I’ve ever seen that was about a lesbian couple kicking ass. Always, stuff with lesbians in it is all about the homophobia and relationship drama and basically everything that I already deal with in my real life. If I want escapism, I have to get it from straight people. Or Xena!

Now, this is where everyone’s gonna go, “But they’re not gay!” to which I say, rubbish. It’s “only” subtext, but it is frequent, consistent subtext which is never quite contradicted by the text. Oh, sure, there are a bazillion romantic subplots with various guys, and even a couple marriages, but they never last more than a few episodes. Half the time there’s a good reason– the guy dies, for example– but the other half of the time, the girl in question just says, “It’s too bad we can’t stay here and be together, but I’ve gotta leave. Bye!” and then off she goes with her “best friend,” never to mention whoever-the-guy-was ever again.

The most notable example of this, I think, was when Xena and Gabrielle met up with Hercules and Iolaus, couple up in appropriate Hero/Hero and Sidekick/Sidekick pairs, defeat a bad guy together, and then…part because “they have to.” I’m sure the meta reason was that they were separate shows and they didn’t want to merge the two, but in the show-world’s logic, it was a perfect situation, since they could just rove the world righting wrongs as a foursome instead of a pair. The result was that it reinforced the idea that Xena/Gabrielle was the only right pairing and neither wanted anyone else to interfere with their relationship. (In my mind it did the same with Hercules and Iolaus but I’m not sure if they had the same subtext in their own show).

And then there was the kiss! I’m in the middle of Season 2, and a few episodes ago, Xena was dead (can’t remember why) and spoke to Gabrielle through Joxer, and at the end, they kiss. It only shows Gabrielle and Joxer kissing, but it is clearly Gabrielle and Xena. I loved that scene! I still remember, Gabrielle has to tell Joxer to take his hand off her butt, and the poor fellow looked so shocked and disappointed that Xena got to touch Gabrielle.

This sort of subtext matters to me, because even if it’s nothing but subtext (albeit subtext that the actors said they intentionally played up) it gives me room to imagine myself into the story. Even if I’m not “really” included in Xena, at least I’m not excluded, which is a nice enough change. I don’t think straight people realize just how much they talk about being straight in popular culture…but here’s a hint: it’s so much that for a show to leave room for interpretation is truly unusual and a breath of fresh air.

So, thanks, Xena! You rock!

(for more posts on Xena, look here!)

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16 Responses to By the way, I love Xena!

  1. the floacist says:

    I don’t think it’s possible that anyone loves Xena more than me, lol. Xena and Lucy Lawless ❀

  2. eloriane says:

    Haha, you may be right! I haven’t even finished watching yet. But it will always hold a special place in my heart.

  3. fremenalex says:

    There’s an episode where Xena repeats the same day over and over (Been there, Done that). Joxer tries to reason why and asks her if maybe something bit her. He asks her “Hey, what’s that mark on your neck?” “It’s nothing!!!” Xena replies, and Gabrielle looks away nervously and try to play it off. Genius!

  4. eloriane says:

    I think I remember that one. Brilliant!

    They also refer to each other as “best friends” all the time, which is how my girlfriend and I always had to introduce each other in good ol’ Kansas. (Sometimes it was “special friend” but only if we felt like insulting the intelligence of our audience because that one is a lot harder to pull off with a straight face.) They could actually be best friends– I have a real, no quote-marks best friend– but it’s still a phrase that never quite sounds innocent to me πŸ™‚

  5. fremenalex says:

    I’m so surprised, and relieved that Xena is still pretty popular after being off the air all this time. We are in desperate need of female heroes, and not just heroes reflecting their male counterparts.(Yup, Im talkin bout supergirl, batgirl, hawkgirl). And why do they have to be -girl, why not batwoman, superwoman? OK, gonna go watch some powerful girls now in X-men.
    Sorry and glad you’re from KS. I grew up there too. =]

  6. eloriane says:

    Oh, I loved Kansas, actually. It’s just that some crowds aren’t as safe as others. I grew up in Lawrence– where are you from?

    And yeah, I’m glad people still love Xena. I saw an episode at random as a kid but somehow I thought live-action meant adult-only so I didn’t watch it again (I had to satisfy my need for lesbians with Sailor Moon instead) so imagine my joy when I discovered that one of the boys in my dorm was a huge Xena fan! I rewatched the whole first two seasons with him and now I’m trying to keep up on my own.

    It’s disappointing, though, that there’s no equivalent female hero for kids today. Not heroine– those always seem to get kidnapped or naked (or both)– but a proper hero who happens to be female. Alas.

  7. fremenalex says:

    I grew up in Wichita. As much as I liked it there, I was very releaved to have left it.
    The first episode of Xena I saw was at my cousin’s house while she was gettin ready for her sweet sixteen party. I was hooked!! At first my whole family mocked me. But lo-and-behold, 2 years later for Xmas I got a Xena calendar from one cousin and the Xena playstation game a year from another.
    You’re right that there’s no female heroes out there for little girls to have as role models. I had He-Man and the Thundercats to look up to. Actually I prefered the villains but thats not my point. I guess with these Hana Montna disney clones they have nowadays, little girls don’t really need a kick-ass superchick to look up to. Very sad.

  8. eloriane says:

    I was too young (I guess?) for She-Ra, who I’ve heard is pretty awesome, but I had Sailor Moon, which turned out to be a great source of heroes for a young girl– lots of different women fighting, and then the one guy is only there to deliver pithy one-liners so the real lead can attack.

    There are good heroes in books, though, so all is not lost (unless you look at the statistics on how many people are reading)– don’t know if you know them, but Tamora Pierce and Patricia Wrede (and many more) have written quite a lot of books chock-full of female heroes.

    If only they had TV shows too…they’d be amazing.

  9. fremenalex says:

    My sister was into Saoilor Moon. I thought it was well drawn, i like anime so i found it passable when she made me watch it.

    Saoilor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, not because they were a couple, but they were the coolest.
    Sailor Moon was ok, only thing I didn’t like about her was she was strong and shit, but when that tuxedo guy came in the picture, she was mush. Come on, what message are you sending here?

    Gonna google Tamora Pierce and Patricia Wrede, thx for the heads up!

  10. eloriane says:

    Yeah, Sailor Moon herself was never my favourite. When I was young and angsty Saturn had a certain appeal, but as I became more confident in myself (and came out) Uranus became my favourite. Bonus: none of the other girls ever wanted to claim her! (Because, for some reason, preteen girls aren’t allowed to have the same favourites; each must be unique. I got stuck with George Harrison as my favourite Beatle because of this principle.)

    My favourite thing about Tamora Pierce is that she explicitly set out to write feminist books for girl πŸ™‚ They were a godsend in my rough teen years. Her writing’s a little young– aimed at girls in those rough teen years, natch– but a lot more re-readable than a lot of the stuff I liked back then.

  11. fremenalex says:

    Neptune and Uranus were my favs, Neptune was so classy, and Uranus so tough, even tougher than Mars and Jupiter put together!
    Young boys did the same about claiming the characters. Nobody wanted the villains, so I got stuck with them. At first I hated being the bad guy, but it was a lot funner! From Skeletor to Cobra Commander, it was hella fun! I even got a Mum-Ra sign as a toattoo. (Yeah a cartoon tattoo, hehe *blush*)

  12. […] (and this brings us back to the “great friendship”) just like in Xena, no matter how promising the relationship seems, the men are always gently turned down so Laura and […]

  13. […] and assume that the relationship is there. I’ve talked before about how this holds true for Xena, but I find that I do it a lot. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were pretty much official, in my […]

  14. […] I probably read the comic for at least a year until the first hint of possible lesbianism came up (I found the comic long after it had become well-established– I spent days going through the archives!). One of Penny’s friends, Sara, was really fond of the theory that Penny and Aggie fought all the time because they were secretly in love with each other. As soon as Sara suggested it, I knew it was impossible (because lesbians don’t show up in non-lesbian-themed media, and certainly not as the main characters!) but also secretly adopted it as my personal interpretation, since there was juuuust enough wiggle room to pretend (like with Xena and Gabrielle.) […]

  15. xena says:

    I grew up watching Xena..was about 7 when I watched it with my Dad. As much as I love Xena, I dare say that Xena might not have been a success if the series were to be released in today’s world. Looking at the kind of females we have on telle…in shows such as Gossip Girls, Desperate Housewives, even Legend of the Seeker..the women are well..”women”. Haha. No menace meant, but you get the drift..even female superheroes like Lara Croft and others dont even look like they can swing a sword or kick ass, but they do in the shows anyway. None of them can compare to Lucy Lawless as Xena. She was believable. Again, in today’s superhero cinema, the women gotta look like sex objects who are able to kick ass, although the former is more convincingly played than the later. Even young girls these days dont seem like they’d want a warrior princess idol, drop the warrior in the princess..that might work, or am I being to negative and skeptical? Haha. But I strongly believe today’s superhero females are not here to make statements, but are mere male/female fantasies. GEEZ..those were the days when a strong character’s possible! HAIL XENA. There might never be a hero like her ever! She made an oxymoron not an oxymoron.

    Anyway..Jennifer Garner in Elektra was convincing in my opinion. Her physique really suited the role. Now she looks like she can lift a sword AND swing it.

  16. laura says:

    I’m sorry I’m sooooo late for my commentary, but anyway…. I always loved Xena and Gabrielle. They were in love for sure (even Tapert, Lawless and O’Connor admited that lately),but you remember wrongly, Xena kissed Gabrielle in “The Quest”, possessing not Joxer’s body but Autolycus.

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