Terry Blas is an illustrator, comic and drag queen geek, and pop culture connoisseur.
A lot of gays have their diva. The one they look up to, aspire to be like. We devour everything they do, taking it all in, trying to absorb some of their power, strength and wit. For some it’s Cher. Baby gays I assume have Gaga or Ariana Grande. Me?
I have Buffy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the television series) premiered 20 years ago. She was a teenager chosen to protect the world from vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness in an apocalyptic, nightmare of a setting: High School.
Buffy imprinted on me in a way nothing else ever has. I was sixteen when it premiered (just like Buffy) and also going through a high school experience that could have been considered hell. I too had a big secret I couldn’t tell anyone. And while on the surface the show appeared to some as the story of a ditzy blonde girl who kicks vampire butt, it wasn’t really that at all. It’s title alone, while off-putting for some, told me: This show is Comedy, Horror and Action all at the same time. Buffy was smart. She was strong and funny. She was complicated and learned to value the importance of family and friends. Buffy operated in a world where she had many qualities that she eventually embraced, much like my favorite (most of the characters are my “favorite”) character, Willow.
I could make a list of the things Willow was. Intelligent. Witty. Jewish. Witch. Gay. I loved Willow and looked forward to her storylines more than most. You see, for a young, gay, nerdy, Mexican child growing up in Boise, Idaho, Buffy and Willow taught me I could embrace all of who I was and draw strength from it. My qualities didn’t have to conflict with one another and as Buffy and Willow grew to accept themselves, they helped me believe I could accept myself and that eventually others would too.
I was raised Mormon. I did one of those mission things. I cried when I left for my two year mission because it meant I would have to miss seasons five and six as they aired. The last episode I got to see was the season four episode New Moon Rising where Willow comes out to Buffy and Buffy accepts her. When I finished my mission I went straight to the store and purchased the box sets of the seasons I had missed. Clearly, THAT was my religion above all else.
The show also made me feel good. I knew that every week I’d likely laugh or be taken on an amazing ride. It’s humor and specific language style entertained me and made me forget my problems even for just a bit. That was major for me. It was therapy.
Over time, Tara became the character I related to most. I didn’t expect that at all. It came out of nowhere. I wasn’t shy. I didn’t stutter. But when the season five episode, Family, aired we met her conservative family who want her to hide her secret and not embrace a quality that she draws joy and strength from. Ultimately the Scooby gang tell Tara’s relatives who are trying to take her away, that she’s staying. That family are people who treat you like family. They love you no matter what and don’t impose their issues and opinions and beliefs on you. I watch this episode every year on my birthday. (It also features a young Amy Adams as Cousin Beth)
It’s hard for me to express just what the show has meant to me and how much it’s influenced me. I drew Buffy, Cordelia and Willow all the time. My stylistic choices and narrative writing style are heavily influenced by specific episodes. Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator, challenged himself while writing the show, never wanting to limit himself or the series. When told that his show was so great because of its witty dialogue, he wrote an episode considered by many the series’ best, Hush. In this episode creepy demons who look like the love children of Mr. Burns, some mimes and Gary Oldman’s Dracula, come to town and steal everyone’s voices in the middle of the night. More than half the episode nobody can speak turning Hush into an important lesson on language and communication and how sometimes when we shut up and listen to each other, we can start communicating.
It’s no surprise that Buffy is still relevant and going strong today. She’s a symbol. In 2017 we still have to have things like a march for women’s equality, equal pay, and a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body. It boggles my mind to the point of “Fire bad. Tree pretty.” At one of the recent protests I saw signs with quotes from the series finale, namely Buffy’s final speech to a group of women:
“From now on every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers. Every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
The last scene filmed for the series shows us one girl in a montage of young women awakening to their power. We see a young girl, poor, overweight, forgotten by everyone except her father who has just beaten her inside their trailer. He’s raised his fist to hit her again. She catches his fist in her hand and stands tall to face him. We know from the look on her face that this will never happen again. I cry every time I see it. I’m crying now as I write it. It’s a powerful image, likely the most appropriate one for a series that taught many people to respect women and value their opinions and ideas. Buffy’s Watcher, confused by her desire to attend college said:
“But you’re the Slayer!” reducing her to her “job.” He didn’t get it. His closed mind couldn’t comprehend why someone who was already one thing wouldn’t want to limit themselves. She replied with a quote that has always stuck with me. One that was likely written as a quick throwaway line but for me, illustrates perfectly what Buffy was all about. She said:
“Yeah, but I’m also a person.”