by Kat Dunn
The first time I came out, I turned to a friend and said ‘I think I’m kinda gay.’
This is an exact quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Willow realises her feelings for fellow witch Tara.
It was the only language I had for saying this thing. This unsure, fledgeling thing I had hardly begin to examine – but Buffy had given me words to try out. And in a place: Willow’s sexuality is only one strand of something much bigger, her role as friend, witch, student, computer genius, fully rounded inside a complex, vividly imagined fantasy world. It let me feel that trying out this word wouldn’t delete the rest of my life and replace it with this identity, this didn’t have to be the thing my world revolved around. It was one part of me, and a vast, brilliant, world lay still open ahead.
Of course a season or two later, Tara is dead and willow has gone full evil leather murder lesbian.
As i type it now, evil leather murder lesbian sounds increadibly like a brand I want to get in on. But here’s the thing: when that story line happened, that was the only lesbian brand to get in on. Lesbians were dead (Tara) or evil (Willow) in poorly concealed male sex fantasies. See also: sexy undead lesbian vampires. (Another brand I want to get in on, give me time).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche gave a TED talk on The Danger of a Single Story that so brilliantly articulates the problem: if representation of any identity outside of a straight, white, cis experience gets collapsed down into one character, one book, then the weight of meaning it has to carry is more than anything can bear. In a world with hundreds of wildy varied queer stories, then one evil leather murder lesbian is just a piece of fun. In a world where we piece ourselves together from scraps in the margins – one background queer kiss in The Rise of Skywalker or a passing line in Avenger: Endgame – those handful of stories all ending up with death or evil? Then that becomes a door closing, quietly ushering us out. This is not for you. You are not wanted here.
It leaves us poorer to exclude certain writers or certain stories. Frankly, as a reader, it’s boring to read the same straight-white-cis story over and over again. The world is not half so narrow as our bookshelves make it out to be. How many times have I read Cinderella? But have I ever read it like Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead? How many fantasy novels are there about court politics? But like Helen Corcoran’s Queen of Coin and Whispers?
There is unending value in stories about the queer experience, about coming out or discovering your identity. But there is also so much value in stories that are just incidentally, casually queer. To see ourselves in space, fighting dragons, assassinating kings. Where we are allowed to just be without dissection or justification, where worlds are large and imagination boundless.
Perhaps without Buffy I would have found other words to understand myself. But with it, I found not only an identity, but an invitation to imagine my story as so much bigger than it.
A door was opened, and I leapt through.
Dangerous remedy is published by Head of Zeus on 6th August 2020 (Hardback)
Any thoughts or opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.