When I first heard the announcement that Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 was introducing a gay male slayer in October in a story arc called “Billy the Vampire Slayer,” my gut reaction was skepticism. I was miffed, even. Kind of the way I felt when I first heard of male roller derby teams. Like, you have every other corner of the world, do you have to invade the female spaces, too? There are so few stories that focus on a well-crafted female protagonists, do we need to add a guy doing the same job? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized…
…I was being a horse’s ass.
“Billy the Vampire Slayer” will be written by Jane Espenson and Drew Greenberg, who worked together on Seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so already you know that the story will be in great hands. According to the anouncement in Out, Jane Espenson explains how a line from her web series, Husbands (which is also getting a comic from Dark Horse, incidentally), got her thinking about the possibilities in the Buffyverse.
[Cheeks] has a line in Season 1 of Husbands, that Brad [Bell] wrote, that really struck me about how Cheeks has an “exotic femininity” that’s equated with weakness. I thought, gee, all the work we’ve done with Buffy is about being female, and how that doesn’t mean that you are lesser. It suddenly struck me: If being feminine doesn’t mean that you’re lesser, then liking guys also doesn’t mean you’re lesser. For very good reason, we’ve focused on the female empowerment part of Buffy, but I wondered, did we leave something out? What if someone in high school is looking up to Buffy as a role model, and we’re saying: You can’t be a Slayer.
Therefore, Billy will be a teenager who looks up to the Slayers and tries to become a vampire-slaying hero in his own way. Don’t worry—he doesn’t get “called,” nor does he become a fully-powered Slayer. This is important for two reasons:
First, it allows that there is still something special about the women in that world. The power that comes with being a Slayer is still intrinsically female, so the female slayers still possess something that allows them to be strong in a way men can’t be.
But second, and more importantly, it allows a young, male character to have a female role model in a stereotypically male pursuit (ie: being a hero by fighting and killing things). It’s rare that you hear men and boys cite female heroes, and if you do, it sounds a bit odd. Think about it right now. What if your soccer-playing nephew/son/little brother ran up to you and said “I wanna be like Hope Solo!” Sure, the evolved, progressive part of your brain might say “There’s nothing wrong with that! She’s a great goalie,” but maybe, just maybe, there’s an initial gut reaction that asks “why does my nephew/son/little brother want to be like a woman?” Because even though our brains tell us that men and women are equal, our emotions (not to mention our societal programming) tell us that women are just a little bit less good than men at certain things. Especially physical things. So, while you’d love it if your little niece idolized Hope Solo, because playing “like a woman” is in her sphere, for your nephew to do it means he’s settling for less, because women are less good, and you couldn’t have that, could you?
However, while “Billy the Vampire Slayer” has the potential to be a powerful story arc, I’m almost sorry that they’ve made him a gay, male vampire slayer. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the parallels. Gay Male Slayers : Vampires :: The “It Gets Better” Movement : Bullies. Also, women and gay men are similarly oppressed. I get it. Though it might be a bit on-the-nose, that can still be a moving, important story, and I’m all for more gay characters in comics in general.
But if the big point of this story arc is, as Greenberg says in the Out piece, to tell “a story about a boy who’s always felt more comfortable identifying with what society tells him is more of a feminine role,” then it might have been a more powerful choice to have a straight teenage boy have female heroes and want to be like them. My concern is that also making the character gay is one layer too many, because it makes the fact that he looks up to women palatable, and therefore, easily dismissible.
Gay men having female best friends and heroes isn’t shocking or poignant. What would have been shocking and poignant is a straight teenage boy who looks up to the Slayers without sexualizing them; without having a crush on them. A straight teenage boy who sees the Slayers as shining examples of what he wants to be, but perhaps feels like he can’t admit it, because his friends might think he’s gay *gasp* and what does that mean? With a straight male character, the idea of female heroes would’ve been something to be wrestled with in a way that isn’t often done, forcing the character not only to stand up to vampires, but to his own male privilege. Or, they could’ve really gone crazy with an examination of gender roles by making Billy a transgender character, shock of shocks. Now, I fear that this story will be like every other anti-bullying story and that that will be the focus, rather than the story being the examination of the strengths of femininity that Espenson wants it to be.
Still, I’m looking forward to this story arc when it debuts in October, and I’m grateful that the Buffyverse continues to push the envelope in ways that mainstream culture is too afraid to.
“Billy the Vampire Slayer” begins October 10th with issue #14 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 from Dark Horse Comics.
Teresa Jusino wants to be a little boy’s hero one day. Her Feminist Brown Person take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, PopMatters.com, and she’s recently joined Al Día, the #1 Spanish-language newspaper in Philadelphia, as a pop culture columnist. 2012 will see Teresa’s work in two upcoming non-fiction anthologies, and she is also a writer/producer on Miley Yamamoto’s upcoming sci-fi web series, RETCON, which is set to debut in 2013. For more on her writing, get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.