Sexuality and Punishment in the Buffyverse

I have a lot of work and writing to do about things that aren’t Buffy, so I made a choice. A choice to write about Buffy. I have been debating internally and with anyone who will listen for a while about whether or not Tara was killed off for being gay, and I have to say that I don’t think she was. Joss Whedon is not a homophobe, he’s just a heartbreaker. Of course it could be argued that Tara and Willow kissed and had sex shortly before her untimely death, but this is not a case of sexuality. It’s a case of attachment and character development, followed by an abrupt end. Because this is what Joss does. Conversely, we could look at the fact that everyone with a sexuality or a romantic attachment gets punished in some way in the Buffyverse, and that is what  I want to talk about. It’s been a while since I wrote a poorly researched essay based solely on my own opinions and fanaticism, so let’s just go right ahead.

In my opinion, the punishment of characters for possessing a sexuality or enjoying themselves is almost a feminist statement. Women and good men have their happiness taken away, whereas rapists and murderers get away with – well, rapes and murders. Mostly. This is often how it works, sadly, and Joss is telling us this. It is constantly frustrating to watch Xander treat women like dirt and still get them fawning after him, or to see Spike allowed redemption for his attempted rape of Buffy. The show ends with everyone alone, for their own individual reasons. This is how it has been throughout.

Case study one: Buffy and Angel. Perhaps the most literal example of sexuality and punishment is their relationship, which was doomed from the start. When Angel experiences one moment of true happiness, he loses his soul and goes on a murderous rampage. This of course means that when Buffy loses her virginity to him, he turns evil and tries to kill her and all of her friends. Buffy feels guilt and at fault for the entire situation, which affects her sexual relationships from then on. Her friends don’t say they blame her for the consequential murder of Jenny or the other events that ensue – but they never say that it isn’t her fault. Buffy loses her virginity and causes the murder of several people, including a friend. Having sex with someone who turns on you when you’re seventeen is tough enough, but when you bring stalking and murdering into the mix things get dark. Buffy herself is constantly taken advantage of, cheated on, messed about and abused. She is punished every time she gets dangerously close to possessing a sexuality or any romantic feelings.

I don’t want to talk about Giles too much, because it’s heartbreaking. He’s a good man and a father to Buffy, who deserves all of the healthy functioning sexual relationships in the world. But, this is the Buffyverse, and if he is going to possess a sexuality then he is going to be punished for it. When Giles and Jenny are on the brink of starting a relationship early in season two, Angel cruelly murders her in Giles’ house. Giles never has a relationship again, almost gets killed going after Angel, and everything is awful once again for Rupert.

Anya. Precious, beautiful Anya. She spent a thousand years torturing men for their infidelities and mistakes, only to become human and learn to trust one. Foolishly, she chose Xander. Xander who rejected and ignored Willow for years only to cheat with her on beautiful Cordelia. Xander who executed a love spell, who obsessed over Buffy, who was from day one a problematic and unlikable character. Oh, Anya. She fell for Xander, she accepted his proposal, was left at the altar. In her grief she slept with Spike because she felt a connection due to their similarities and demonness – which of course, Xander condemned her for. She never found love again, and then she died.

So we come to Willow and Tara. After Oz cheated on her and then killed the girl he slept with, she discovered a little happiness in another woman. It was tough to get their relationship on TV at all, and Joss had to lobby pretty hard to keep their first kiss in the episode. After they sleep together in the form of song, Tara is murdered by the most misogynistic shit in the entire series. This is the catalyst for Willow’s evil rampage which she needs to seek redemption for, and ultimately, everyone loses.

If I extended my survey to look to the rest of Joss’ work, we would see the evidence everywhere. Nobody can be happy or sexually active without having it taken away from them and burned into tiny pieces in front of their eyes. Nobody can have sex without being murdered or bringing about the end of the world. There is not one healthy relationship in the Buffyverse, which is why I don’t believe that Tara’s death was a punishment for being gay. It was a punishment for being happy, and at a stretch, for having a sexuality at all.


1 Comment

Filed under TV and Film

One response to “Sexuality and Punishment in the Buffyverse

  1. But, if I may, that’s how the real world works as well. We all have our happy little relationships (sexual and otherwise) and eventually one partner or the other dies and the survivor feels the pain (punishment?) of that loss. The difference is, with television, the attention span is shorter and these things happen with much greater rapidity, because…, “drama”.

    In the case of Giles, I would remind you that we actually do see him trying to cultivate a relationship during the ‘Hush’ episode. That relationship goes nowhere, true, but if he is being punished for anything at that point, it’s for being the equivalent a middle-aged single dad.

    Also, I’m not sure I think it’s fair to say Oz “murdered” anyone, as he was in his savage animal state when it happened, and defending Willow at the time.

    In any case, I think the ‘punishment’ trope, while certainly evident in the earlier seasons of the series, is perhaps not as heavily played as you suggest. As I said, in the end it happens to us all.

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