COMMENT: What Xena Did For The Gay Community?27th October 2015
It’s been 20 years since it started and 14 since it ended, but I can still hear the “Aalalalala” of the Warrior Princess Xena’s war cry, cementing herself into LGBT culture. And with talk of a reboot/re-imagining in the pipeline, Xena and her chakram are back in the public consciousness.
For anyone who has never seen it, Xena Warrior Princess is a fantastically kitsch, camp and raucous TV series that made a then 12-year-old me absolutely enthralled with it. Her sometimes-tragic adventures around the ancient world kept me watching for 6 seasons and to this day I will still have a Netflix binge-watch of all the seasons. She was unapologetically strong and unapologetically female, sexy and powerful, unafraid to get sweaty and dirty on the job, and all the more beautiful for it. And despite the few utterly terrible and pointless future based Xenaverse breaking episodes, I absolutely loved it. But why would a TV series that from the outside could potentially be terrible have such an impact on the gay community?
The relationship between Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle has always been a constant source of speculation for the fans, with thousands of fan fiction stories focusing on it. Even main star Lucy Lawless herself has said that she believes Xena and Gabrielle had a relationship even though it’s never said outright during the show.
But what about Xena appeals to the gay community, why would she make such an impression? I think it has to do with the themes of the show, togetherness, acceptance, strength and community. But like other fantasy TV shows with a strong female lead, gay men absolutely love the Warrior Princess. She is the very epitome of things gay men relate to, the need for courage, love and sheer bravery in a world that is against them with no need for a man to prove themselves. Xena made bold choices in characters, making one of Xena’s main nemeses, the flawed and very much damaged warrior Callisto, almost sympathetic with a legitimate gripe against Xena, and her past as a ruthless warlord. But even through the drama and heartache, one central theme resonated.
Love and sacrifice always won, and even Callisto was saved by Xena’s need for redemption of her past.
All the characters are flawed in their own way, and many of the fans could see a part of themselves in them. However, unlike some other female-empowerment shows, Xena eschewed overtly feminist messages (with occasional exceptions, such as a jab at beauty pageants when Xena went undercover as a contestant). Xena and Gabrielle fought a variety of mostly male baddies, but they were not fighting sexism or the patriarchy. Gender, in the Xenaverse, just wasn’t a big deal. No one questioned Xena’s ability to fight and command, or Gabrielle’s desire to be a warrior, because they were girls. Ironically, one of the few episodes that dealt explicitly with gender issues introduced a man-hating female outlaw just to teach her the lesson that it’s not women vs. men, it’s good people vs. bad.
In fact, plenty of the shows good people were men, its primary male regular, Xena and Gabrielle’s occasional tag-along, Joxer, was a comically bumbling warrior wannabe but also, in his own way, a true hero willing to risk his life for his friends. Meanwhile, the Amazons were not an idealized sisterhood but tribes with their own power struggles, conflicts and tyrannies. Women on Xena were simply human, no better or worse than men, feminism as it ought to be. It showed that everyone has their strengths and weakness and the gay audience appreciated that.
The annual Xena conventions used to bring thousands of fans together from all walks of life who could identify with the show. No one was judged, everyone just went for a good time, and even though the last convention took place this year, if the re-boot is made and takes off, there could be a new generation of LGBT fans treading the floors of convention centres around the world, screaming out a war cry or two.
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