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.

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Various episodes within the Xena canon showed gay characters in a positive light and how everyone should accept and love them, even resulting in a musical number in the episode Lyre, Lyre, hearts on Fire for Joxer’s gay brother Jace, but dedicated to the shows gay fans. And while gay men adore the ass kicking, leather clad anti-heroine, it was our lesbian sisters who took Xena into their hearts. They related to the strong connection between the two friends and Xena was one of the first major TV characters that had a possible lesbian sub-text and the devotion Xena and Gabrielle showed one another was never in doubt.
These were two women who loved each other fiercely, and for a generation of lesbian and bisexual women, that meant everything. But even to gay men, the relationship between the two women resonated with them, simply because it was such a wonderful example of solidarity, trust and overcoming all odds to remain close to one another. But while the show had the serious themes, the fact it didn’t take itself too seriously and could whip out a musical episode or two, along with a drag queen winning a beauty contest and many other humorous moments kept the gay audience entranced.
One could say that Xena’s sexual ambiguity adds to her larger-than-life quality. She is beyond labels, all things to all people. And yet it’s a pity that so much of the buzz generated by a show about a mythic female hero has ended up focusing on who she’s sleeping with. As openly gay Xena producer Liz Friedman once said in an interview, the show was “not about the romantic foibles of Xena and Gabrielle,” it was about redemption and friendship.
Xena came at the right time to bring fans together. The Internet was out of its infancy and people flocked to the Xena message boards to talk about the show. But like everything on the Internet these days, the show divided fans almost from the word go.
Some fans praising the idea of a possible lesbian relationship between the two main characters, while others thought it overshadowed the rest of the themes of the show. My own personal opinion is that at the beginning of the show the characters weren’t gay, but actually were close friends who had formed a strong bond, but unfortunately towards the end, especially the 6th season the lesbian sub-text became too apparent and took the edge off the show. The fans stayed true though, and it still spawned numerous spin-off media and in 2011 The Xena Movie Campaign was launched on Facebook that encouraged the fans to mass tweet and write to NBC and may well have influenced them to consider rebooting the series.

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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