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Television: How Xena Became a Lesbian Icon

Xena

Xena: Warrior Princess showed 90’s kids that girls could kick ass just like boys. An alternative reading implies they could do much more than that besides. 

If you were to design a feminist superhero, you could do a lot worse than just copying Xena. Righteous, strong and ready to kick a pervert right in his Ancient Greek face if the shit hits the fan, Xena is a total badass and rightly loved for it. But parts of the lesbian community have long idolised Xena: Warrior Princess for more than just its strong female lead.

An alternative reading of the show reveals an enduring romantic relationship between the warrior princess and her ever-faithful sidekick, Gabrielle. The pair displayed many of the traits we aspire for in our own interactions. There was trust, an offsetting of the other’s faults, a shared reliance on one another, genuine affection. A couple of sly kisses. You’ll notice these aren’t necessary for some sapphic gimmick to boost ratings.

For Beena Jackson, a bisexual journalism student and certified ’90s kid, the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was notable not for any overt physical interactions, but for its depth and honesty.

“The closeness of the friendships Xena forms with Gabrielle and other female characters is real and intimate. It was one of the few things I watched that portrayed that kind of intimacy, love and trust in a relationship with two women,” she says. “That was kind of rare growing up. A lot of shows I watched positioned female friendships as competitive, toxic or centred around bitching about dudes.”

But Xena broke tropes over her knee like the spine of a Grecian bandit. The role of the hero is fundamentally empowering, and as Xena, Lawless was unconstrained by standards of ‘ladylike’ behavior, confined to a dragon-guarded tower or married to a despot. Apparently the laws of gravity held little sway over Xena, too.

“I think a big thing for me was that while Xena was certainly gorgeous, she was free to pose outside of feminine poses, and make hilarious facial expressions and stuff,” she says. “Also she could be openly threatening and have it work for her. You don’t see many threatening women that aren’t positioned as a villain, especially growing up and watching 90’s TV.”

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You don’t have to go far past the Tumblr homepage to find people who’ve come to the same conclusions, however many of them prefer their Xena and Gabby a little more overt. GayXena collates screengrabs of the more intimate moments between Xena and Gabrielle. So does FuckYeahXenaGabrielle. And FuckYeaXenaSubtext does as well. XenaIsBisexual has a slightly different take on the whole thing. Elsewhere, a thriving community of altfic (alternative-fiction) writers have also taken the relationship to new levels – ‘Xena discovers three naked copies of Gabrielle, and pleasant havoc ensues,’ reads one synopsis.

However it appears the final adventures of the warrior princess will play out in a exulted arena than the depths of a fanfiction site in the backwaters of the internet. An NBC reboot is tentatively set for 2016 and though it’s uncertain whether Lawless will return in a featuring role, she has expressed hopes that any reboot would stay faithful to the original show and characters. Whether that includes a lesbian subtext is unclear. Jackson hopes it is at least honored, if not written directly into the script.

“The queer audience for Xena is massive, and deserves lots of love,” she says. “And if they don’t have a hopeless male character who can’t fight to save himself, I’m not watching.”


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