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Entertainment, Opinion

Willow Rosenberg is a lesbian – let’s not retcon that

The series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) had a huge influence on pop culture, birthing a spin-off (Angel), comics, and a possible reboot (or revival) series.

The show will always be relevant, and so will its depiction one of television’s first lesbian relationships: Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson). 

Some still argue about Willow being a lesbian, and even creator Joss Whedon has commented about making her bisexual if he could go back. 

One could ask why it matters or why her sexuality is in question in the first place, but the reasons are important to address.

The show didn’t start with Willow as a lesbian: she was attracted to her childhood best friend, Xander (Nicholas Brendon). 

Seasons 1–3 were a bit of a mess for Willow in terms of relationships and feelings.

Willow was desperate for Xander, who wanted Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), then she had a relationship with werewolf musician Oz (Seth Green). 

In season 4, which took place in college, Willow moved away from her high school image. 

She went from a mousy, insecure, inexperienced girl to a young woman who was coming to know her powers as a witch. 

Her relationship with Oz was sailing smoothly, she was growing in her craft, and college was an easier transition for her than Buffy. 

When her relationship with Oz fell apart because of his cheating on her with a seductive werewolf named Veruca, Oz decided to break up with Willow and leave town.

Willow’s heartbreak over Oz and her first relationship was visible. 

It was a serious loss that she couldn’t shake easily, until she met fellow witch Tara and a connection blossomed. 

Their chemistry oozed out of the screen, but during the early 2000s, depicting queer relationships wasn’t easy. 

Having LGBTQ characters on a show was one thing, but showing them being intimate with someone of the same gender was another. 

Whedon had to grapple with restrictions and pressures to not make Willow bisexual, to avoid the biphobia that would have likely occurred, and their eventual first kiss wasn’t easily done. 

Willow fully let go of Oz when he returned in season 4 episode 19 (‘New Moon Rising’), realising her identity as a lesbian and beginning a beautiful yet ultimately tragic relationship with Tara. 

Aside from the tragedies in later seasons, Willow’s love for Tara couldn’t be questioned.

While they didn’t have a happy ending (due to Tara being killed in season 6), their relationship still helped bring about change in terms of WLW representation. 

While their being conventionally attractive white women is relevant, the impact remains. 

Unfortunately, people still engage in discourse about Willow not really being a lesbian. 

It always comes back to the fact that she dated a man before Tara and so must be bisexual. 

This is problematic because it relies on the idea that lesbians can’t date men before realising their identity. 

While bi erasure is very real, so is compulsory heteronormativity – Willow was always assumed straight, yet she never outright said so.

The same goes for other characters in the Buffyverse, but that’s another conversation. 

Ultimately, retconning Willow’s identity doesn’t serve anybody. Her love for women is something that queer women as a whole can celebrate and appreciate.

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