What I owe to Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The seven season strong (except for those last two, sorry not sorry) seminal TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer began rocking our collective worlds twenty years ago on March 10th, 1997. If you are reading this, you probably watched an episode or two or binged all of them sixty times in a row. And then watched Angel. And then Firefly. Dollhouse? Uh… maybe? Couple episodes? Tudyk and Acker were great? Dichen Lachman, everyone loves you? Anyway, back to binging Buffy some more.
As shows go, Buffy had its impact. It turned the ditzy blonde girl horror victim trope into a monster-slaying chosen one narrative and reminded nerdy women they could get the boy, too (and then get the girl later, because, hi, gay now). A high school on the literal mouth of hell, boyfriends who went full stalker after only one night of sex, evil men in established power, depression as the most powerful villain of all… yup: Buffy was never much with the subtle.
So allow me to be equally without nuance for a moment: without Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I would probably be nothing like the person I am now. I wouldn’t want to know that person. They would probably be a stone bummer. In fact, they probably would be dead. Like I said: bummer.
Everyone has their Buffy story. This is mine.
I was a very messy person in the late ’90s: a self-involved, narcissistic textbook only-child who thought the world owed them something. My therapist literally diagnosed me as “an asshole,” so there you go.
In late 1998 I may have threatened an ex-girlfriend and spent a brief stint in the psych ward of Englewood Hospital, thus completely torpedoing my first year at university along with most of the rest of my life thus far. As backstories go, I’d tell Buffy fans I went full Warren minus the actual murder. Or robot girlfriend. I did not know how to manufacture robot significant others at the time. Anyway, in real life, magic isn’t real and sometimes the authorities stop you before you do the stupid, terrible thing. So that’s a nice difference between here and good ol’ Sunnydale.
Anyhoo, I spent the start of the new millennium at a bit of a crossroads. There was a very good chance at that point that I could have gone full reddit-obsessed, MRA douche canoe. I’m sure if anyone had been paying attention at the time, the assumption would have been that I was about to become a man wot goes his own way.
But instead, while the Gamestop employees I worked with droned on about wrestling, I finally started to embrace the fact that I just didn’t identify with hypermasculine culture. Like, at all. In fact, while they were mesermerized by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I started quietly consuming Sex and the City. Which… was a little out of my comfort zone at the time, to be honest. I was, after all, not a fabulous, single, wealthy white lady living in the big city. I was a dweeby closeted trans queer kid living in the ‘burbs, which felt a lot like living on the mouth of hell, actually.
Buffy was in my periphery. I’d see an episode here and there in reruns. And with my disconnect from people’s champions and Sarah Jessica Parker both, I found myself at a local Blockbuster one lonely night finally buying season one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer because I had nothing else going on tbh.
And a week later I bought season 2.
Then a few weeks later I bought everything else that was out on DVD by then.
Concurrently, I was at a new local university where my parents could keep their watchful eye on me in case I started dangerously showing my ass again. And in the basement of a building that would eventually build its own very low-rent black box theater, I met the friends who would get me through my twenties.
They were Buffy fans, each and every one.
It started small. When we weren’t staging our teeny tiny shows (we got a fraction of the Fine Arts Department’s budget for each production), we talked Buffy, we watched Buffy, we consumed everything Buffy had to offer: books, games, comics, chewing gum, action figures, and, of course, fanfic. Spander: get into it.
When I felt nervous about presenting as female early in my transition, my friends made me Willow’s insanely pink sweater from Dopplegangland. I wore it religiously, although mostly when no one was looking. When I had massive health problems years later forcing me to detransition, they helped me bleach my hair so I could look like Spike.
Being trans is hard. Fighting a losing battle with your health (and your family) while your body decides to become allergic to estrogen is nearly impossible. But Buffy got me through. My friends got me through. My friends became my family. My own little Scooby gang.
And in addition to all that touchy feely stuff, we also started writing about Buffy ourselves. For years we hosted these parties: we call them Buffyfests. We held polls to choose episodes, held trivia nights, made themed food and cocktails — we emailed about Buffyfest incessantly.
Then one day my friend, Tara, made a website for Buffyfest. She said she thought it would be fun if, instead of her, our other friend, Michelle, and I just emailing each other, we shared our email thoughts with the world instead. And so Buffyfest went from private party to public blog.
It wasn’t much at first, but eventually fans started to know who we were.
And then we started getting preview pages of Buffy and Angel comics as we got to know editors and writers.
And then we started going to conventions and doing interviews. We met Clare Kramer and Nicky Brendon. I sat at a table with Tony Head. It was a very, very big deal for me. His dimples are pure magic, in case there was any doubt.
Somewhere along the line, I got it into my head that writing about fandom was fun and, hey, wouldn’t it be sunshine and rainbows if I could do that for a living someday? So I pitched out to websites here and there, never hearing anything.
Then, in 2011, I got an email from Syfy Wire’s then editor, Scott Edelman. I’d written him some six months previous, never expecting he’d even give my work a glance. But, half a year later, he did. And I guess he liked what he saw well enough to ask if I’d start pitching to him.
In April of this, the year of our lord, 2017, I will celebrate six years of writing for Syfy. In those six years, I’ve made lots of new friends, had a chance to interview some of the most talented people in comics, film, and television, I even wrote a whopping two pages of IDW-approved Angel comic pages (I KNOW!), and uh… I’m married now? She’s a Buffy fan too. Quelle suprise.
Without Buffy, none of that ever would have happened. I never would have been honest with myself about my gender dysphoria and I certainly never would have made the friends I did to help me deal with all the trials of being a disabled queer person with a conservative family in an even more conservative America. Without Buffy, I would probably still be working in retail instead of living my dream of writing critically about the wacky sci-fi, fantasy, and horror media we all like to consume so much.
I don’t just owe Buffy a little — I owe it everything. Joss and Marti and Jane and Doug and Sarah and Alysson and Nicky and Tony and even Marsters (those cheekbones) and Boreanaz (that… forehead?) — they transformed me, helped burn away the wasteful aggression I’d been carrying around.
And Tara and Mikey and Michelle and Ivan and Ryan and Trish and Mariah and Brian and Pat and everyone who was ever even tangentially a part of my Buffyfest family — I owe them even more than I owe Buffy, the show.
Twenty years. Not too bad, Buffy. Not bad at all. Well, except for the sexual assault and the burying your gays and the bisexual erasure and the… you know nevermind. It was good. That’s what matters.
So here’s to the next rewatch. To the next Buffyfest. To every Buffy fan with their story of how Buffy made them better. And to the inevitable Buffy reboot where Buffy Summers better be a trans woman of color or a swear to every vengeance demon in every hellmouth even the one in Cleveland…