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V.E. Schwab wishes Buffy the Vampire Slayer had more diverse queer representation

Bestselling fantasy author V.E. Schwab talks why it’s so important to have a wide variety of queer characters in pop culture

Tara and Willow holding a candle
Image credit: 20th Century Fox

When bestselling fantasy author V.E. Schwab gets interviewed, the topic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer often comes up. “Buffy is a seminal work for me,” Schwab told me in an interview at NYCC, where she was promoting her new book The Fragile Threads of Power. “Buffy informs everything, weirdly both Buffy and Supernatural. I was 12 or 13 when Buffy started.”

But looking back, that influence was not entirely positive. “When I look at Buffy, I sometimes wonder, if I had had more than two options, if I had had more than Willow and Tara, if I had more than the traumatized villain or the dead girl, would I have figured out I was gay sooner?”

Whereas anime, which Schwab was also a huge fan of, offered a “lot of gender bending and fluidity early on; it provided bigger spaces, bigger models to fit yourself within,” American TV shows like Buffy were considered groundbreaking if they had even a single queer character. And, Schwab explains, that meant that young lesbians didn’t have many kinds of queer to try on for themselves. Watching Buffy, she said, “I thought, Oh, I can’t be gay, because I don’t look like that or that, I don’t feel like that or that.” Willow and Tara “were both hyper fem, they were both very girly, and I didn’t feel that way. So I was like, well, I must not be gay then, because I don’t look or feel like either part of this dynamic.”

More broadly, Schwab says, for a long time the models for lesbians were “lipstick or butch.” And neither fit her: “I was like, well, I’m not either one of those, so where does that leave me? For 26 years of life I thought I’m just doing straight wrong. I would try to be with guys and I would just be like, Oh, it must be me that’s wrong, instead of not seeing enough mirrors in my society saying here’s all the things that could be you.”

Having been through that experience, Schwab very much understands her work as a writer as avoiding those same pitfalls, instead providing a range of visions of queerdom and human life, opening up space in people’s imaginations with which they can find themselves. “I think as a writer we try to create more mirrors and more doorways so that people will see themselves.”

“The more varied depictions we get,” says Schwab, “the more people are going to be actually be able to see themselves in those parts, instead of feeling negated by them.”

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Jim McDermott avatar

Jim McDermott

Contributing writer

Jim is a magazine and screenwriter based in New York. He loves the work of Stephen Sondheim and cannot take a decent selfie.