Author’s Note 3-25-16: This is my personal reaction to the speculation surrounding the news that a Xena pilot has been ordered for a reboot. Obviously the world of TV is ever-changing, and this is all very early conjecture.
It’s funny that this news came out last week because I’ve recently been trying to re-watch the original Xena these last few weeks on Netflix. So far it’s been slow going; I have to watch it in bits and pieces because otherwise I feel overwhelmed by the ’90s and nostalgia for my childhood. I felt conflicted at first when I heard the news about the Xena reboot, but probably not for the reason a lot of other people are.
The producers have revealed that in the reboot, Xena will be an out and proud lesbian. This is huge and wonderful news, because a key relationship that was only ever sub-textually hinted at in the original will now be a main focus of the reboot. For a mainstream network (rumors are saying the pilot is being put on by NBC) this is a huge leap forward. I’m happy, and definitely want to see what a 2016 Xena show could look like. Better graphics, better writing, there’s so many possibilities for improvement.
But I’m also a little disappointed. In re-watching the show, my honest opinion is that Xena is bisexual. I’m sure a lot of that comes from the fact that they had to show relationships with men to draw a more mainstream crowd in the ’90s, and they couldn’t do more than hint at a relationship with Gabrielle. The fact that they felt that they had to choose only between two options for the reboot, though, is part of a bigger problem with bisexual erasure in our culture.
Bisexual erasure (or bisexual invisibility) is the removal of a person’s bisexual identity once they are in a relationship with one sex or the other, and even in its more extreme forms the denial that bisexuality exists. This shows itself in many ways, from people asking “oh, are you gay/straight now?” when a bisexual enters a new, opposite relationship from their last, or even the frequent claims of “s/he is just experimenting” or “why doesn’t s/he just come out as gay already?” The common perception is that bisexuals are people who cannot make up their minds, are just experimenting, or are too afraid to come out as gay or lesbian. See this about how a Vogue article questioned Cara Delevingne’s sexuality as “just a phase” to see how prevalent this erasure can be in our culture.
In recent years, there has been an increase in portrayals of bisexuals, but they are not always handled as well as they could be. In many shows, the revelation that a character is bisexual is usually followed up by another character making one of the above statements. Or worse, it’s deemed “hot” or the character is shown to be promiscuous, unable to settle or “choose.” The most recent portrayal I saw that really stuck with me for how wonderfully it handled a character’s sexuality was Arrow, which showed Sara Lance having meaningful relationships with Oliver Queen and Nyssa Al Ghul. The revelation was not met with any negative reactions from any characters, everyone just accepted it and moved on.
I think I feel a little let down that the Xena reboot is a missed opportunity to have another positive portrayal of a strong, bisexual character. And while I do applaud the step forward they are taking in exploring the relationship she has with Gabrielle, I can’t help but feel a little less excited for the reboot. Obviously it is not up to me to decide what the writers should do, but the fan in me is lamenting their decision.
Hopefully though it will have better writing and graphics this time around, and then I think I’ll forget all about my disappointment! How about you, what do you think? Let me know in the comments.