The Xena Reboot and Bisexual Erasure

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.

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12 responses to “The Xena Reboot and Bisexual Erasure

  1. I got to admit that as a kid I loved watching both Hercules and Xena. For a long time I felt embarrassed to admit that, but recently I’ve noticed that these shows still have a cult following. I’ve been thinking about returning back to them for nostalgia’s sake. Exciting news to hear about a new show, curious to see what they could do with it now. I’ve never come across the idea of Bisexual erasure before, but now that I think about it I don’t see bisexuality represented so frequently. I think it would have been interesting if they’d gone down this route instead. There are lots of different types of sexuality, many of which people aren’t even aware of and they wouldn’t know how to respond to it – you’d think it’d be obvious, but unfortunately it’s not. It takes time for understanding to develop, but at least the representation of other types of sexuality has become a more widely talked about topic. Keep putting those words out there. 🙂

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  2. I understand the disappointment, but my overriding emotion is one of excitement that we’ll have two strong female characters headlining the show. Don’t get me wrong, in shows like Arrow there are certainly great female roles, and a variety of them, but to have a kickass warrior in the lead – that’s just great. Still, I get what you’re saying about the missed opportunity.

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  3. Personally identity politics, especially in entertainment, put me off. I don’t care that the character is a women/bi/gay/transspecies/an alien. Focus should be on having *good* characters and story. I enjoyed Xena and Hercules because I like Greek mythology and the shows were entertaining, in a cheesy kind of way. Forging new inroads for X demographic doesn’t interest me, and I suspect plenty of other nerds feel the same way.

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    • Part of what draws us to good stories and characters, though, is their relationships. Relationships are a part of what make us human, and a huge part of what we look for in stories. And that includes friendships, familial relationships, adversarial relationships, good and bad relationships, and yes, romantic relationships. I’m not arguing that the romance needs to be the main focal point of the story, that would even make me bored with the reboot. But if they’re going to include it, I feel that this is something they should consider. And hopefully they will/are.

      My argument for including people’s identities in nerd culture is based on the fact that I feel a lot of people are drawn to nerd culture because they feel out of place in mainstream culture. Nerds need role models and heroes to look up to. I know that I did when I was growing up, and Xena was one of them because she was a badass. I think it’s beneficial to nerdom to include a wide variety of demographics because nerd culture is made up of a wide variety of people. There is no one size fits all nerd. Nerds are no longer limited to the stereotype of a white guy covered in pimples living in his parents’ basement. Just as there are people like you who get put off by this inclusion, there are people who have a hard time finding someone to relate to in their consumption of media. Including a wider variety of characters opens up deeper and richer stories for everyone to enjoy.

      But that’s just my take on it.

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  4. The producers haven’t confirmed anything though……….. Various entertainment sites were just reading way too much into the blog posts and fan Q&A’s on the upcoming showrunner’s tumblr blog. There is literally no clear source for this at all, all he alluded to is that they would transcend beyond subtext when it comes to Xena and Gabrielle. That’s all.

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    • True, considering they have only ordered a pilot there’s a chance that the show won’t even happen. But the fact that so much speculation is taking place around what he said and that they are all rushing to proclaim her a lesbian is a part of the issue I was addressing. Perhaps I should have made it clearer that this is obviously all conjecture, and there’s a chance (hopefully) that I could be proven wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Did you just read the headlines of the articles, or what?

    It’s the journalists making that assumption, that she’ll be a lesbian, not the showrunner. He hasn’t stated what her sexuality will be, beyond that she will be in a relationship with Gabrielle, and the show “will not be anywhere near as coy or bound by convention when it comes to her sexuality.”
    AKA that she won’t be straight, is all.

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    • I’m sorry, I should have continually said “rumor” and made it clearer that I was analyzing the speculation taking place around the reboot. The fact that the news is all interpreting the quote below to imply that she’s a lesbian is another example of bisexual erasure in our culture, which is a part of what I was commenting on.

      I am a very different person with a very different world view than my employer on the 100 – and my work on the 100 was to use my skills to bring that vision to life. Xena will be a very different show made for very different reasons. there is no reason to bring back Xena if it is not there for the purpose of fully exploring a relationship that could only be shown subtextually in first-run syndication in the 1990s. it will also express my view of the world – which is only further informed by what is happening right now – and is not too difficult to know what that is if you do some digging.

      This direct quote from the writer in a Q&A leaves rooms for interpretation, sure, but this is part of what I was basing my post on. Yes, I read more than headlines. Part of what we do here at the blog is speculate about things going on in fandoms, even when it’s speculation and conjecture, because sometimes that’s what we have to go on. Considering how often pilots don’t even get picked up after being made, the reboot may not even happen. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s currently in the news and inspired me to reflect on this issue in our culture.

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      • Okay, fine, but you didn’t phrase it in a way that stated it was a rumour, you phrased it in a way that stated it as fact.

        There’s a big difference between ‘people are speculating & making assumptions based on a producer’s comments” & outright stating, I quote, “The producers have revealed that in the reboot, Xena will be an out and proud lesbian”.

        One of which is a valid point of discussion, because there is absolutely something to be said about bisexual erasure in media, but the other one is just plain untrue, sorry.

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  6. I don’t know, I feel like they will overplay the lesbianism in Xena to compensate for all this ruckus that has been going on with lesbian characters getting killed. I don’t want a pity party show, I want a GOOD STORY, with WELL-WRITTEN CHARACTERS, and if they happen to be gay, then ALRIGHT, BONUSSSSS. I hope that is how this turns out to be.

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