JUNE 11, 2019
This piece appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal: The Occult, No. 22
Have you seen Buffy? Her mom’s name is Joyce Summers. She’s kind of a fringe character for most of the series. That’s part of what feels exciting about the show — the main characters, still in high school when the series begins, seem somewhat free to navigate the world on their own terms. There are teachers and principals, but mostly there is fighting evil and learning how to
be a person.
Joyce is usually portrayed as terminally clueless. To be fair, most of the populace seems equally clueless and possessed of an almost infinite capacity to rationalize or forget
again and again
having their loved ones dragged to a screaming death or seeing them return, but evil.
Finally (and here I am making assumptions about Buffy’s writers), Joyce’s cluelessness
becomes too ridiculous, even for a show that walks the line between gravitas and farce, or perhaps it was that the writers of a show targeted at young adults starring young adults wanted
like coming out to your parents.
Except that — and this is what interests me as a trans woman — the series already depicts the coming of age/coming out story of a lesbian. So, why the need to have two coming out stories,
that is, Willow’s and Buffy’s?
There are three likely possibilities.
Buffy’s coming out narrative precedes Willow’s, so perhaps it was a way to test the waters with
a coded reference to queer sexuality. That’s option one.
What if both stories were planned in advance? In that case, it’s possible that Buffy’s coming out story was a well-meaning (if perhaps inaccurate) attempt on behalf of the show’s writers to say, “Hey, everyone has secrets or plans or attributes that diverge from those of their mothers?
We’re all kind of alike, aren’t we?”
The last option and, I believe, the least likely, is that the writers wanted to leave room for another way of being queer, whether that is a coded expression of an actually existing kind of sexual or gender difference (hey!) or a more mystical expression of a difference which could
exist, but does not yet exist, borne back to us from the threshold of the possible.
But what does this have to do with mothers?
Tonight I watched season three, episode 11, “Gingerbread.” At this point in the series, Joyce has discovered that her daughter is The Slayer and asked, “Have you tried not being a slayer?” By this point she has reconciled herself somewhat to Buffy’s slaying, going so far as to accompany her on her nightly patrol of Sunnydale’s vast, high-traffic graveyards.
Joyce finds two dead children, and her horror causes her to lead the town in a literal crusade against witchcraft which begins with a town meeting, whose theme is “Never Again,” organized by Joyce, but introduced by the town’s secretly evil mayor. It ends with Buffy, Willow, and Amy tied to stakes above burning pyres which their own families and neighbors have lit. There is a happy ending of sorts, orchestrated from the margins by Giles, the librarian, and Cordelia, a member of the slayer’s “Scooby Gang.”
The townsfolk, it seems, were possessed by an evil spirit, posing as two small children, who goaded them to ever more extreme acts of destruction because of
little ghosts who say
i’m still scared of the bad girls
you have to make them go away
Cordelia douses the flames, Giles incants a spell causing the spirit to reveal its true form, Buffy stakes it.
But why is it so easy for Joyce, and the other parents (although I must stress that the emphasis is on moms), to hate all witches because of the (supposed) actions of a few? Why was she unable to see the good witches for the bad?
Why, for that matter, are witches, more than non-witches, spoken and thought of in these binaristic terms?
It is as if she had already prepared a place in her heart for hate or had a place prepared
Why does the real work of fighting evil in Sunnydale happen on the fringe, while it is so comparatively easy for a bewitched PTA to work with the official mechanisms of power
the school administration
This is what I mean by a place prepared for hate.
I think of Giles as Halperin’s deviant teacher, within the system, but ever suspect, ever in danger
of being ejected from it.
I think of Laura Jane Klug, transgender teacher at Lumberton Texas ISD who was suspended
for no reason, except bigotry.
I think of my own mother, about whom I am grateful to confidently proclaim that she would never
lead a charge against me and others like me but who told me:
You know you’re very suggestible
trans is catching
and that it’s bad to catch
You’re scared, mom, I hear that
Little ghost children are lying to you