Before the days of Facebook and MySpace, back when the Internet was a shiny new novelty, we had something called mailing lists. This was where fans of a particular television show, or more specifically, a particular character, could come together to nerd out. You would address the group with an email, and other members could answer you directly or also address the group.
I was a huge Buffy fan back in the day. I was the same age as the main characters; we graduated high school together. They helped me feel less alone at a pretty lonely, confusing time in my life. So when the Internet became a thing, I was drawn to like-minded people that I could talk and joke and bond over the show with.
The first group I joined was based around the character of Spike, a cocky British vampire with cheekbones that could cut glass. He was the typical bad boy villain; brash and sarcastic, long leather duster hugging his athletic body. He was definitely a favourite of mine. I joined the group (strictly female members if I remember correctly) in celebrating his sexiness and gushing over how hot and doable he was. At the time, I thought I meant it.
Through this group, I was introduced to another, which championed a vastly different character. These girls dug Oz, the short, huggable guitar player who also happened to be werewolf. The name of this group was ‘OzMIA.’ Oz had left the show indefinitely and we very much wanted him back.
Oz was the adorable boyfriend of the equally adorable computer geek (and the titular character’s bestie), Willow. Few couples could rival their cuteness. Due to a series of unfortunate wolfy circumstances, Oz found himself making time with a female werewolf, which, naturally, devastated Willow. She seemed open to talking and working through things, but Oz, heartbroken at having hurt the love of his life, opted to leave town until he figured things out.
Seth Green (who portrayed Oz) left the show after that, and no one knew how long he would be gone. This left a hole in the hearts of Oz (and Willow and Oz) fans, and an opening for a new love interest to draw Willow’s attention. Creator Joss Whedon and the writing team decided to take Willow’s character in a direction that was surprising to some. They introduced the character of Tara; a lesbian witch who, through unsubtle glances and stuttered words, made her feelings for Willow known.
This should have been any young lesbian viewer’s fantasy. Finally, a gay lady relationship being depicted on a beloved show! The story unfolded slowly; slyly. What started as hints in the first half of season four eventually became more blatant. By the second half of the season, Willow and Tara were performing ‘magic spells’ that could only be described as ‘thinly veiled depictions of orgasms’ by people with eyes and/or ears.
I wasn’t a fan of the Willow and Tara coupling. The fact that they were both women wasn’t enough to win me over. The Oz character had been likeable (even independently from Willow), but the Tara character was bland and clingy. She was beautiful; refreshingly full-figured in a cast of very slim women, but to paraphrase one of my list mates over at OzMIA, she had all the personality of a piece of cardboard. I could not get behind this relationship. I was a Willow/Oz shipper, through and through.
As a Canadian, I was privy to Buffy episodes on Monday nights. American stations only aired the show on Tuesdays, which meant I got to watch the episodes a day ahead of almost everyone on the OzMIA list. I got into the habit of writing weekly ‘spoiler’ posts, detailing the plot points for those who could not wait to watch it for themselves. People always had positive things to say about my spoiler posts. Or at least, they did until I recapped an episode called ‘Who Are You?’
This was the episode with the graphic, undeniable magical orgasm scene I referenced above. There was a lot of panting, and gasping, and dare I say spasming, all under the guise of these women being physically rocked by the ‘magical’ force of the ‘spell.’ (The spell also involved an astral visit to the ‘Nether Realm,’ because SUBTLE.)
I was a 21 year old virgin at the time, and a bit of a prude. It’s hard to say whether it was because of my own burgeoning sexual confusion or just a fear of the unknown. What I know for sure is that I was very uncomfortable with conversations and depictions of sex. And when I’m uncomfortable, I make jokes.
Thus began the spoiler post that caused me to get flamed.
I wrote my summary of the episode, and I made sure to editorialize my dissatisfaction with the Willow and Tara relationship (and where it was clearly heading) and harp on the fact that she was better off with Oz. I also expressed my non-enjoyment of the ‘magical spell’ scene.
I said a lot of things that I intended to be funny, but one reader interpreted my words as homophobic. So she let me have it, in a response email that went out to the entire list.
It was some mean, hateful stuff. Granted, she thought she was attacking a homophobe, but her rage was completely disproportionate in relation to what I had actually said. A couple of tone deaf jokes did not mean I deserved to be told I ‘made her sick’ and that she hoped I would be alone forever and ‘never have an orgasm.’ I was ripped a new one for being homophobic, but the funny thing was, I was just a plain old homo. A homo who wasn’t going to fall all over a new TV couple just because they happened to be gay for each other.
I didn’t have a response for my flamer. The tone of her missive hadn’t exactly paved the way for a thoughtful dialogue, so I stayed quiet. My friends at OzMIA rallied around me and condemned the flamer’s harsh words and sentiments. Eventually things died down.
Buffy continued for three more seasons. I never quite managed to root for the much-lauded lesbian couple. Tara remained bland for most of the show’s run and Willow became sort of obnoxious within the context of that relationship. But I was still glad they were there. It was nice to watch two women hugging and KNOW it meant more than just a hug. It was nice to watch them touch each other’s hair, and kiss, and snuggle in bed together. I needed that representation, regardless of whether I actually liked them as a couple.
(For the record: I still prefer Oz.)