Notes & Queeries: An Open Mind

Notes & Queeries is a monthly column from Malinda Lo that focuses on the personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual women.

Early on in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight, the comic book series that begins after the end of the television show, Buffy is awakened from a magical sleep by a kiss from someone who loves her. That someone is revealed in Issue No. 11, “A Beautiful Sunset,” and it turns out to be a fellow slayer named Satsu. Given that one of Buffy’s best friends is Willow, a lesbian witch, one might expect that Buffy would respond at least sympathetically to Satsu’s affections, but she takes things several steps further.

The next issue opens with Buffy and Satsu in bed together, naked. “Wow,” says a stunned Buffy, hand to her forehead.

“Yeah,” agrees Satsu — and, I would guess, everyone else reading the issue.

As they process the aftermath of their actions, Satsu says: “I know what this is. I know you didn’t just … turn gay all of a sudden.”

Buffy initially reacts comedically, asking, “How do you know that? Did I do something wrong?” But she soon acknowledges the truth: “I had a wonderful night. … But I’m not sure it goes any further than that.”

When I asked Buffy creator Joss Whedon why the heretofore heterosexual Buffy had a one-night stand with a woman, he described Buffy as “young and open-minded.” Sure, open-mindedness might be a euphemism for bi-curious, but I think the Buffy-Satsu story line is about more than that. Maybe for Buffy — and for lots of girls in their teens and 20s — sexual orientation just doesn’t matter anymore.

Just this month, 22-year-old singer Lady Gaga declared to HX magazine: “I don’t really consider sexual orientation in general. It’s like, people are born the way they are.”

Her statement underscores the biological argument for homosexuality (people are born gay or straight) while simultaneously dismissing the entire construct of sexual identity. It may be that she wasn’t thinking clearly during her interview, but I think that she was speaking to a belief that is widespread among younger folks these days. You can hear it in every person who declares that she doesn’t like “labels.”

For this generation, sexuality is much less about a unidirectional orientation than it was even eight years ago, when Willow came out as a lesbian. Willow had the coming-out story of my generation: We may have been with men in the past, but once we realized we were gay, we mostly stayed that way.

Buffy has her lesbian experience in 2008, after Willow’s two lesbian relationships, five years of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, five seasons of The L Word, and the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and California, with New York on the cusp of the same. The changes have been breathtaking.