Why “Xena” still matters to queer women 20 years later

“In a time of ancient gods, warlords and zero queer lady representation on television, a land of queer women cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle, in love with her sidekick and chock full of subtext. The power…the passion…the bangs. Her courage did change our worlds.”

Okay, so that’s not exactly the intro to Xena, but for many queer women, myself included, that pretty much nails it. In 1995, Xena the Warrior Princess burst onto the screen with her ice blue eyes, perfect bangs, and enough swagger to make the ancients fall to their knees. Today is the show’s 20th anniversary, and a big reminder of how much the television landscape has changed in two decades. Before there was Emily Fields, or Bo Dennis, or Alex Vause, there was Xena.

Lucy Lawless Stars In Xena: Warrior Princess Photo Universal International Television

With all this recent talk of a reboot (or not, we still aren’t quite sure) and petitions to bring back Xena and Gabrielle for a movie, fans are as excited about Xena as they ever were. It’s no surprise that queer women hold Xena, and its stars Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor, close to their hearts. While it’s never explicitly stated that these women are queer, the devotion Xena and Gabrielle showed one another was never in doubt. These were two women who loved each other fiercely, and for a generation of lesbian and bisexual women, that meant everything.

Renee O'Connor Stars In Xena: Warrior Princess Photo Universal International Television

Xena lived just beyond the borders of subtext and more than once leapt completely over it. Shared baths and beds, mystical musical kisses, mouth to mouth “resuscitation” and more than a few innuendos. Xena and Gabrielle fought and sacrificed, lived and died for each other. If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

When AfterEllen interviewed star Lucy Lawless about Xena back in 2011, she had this to say about the show’s dedicated fans:

“I understand finally seeing someone you can relate to on TV and the visibility, and that makes sense to me. That is so profound that it validated people. Especially back then [in the ’90s]. Not only that, but they’re really active in their communities and they’re a force for good. That was the peculiarity of the Xena fandom. They were a force for good and nothing to do with being gay or of color or anything; it was just human beings spreading the love. Nobody else outside of our world is going to understand or appreciate that but I know and they know that that was a profound experience for all of us. It continues today. I’m immensely grateful for that and will always be.”

And we are grateful for it too. I remember watching so many scenes, completely rapt in these powerful women, and the connection they had. The first fanfiction I ever read was about Xena and Gabrielle. When I think of all the people the show inspired to pick up a pen and write their own stories, or gave them the courage to be who they were, well it nearly brings a tear to my eye.

tumblr_nttgy9Gms31qbvorwo8_250via hedaleia.tumblr.com

I asked readers on Twitter what Xena and Gabrielle meant to them and here’s what they had to say.

So happy anniversary Xena, and thank you for the laughs, the tears and most of all, the love.