“Into every generation a Slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one.”
Dark Horse Comics, the publisher of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, announced the introduction of a new character to the Buffyverse. The aspiring Slayer is named Billy — and he’s a boy. He’s a bullied gay kid, and he’s courageous, but he’s a boy entering a realm where only girls have the power to slay.
In the last season of the Buffy television show, Buffy’s status as the “chosen one” is shared with others and they create an army of Slayers. They’re all young, supernaturally powered and all…girls.
At first glance, I thought it was blasphemous — and maybe even trendy — to share that power with a boy. He’s gay, yes, but he’s a guy. And Buffy has always been a rare, ironic, and smart look at gender and female heroes.
I read an article in The Mary Sue, followed by a longer piece in Out, describing Billy’s role and his emulation of female heroism, but my feelings are mixed.
At the end of the day, a boy becomes a man who makes a full dollar to my seventy-seven cents. And more importantly, let’s be honest, a boy can be Batman — toys and all — but girls have to be Wonder Woman — cleavage and all.
As a kid in the 60′s, I didn’t have a superhero to emulate, or at least one I wanted to emulate. Batman was the closest, but I didn’t want to be a man. I was a girl and I wanted to be a girl with power. I wanted a narrative that could actually happen. To me. In one fantasy I was Bruce Wayne’s orphaned ward, younger, smaller and smarter than Robin. That was okay, but if I’d known enough to imagine, I’d imagine the Slayer asking me, “Are you ready to be strong?”
Billy is excluded from slayerhood because of gender, and though my inner child isn’t very sympathetic, Billy has chosen to follow a girls’ path. That’s strong. And he’ll have to fight for his place.
There’s a popular but sometimes exhausting trope about women who fight nonstop, using bravery and bitchiness, to prove themselves as good as the guys. In some stories, both excellent and not, their path as heroes is to storm the gender gate over and over again. Unfortunately, that might be Billy’s fight.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer toys with tropes. Buffy is a small, blond teenager wandering down a dark alley — and she stakes her stalker. She doesn’t fight for her power as much as she fights with her power. She doesn’t storm the gates or use magical tricks because she’s the Slayer. She was born that way.
Billy is another flip of the trope. He’s a gay kid who emulates girls. Not in the way we often stereotype femininity, but he aspires to the toughness and heroism of the girl Slayers. His own skills aren’t innate and he has to work hard to develop them.
Jane Espenson, a creator in the Buffyverse, said in the Out article, “Batman doesn’t have super powers. He wasn’t gifted with an exotic foreign birth. So we take the Batman route; Billy is earning the Slayer mantle.”
In an interesting statement about homophobia and misogyny, Drew Greenberg, one of the comic’s collaborators, said in the Out article:
“I have no problem telling a story about a boy who’s always felt more comfortable identifying with what society tells him is more of a feminine role. So much crap gets heaped upon us as gay men … about how it’s important to be masculine in this world … And those attitudes are a reflection of not just our own internalized homophobia, but of our misogyny, too, and that’s something I’ve never understood. So if this is a story that causes people to examine traditional gender roles and think of them as something more fluid, I’m thrilled.”
There aren’t many stories about a boy who wants to be like the girls because they’re smart, kick-ass warriors. A nice turn of the trope, folks.
I’m an old 70′s feminist and I continue to have mixed feelings about a boy Slayer. This last quote is what Buffy said when she transformed Slayer tradition and shared her power. I’m not advocating girl-separatism, and Billy’s already a traitor to his gender (in a good way) and a warrior against vampires and misogyny, but this quote describes the team he’ll be joining.
In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. … From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 7, Episode 22, 2003
Dark Horse Comics, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine, #14
And more about tropes from “TV Tropes.”
And one more about Billy.