I have been rerewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s something I do often. Amazingly, the story seeems to change as I change, and after seventeen years I still feel like I get something new from it. One of my biggest changes in perception is how I feel about the one queer character.
When the series first aired, I was a high school student and out as bisexual. When Willow Rosenberg, Buffy’s best friend on the series, began dating a woman and came out as gay, I was initially upset. She had dated a guy before, and had a years long serious crush on another. I could believe she was bi, but how do you go from liking guys to not?
I called it bi erasure and each time the character said “I’m gay now” it irked me. Now I realize I could have learned from Willow sooner, that just because I’d dated or even had crushes on boys I could be a lesbian. Now that I know I’m gay rather than bi, Willow’s story arc doesn’t feel the slightest bit unrealistic.
What I once saw as bi erasure now appears to me as lesbian confirmation. Her past experiences with male characters didn’t override her orientation. She didn’t realize she was gay until adulthood, but once she knew, it changed things for her. Sometimes lesbians have that exact path.
We don’t have enough queer characters for everyone to feel represented yet. When only one character on a series can be queer, and that character is cis, there’s a real limitation on how many identities that character can represent. Maybe I really needed gay Willow, and someone else really needed a bi character. Willow repeatedly insisting her attraction to guys was all a lie can sound a lot like being asked to “pick a side”.
Maybe you consider Willow an example of bi erasure, but I’d ask you to consider why the lesbian character gets that accusation while the dozen heterosexual characters don’t. Why is lesbian representation bi erasure but endless versions of heterosexuality are free of critique? We need more lesbian characters and more bi ones too, so we’re all represented and none of us feel like freaks no one can relate to.