Is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow Rosenberg a Lesbian or Bisexual?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This guest post written by Gail Wald appears as part of our theme week on Bisexual Representation.

For many people, labels matter. Humans put labels on everything, from gender to interest groups to clothing styles to sexuality. These labels define not just each individual person, but also our culture as a whole. We are the culmination of all of these groups: the groups we accept, the groups we detest.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was, at its center, supposed to be about the groups we don’t accept. It centered on three unpopular geeks who hung out with a librarian. And sure, they were all very pretty – but everybody’s pretty on TV; at the end of the day, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wasn’t winning any popularity contests, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) was a computer nerd, and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) seemed to spend all of his days watching every single movie in the history of Hollywood. This group – the Scoobies – were mocked by Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and the rest of the popular crowd; they were losers.

And so they were outsiders. Willow, especially, seemed to never really get over that outsider feeling, always eager to prove herself, to be better – her greatest fear: failure; her deepest secret: self-loathing. In this light, it makes so much sense that Willow was Gay All Along. After all – it fits with her character so well. Trying to hide herself away only to realize she never could.

Of course, the fact that Willow is attracted to women is hardly debatable – in fact, it’s hard canon. The relationship between Tara (Amber Benson) and Willow is nothing if not as genuine – definitely sweeter – than every other romantic relationship on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even though it took the series more than a season to have them share a kiss (one of the first lesbian kisses in prime-time television), the show was hardly ever hiding the relationship. While Kennedy (Iyari Limon) is controversial at best and openly despised at worst, Willow is definitely attracted to her – in a major way. Willow likes girls. End of story.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The problem with this, of course, is that Willow spent more than three seasons forming romantic and sexual attachments to, well, men. First, Xander; then, Oz (Seth Green). And then she cheats on Oz with Xander, seemingly motivated for no reason other than lust. And she has sex with Oz, not divulging to us, the viewers, that she felt any discomfort with the act. These are definite signs of attraction to the male gender, after all.

So wait, what is going on here?

Well, as I said, labels are important. Willow calls herself a lesbian. And if a woman who had been with men stood in front of me in real life and called herself a lesbian, I would believe her. After all, there are several reasons why this could happen. She could be, in fact, a lesbian who experienced compulsory heterosexuality; she could have decided to try sex with guys but realized she didn’t want to do it again; she could be a woman who decided that she was only interested in relationships with women, and therefore identified with the label more than with any other label. And since she is a real human being with her own unique experiences, it isn’t my place to tell her she isn’t a lesbian because she had sex with a man, or a relationship with a man, or any other experiences with a man. She is a lesbian. End of story.

But Willow Rosenberg isn’t a real person. She’s a character, open for interpretation. And them’s the facts: Willow Rosenberg liked having sex with men and women.

But! Somebody screams. Willow seems to never experience attraction towards men after she starts dating Tara!

Not true. Even if we ignored the whole episode in which she shows she’s still attracted to Oz after his return, despite being with Tara at the time, there is still this scene in season 4, in which Giles sings “Behind Blue Eyes” and the gang are left in shock, each with their own unique reaction. “Now I remember why I used to have such a crush on him” seems to me at least to not be the most homosexual line ever.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So is Willow bisexual then?

Well, the truth is, Willow does call herself a lesbian, and like I said twice already, labels matter, especially self-identified labels. But the thing is, she never dismisses the label of bisexual, either; she simply assumes she is a lesbian since she is interested in relationships with women. And as I said, Willow isn’t a real person – she was written by other people, imperfect people, people like Joss Whedon who might do good, positive work, and still be biphobic, whether intentionally or not.

Willow never brings up the possibility of being bi. Had she brought it up and dismissed it – well, firstly, the word “bisexual” would have been uttered on television, which seems to be a difficult feat to accomplish, and secondly, it would be a lot easier to accept that she was a lesbian for us bi folk. Because there are real bisexual people out there who experience bi erasure, who are told they’re gay or lesbian when they’re with a person of the same gender and heterosexual when they’re with a person of the opposite gender, who are told they’re confused, who are told they must choose. And it would be so easy to bring it up on the show, as well. It could go something like this:

Buffy: So, you’re gay now?
Willow: Yeah. I thought I might be bisexual, but I’m a lesbian.

See? So easy. These two lines turn Willow from bi erasure to pure lesbian representation.

So is Willow bi, or is she a lesbian?

Well, I guess it’s your choice. I personally believe she’s bisexual; it makes more sense to me, a bisexual woman, that Willow is also a bisexual woman, just with a preference for women. But I have read that many lesbians connected with Willow’s story on such a fundamental way, and I can’t wholeheartedly take it away from them; they have just as much of a right to her as I do.

She’s anything you want her to be, at least until we invent a machine that allows us to travel into fictional universes.

See also at Bitch Flicks:

Exploring Bisexual Tension in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
: Joss Whedon’s Binary Excludes Bisexuality
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow Rosenberg: Geek, Interrupted

Gail Wald is a recent high school graduate who has wished to become an author since the age of seven. In her spare time she writes books and essays about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which she has been a fan of since seventh grade), complains about the patriarchy (in the newly opened Facebook page Gail Complains About the Patriarchy), and plays with her cat.


  • Sammi Luester
    Posted October 4, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Oh yeah, Willow is definitely bisexual. The fact that she has shown attraction to men should be an obvious clue.

    • davedave12
      Posted May 26, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      willow is not real and the writing could simply be imperfect implausible — i.r. bad

  • Tim Bonci
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I totally understand that labels are important, especially for self-identification and representation. I also feel that our current language for talking about the sexuality spectrum is not perfect, either, but we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  • Angel
    Posted March 16, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Whedon said he had her call herself gay because he thought “bisexual” would’ve been too confusing for viewers.

    If Buffy were made today instead of 10, 15 years ago, I bet Will would simply be bi. I mean, officially, not just maybelly. 😉

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