Today's queer youth face a unique set of struggles in an increasingly connected world, one where people can critique one another freely with little to no consequence, and one where bigots can build online communities (mobs) and share violent and reductive commentary that makes the IRL world a little less safe every day. Representation is more important than ever to make sure everyone in the queer spectrum of every color, sexuality, gender, and identity feels like they have a voice and that they matter. This representation is powerful when stories people tell physically include people who look, talk, act, and live like them. However, this catharsis and empowerment can also happen when the characters we see and read are from other oppressed groups, whether they identify as female, are lower class, an immigrant, or more. Such is the case with '90s cult classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
While Buffy herself does not vocally identify as queer, she remains nevertheless a champion for many queer youth who needed a hero they could identify with. This connection is less because of her identity (although she still suffers the microaggressions and inequalities of being a young woman) and more about her story. She is the one and only Vampire Slayer. She has this characteristic thrust upon her and it isolates her from the people around her, in very much the same way that queer youth often feel alone when they initially come to terms with their identities.
When Buffy reveals her secret to her mother, the response is not good. Her mother, who is innocently problematic, and more ignorant than malicious, goes so far as to ask Buffy, "...have you tried NOT being a Slayer?" It's all a tongue and cheek play on what queer youth go through and the well-intentioned misconceptions even the best people around them often have. Keep in mind, this was a big concept for the '90s when the series originally aired.
You might be saying to yourself, "I still don't get why queer youth need Buffy." Queer youth don't need Buffy because of a Slayer-equals-queer metaphor. It's about the fact that Buffy deals with her identity throughout the seven seasons of the series, struggling to find her place in a world with people who are different from her, and forming and fostering her own safe community. Arguably, Buffy understands what it means to be different and how being different is something you have to reconcile every single day.
Buffy's demons are demons to be sure, but they're also symbols of struggles that we all face. It's this distinction that is often missed by people judging the show from the outside. It's not as simple as a beautiful, blonde girl fighting demons. When Buffy and her friends fight the big villains, they're fighting the monsters that we all have to face.
The show combats a spectrum of issues facing queer youth, both metaphorically and figuratively, including loneliness, depression, addiction, sex, solace, and abuse, both in friendships and romantic relationships. More than one of these areas may resonate with youth. Sometimes it's just one. But the reality is that the show ended back in 2003 and lives on today, both in nostalgia and academia (seriously!) because it has substance.
The show admittedly has its problematic elements. Its racial representation is sub-par and it plays into a dangerous queer trope late in the series, which I won't spoil. But these moments are few in the overall scheme of a show that really tried to make a difference for people who are different. The real tea though, is that Buffy, without exaggeration, helped keep me alive and helped keep me going when I was struggling with sexuality, gender, and adolescence and felt like I had no one to help me. It's been the most consistent presence in my life and I owe so much of who I am to Buffy the show, and Buffy the character.
Buffy is the raw, complex, emotional, imperfect, and underappreciated character that we need. In her own words, that resonate even today, "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live." Truer words have never been said for today's queer youth.