Whoosh! Issue Eleven - August 1997


IAXS Research Project #074
By Diane Silver
Copyright © 1997 held by author
4493 words

PROLOGUE (01-05)

END NOTES (35-41)



Be quiet, Gabrielle. I am emoting now.

Xena refuses to accept Gabrielle's death

[01] I first got hooked on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS on a Saturday night in August 1996. I had just returned from a vacation and was idly channel surfing when I saw a woman with a sword running through a forest. I settled down for an hour of what I thought would be mindless entertainment. Later, I learned the episode was entitled, IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (#24)

[02] By the time the episode had ended, I was in tears. Gabrielle has been critically wounded. As much as anyone ever does on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, Gabrielle dies. Holding her limp body, Xena says quietly, desperately, "Don't leave me." With tears in her eyes, Xena pounds on Gabrielle's chest and shouts, "Wake up, wake up, wake up!" A shaken and confused Gabrielle eventually regains consciousness. It would be a powerful scene for anyone to see. For me, what Xena went through and what Xena felt was too close to home.

[03] On the first Sunday in November, 1992, my life partner, Patty Doria, suffered a series of seizures. Within days, tests confirmed that the breast cancer we thought she had beaten had returned. Doctors discovered a brain tumor and bone cancer. On February 6, 1993, Patty died in our home in Lawrence, Kansas.

[04] As I watched DOCTOR, it felt as if it could have been my voice screaming "wake up." It could have been my fist pounding on Patty's chest. The incredible sound Lucy Lawless got into Xena's voice felt like it came from the same dagger in the heart that I felt when Patty died. If Gabrielle had died, Xena would have lost her soul mate forever. When Patty died, I lost mine.

[05] That moment at the end of DOCTOR, I experienced my first instance of what I call a "shock of recognition". For me, and I believe for many other lesbians, those shocks have occurred frequently over the first two seasons of the series. Those moments occur because we see our own lives reflected in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.


[06] This essay is not another entry into the long-running "are they/aren't they" lovers debate among fans [Note 1] . I will not discuss the merits of the evidence presented by each side. Instead, my purpose here is to show how I see a reflection of my own life in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

One dab will do ya, Xener!

Gabrielle cares for Xena
in BLIND FAITH (#42)

[07] Another subject I plan to avoid is the topic of innuendo. By innuendo, I mean those moments in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS when a play on words or a different reading of a scene could indicate to a queer-friendly viewer that Xena and Gabrielle are more than just friends. Some of the most cited examples of this can be found in ALTARED STATES (#19), GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (#28), BLIND FAITH (#42), and A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) [Note 2] .

[08] Finally, this essay is not meant to prove that the XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS production staff are purposely portraying Xena and Gabrielle as a romantic couple. Frankly, I would be surprised if this were their intention. Executive Producer Robert Tapert, Producer Liz Friedman and Lucy Lawless have all said that the characters were originally written as platonic friends who were as close as sisters [Note 3] . The staff and cast also echo the comments of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS Supervising Producer Steven L. Sears. "They [Xena and Gabrielle] have love for each other," Sears told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY in its March 7, 1997 issue. "It's up to the audience to determine what that love is."


[09] I am going to label several activities and situations as "lesbian". I can imagine that this might come as quite a shock to some of you because you are going to recognize yourselves in what I call "lesbian." Does this mean that all women who do these things or find themselves in these situations are lesbians or bisexual? No, it does not mean that at all.

[10] Lesbians, bisexual women, and heterosexual women can engage in these practices. (You can all take your minds out of the gutter now. By 'practices', I do not mean anything sexual. Sorry, no sex in this essay.) So, how can I possibly identify these practices as lesbian? To me and other lesbians, these practices are lesbian because they are the hallmarks of our relationships. Although that does not mean that they cannot be done by heterosexuals or bisexuals, it does mean that they are done by lesbians.


[11] After two seasons and 46 episodes of XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, there are far too many examples for me to list, but the "moments of recognition" tend to fall into one of four different categories.

      (a) The Daily Realities of Lesbian Life
      (b) The Caring and Vulnerability
      (c) The Commitment
      (d) The Impact of Loss

The Daily Realities of Lesbian Life

[12] One of the things that is so riveting about Xena and Gabrielle's daily life is that their routine mirrors that of a typical lesbian couple. Granted, lesbians seldom kill evil warlords. I could protect no one from anything if I had to use a sword, but in a deeper sense I recognize my own reality in Xena and Gabrielle's life. At its core is the fact the two women work as a team.

If that's not your hand, and it's not mine, whose hand is
it, Xena?

One of many campfire scenes, this one is
from CALLISTO (#22)

[13] Xena and Gabrielle share a household, movable and nomadic, but still a household. They take their meals together, travel together, and do their work together. Apparently they share their money. They certainly share their food. They share chores. They look to each other for support and back-up. This is true whether it is the emotional support Gabrielle gives to Xena in the campfire scene in CALLISTO (#22), or the physical support Xena does every time she saves Gabrielle (almost every episode). Xena and Gabrielle are partners in life.

[14] It is not any accident that many lesbian couples today call themselves "life partners", a term that Patty and I used. In my case, Patty and I thought of ourselves as a team, as partners in all aspects of life. We shared a household. We made our meals together, traveled together, and often did our work together. We shared our money. We shared our chores. We looked to each other for support and back-up, both emotional and physical. Patty and I pooled our resources and we cried on each other's shoulders. When I was ill, she cared for me. When she was ill, I took care of her. We took turns getting up in the middle of the night to care for our son when he was a baby. If we had been attacked by a warlord, I have no doubt that Patty would have risked her life to save me. I know I would have risked mine for her.

[15] But more than just the set-up of the show mirrors the daily realities of my life as a lesbian. Practically every episode provides a shock of recognition. In DREAMWORKER (#03), for example, when Xena and Gabrielle's dreams overlap, they sit down and attempt to work out the solution to their problem together. That scene reminds me of a moment early in a relationship when both partners realize that they can work as a team. In DEATH MASK (#23), Gabrielle looks very lesbian when she walks away from camp to give Xena and her brother a chance to talk in private. As Gabrielle walks past Xena, she wordlessly provides support by gently touching Xena on the arm. I have seen lesbians do that hundreds of times with their partners. That kind of touch works as code allowing a lesbian to display affection that is usually not tolerated by society.

[16] A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) mirrors the petty disagreements that all love relationships have, but the episode also portrays some of the other aspects that commonly occur in lesbian life. One example occurs after Xena climbs out of a creek. While she was fishing, Hower made it clear to Gabrielle that he was in love with Xena. Gabrielle then sends Hower in search of fire wood. When Xena clambers out of the creek, the two women exchange a broad smile as Xena settles down shoulder-to-shoulder with Gabrielle. Gabrielle tells Xena that Hower is in love with her. As Xena and Gabrielle discuss how to get rid of Hower, the scene reflects the conversations that I and other lesbians have had with our partners. Often, we have had to figure out how to dissuade a man who has mistakenly thought that we two women were 'alone' (and each searching for a man) because we were with each other and not with two men.

The Caring and Vulnerability

Put your hands on my b*tt, Xena!

Friends found

[17] The depth of caring that Xena and Gabrielle feel for each other is shown in many episodes. In LOST MARINER (#45), for example, their reunion on the ship is touching and heartfelt. Both fear they will be separated forever. Xena makes an enormous effort to reach the ship. When she and Gabrielle are finally reunited, they embrace, look into each other's eyes and embrace again as if each woman has to reassure herself that the other is all right. In PROMETHEUS (#08), the depth of feeling is seen when they say goodbye in what they both fear will be a suicide mission for Xena. Gabrielle takes Xena's hand and places it over her heart as she pleads with Xena not to strike the blow that would kill her. [18] Xena and Gabrielle are also willing to be vulnerable with each other. This is particularly startling when the stoic Xena lets down her emotional guard. Probably the best example of this is the campfire scene in CALLISTO (#22). In this episode, Xena and Gabrielle first meet Callisto, a murderous warlord whose family was killed by Xena's army. The campfire scene occurs almost immediately after they meet Callisto. Sitting quietly by the fire, Xena tells Gabrielle how Callisto's family died and confesses the extent of the massacre that occurred in Callisto's home village of Cirra. Gabrielle listens and then pleads with Xena to promise that she will never become like Callisto again, that Xena will never again be driven to kill for revenge. The scene ends as Gabrielle wipes a tear off Xena's cheek. Xena tells Gabrielle to go to bed, but Gabrielle stays and rests her head on Xena's shoulder. One can imagine that Gabrielle sat up all night with Xena. This scene is one of the most incredible moments of the entire series. In it, Xena does the one thing that she does not usually do: She is emotionally vulnerable. Her shame is clear on her face and in her tears. Gabrielle does not abuse Xena's vulnerability. Instead, Gabrielle offers her support and love.

[19] How does this caring and vulnerability mirror a lesbian couple? First, I have to step out of the logical flow of this essay and tell you about my struggle with this section. After interacting online with some fans, I have despaired over how I can show (should I say prove?) to some people that two lesbians can truly care about each other and be vulnerable with each other. Perhaps the problem is that some folks truly believe that lesbian love can only be shallow and based on lust, perversion, evil or whatever other negative word that comes to mind.

[20] But I ask those of you who are heterosexual to think about my dilemma. If people refused to see the reality of your love, how could you prove it? In my case, how do I prove that Patty and I would fall asleep each night holding hands? How do I prove that we held each other when we cried? That we cared for each other when we were sick? That we confessed our shames to each other, and sometimes sat up into the night with each other, just like Gabrielle did with Xena? How do I prove the words we said to each other? The feelings we had in our hearts? All of these things occurred in our most private moments. There were no witnesses and cameras. The truth is that I cannot prove it anymore than a heterosexual couple could "prove" their love to someone who refused to believe.

The Commitment

'Why not put it in your mouth and kiss her?' 'Nah, it will
never get shot.'

A scene put in and taken out more times in THE QUEST (#37)
than Joxer had appearances in the series
called for Gabrielle to place the ambrosia in her mouth and kiss Xena.
This scene was ultimately removed from the script and not shot.

[21] Xena and Gabrielle's commitment to each other is so obvious that to list every instance would fill WHOOSH! For example, remember what Xena had to go through to reunite with Gabrielle in LOST MARINER (#45)? Among other examples of their commitment are REMEMBER NOTHING (#26), DESTINY (#36) and TIES THAT BIND (#20).

[22] In REMEMBER NOTHING (#26), The Fates change the world to one where Xena never became a warrior. In this reality many things are different, including the fact that Xena was not around to save Gabrielle from slavery. This Gabrielle is a bitter, angry and selfish woman. Xena is faced with a horrible choice. She can save Gabrielle by forcing The Fates to send everyone back to the reality where the warrior Xena saved Gabrielle. (The Fates told Xena that if she shed even one drop of blood in anger than all would return to what it was before.) However, if Xena does that, then the world reverts to a reality where her beloved brother Lyceus has been dead for 11 years. What does she do? When Gabrielle kills one of her captors and relishes in the sight of his blood on her sword, Xena realizes that the Gabrielle she has known is dead and can never be resurrected. I believe that her commitment to Gabrielle led Xena to take the action she knew would kill her brother. Saying goodbye to him, Xena stabs one of the slave master's soldiers. Everything and everyone, including Gabrielle, return to the way they were before.

[23] DESTINY (#36) shows Gabrielle's commitment to Xena. When Xena is injured in a fight, Gabrielle steps in to defend her and is wounded in the leg. When a dying Xena asks Gabrielle to take her to Mount Nestos, Gabrielle prepares a litter, secures Xena on it, and covers her with furs. With Argo pulling the litter, Gabrielle limps up the mountain through cold and snow. Once Gabrielle falls face first into the snow, pleading for sleep, but when she realizes that Xena is getting worse, Gabrielle stands up and keeps going forward. Eventually, Gabrielle finds the healer on the mountain.

[24] Finally, TIES THAT BINDS (#20) offers an amazing example of the vows that lesbians often exchange with each other. Because society offers no support for our relationships, because we cannot get married, we have to make our own vows. Often those vows are said in private, one woman to another. The speech Xena makes to Gabrielle at the end of TIES is almost a word-for-word recitation of words lesbians have said to each other time and time again. The only difference I can see is that the word "friendship" is replaced by "love". In that speech, Xena says: "We all have families that we are born into, but sometimes families change, and we have to build our own. For me our friendship binds us closer than blood ever will."

[25] The commitment of Xena and Gabrielle mirrors the commitment that many lesbian couples have for each other. Perhaps the best examples I have ever seen were on an Internet bulletin board for lesbian widows. Through that board, I met lesbians who took care of their life partners at home when they were dying. One woman, for example, cared for her lover for two years. She carried most of the burden herself and apparently got little help. She talked about how hard that had been, yet she always said that she was so glad that she did it. I heard stories about women who gave up their jobs or turned down promotions so they could have the time to be with their lovers, who were dying. In my case, I luckily had the help of many friends when I took care of Patty during the three months she was dying. During that period, she did not have to suffer through one night in a hospital.

[26] I cannot end a section on commitment without discussing the many male love interests that Xena and Gabrielle have had during the first two seasons. If Xena and Gabrielle are perceived as a committed lesbian couple, then their constant search for other lovers is a disturbing sign of unfaithfulness. For the purposes of this essay, it is enough to say that this unfaithfulness is the one area in which XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS does not reflect my life or the lives of lesbians I know. A discussion about the possible reasons for showing Xena and Gabrielle with other lovers does not fit into the scope of this essay [Note 4] .

The Impact of Loss

Why can't we ever do this when you are alive or in the
proper body? Huh, Xena?

Gabrielle kisses her friend goodbye

[27] The series has shown many examples of the deep impact the loss of either Gabrielle or Xena would have on the surviving woman. For example, the impact of the death of Xena on Gabrielle is shown in THE GREATER GOOD (#21) and THE QUEST (#37). In THE GREATER GOOD (#21), Gabrielle reacts to that loss by tenderly kissing Xena's body and caressing her hair. Gabrielle's grief is apparent when she later beats on a tree with her staff while screaming "no". In the beginning of THE QUEST (#37), Gabrielle appears to be stunned, emotionally lost, and to be constantly on the verge of tears as she transports Xena's body home to Amphipolis. A recurring nightmare about Xena's death awakens Gabrielle in the middle of the night. When she unexpectedly meets Iolaus, Gabrielle tells him that she wishes she had had time to tell Xena that she loved her.

[28] In RETURN OF CALLISTO (#29), Xena faces the loss of Gabrielle because of Gabrielle's marriage to Perdicus. Despite the fact that Xena gives Gabrielle her blessing for the marriage, Xena's despair is obvious at the wedding. Every time Gabrielle is not looking, Xena's face shows pain and a look that almost appears panicky. The look on Xena's face when the two exchange a final hug is particularly painful. Of course, in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE (#24), Xena faces the actual death of Gabrielle. Her grief and panic drive her to refuse to give up the fight for Gabrielle's life even when all of those around her are trying to stop her. Three times, Hippocrates and Marmax, the general, try to stop Xena. She ignores them three times and once pushes Hippocrates away while screaming: "You don't know anything!"

[29] How does this mirror the lives of lesbians? Like everyone else, we can also suffer the loss of the people we love the most. Since Patty died, I have corresponded with many lesbian widows online. The depth of grief they have expressed matches anything shown by XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. Perhaps the best example would be to again talk about my own life. Here is a small snippet of a book I am writing about my life with Patty.

[30] The scene depicts the first moment I realized Patty was going to die, and it occurred about two weeks after we learned that Patty's cancer had returned. I was supposed to be working on my consulting business in my upstairs office at home. My friend, Rita, was working downstairs on a mailing for a client.

Excerpt from
Sacred Moments:
The Journey of a Lesbian Marriage

[Note 5]

    Something felt wrong. Shouldn't I know why we were meeting Patty's doctor on Monday? I telephoned Dr. Stein, reached his receptionist and left a message for him to call. After I hung up, I rolled my pencil back and forth on my desk and stared at the legal pad.

    The phone rang. It was Dr. Stein. As I began to speak I realized that I sounded like I was pleading with him. "You have to tell me what's going on," I said. "You have to tell me what her chances really are."

    Stein did not answer. Finally, he spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully as if he were a soldier picking his way through a mine field.

    "This isn't something that we should talk about," Stein said. "Patty should be involved in the conversation, and we shouldn't talk over the telephone."

    "All right," I said.

    "There are many things to discuss," Stein said slowly.


    "We have to talk about planning..."


    "...for Tony's future..." It was hard to breathe.

    "...for you..."

    My throat hurt.

    "You're coming to the office on Monday, aren't you?"

    "Yes," I said.

    Very politely, I thanked him for calling. After I hung up, I pressed my palms flat on the desk to steady myself, then I took off my glasses and put my hands over my eyes. For a second I thought I was not going to cry, but then sobs rose out of my chest and up my throat. The stairs creaked behind me, but I did not turn around.

    A voice quietly asked, "Diane?" It was Rita. She walked over and stood behind me.

    I still did not turn to face her. I could not, and I could not stop crying. I gasped, "I was on the phone ... with Stein ... we have to ..."

    Rita leaned over. She put one arm around my chest, one arm around my back and leaned her head on my head. She held on tight. I stopped even trying to talk. I sobbed inside her hug. Her arms held my chest together when it wanted to break apart. Her warmth and weight keep me anchored to the ground when the pain threatened to blast me off it.

Yeah, and I get pregnant in the third season. HA! Next
you'll be saying the Pope is protestant.

Gabrielle keeps the crowd riveted as she tells her tale.

[32] When I think about everything I have seen on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, I realize that the scene that best sums up my life and the lives of other lesbians is a story Gabrielle tells in the episode, ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (#13). In that story, Gabrielle describes her relationship with Xena to a riveted audience. To make this match my life and the lives of other lesbians all I would have to do is change the word "friends" to "lovers":

      "This is the story of two friends," Gabrielle says. "They met each other in the hardest of times. They learned how to care for each other. They became a great team. They had adventures. Some adventures ended better than others, and together they learned life's mysteries."


[33] What does it mean that something that seems so lesbian to me can seem so heterosexual to others? On the surface, this would appear to be decidedly odd, yet it really makes perfect sense. The XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS production staff have successfully portrayed a relationship based upon love -- deep, caring, and committed love. The XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS staff do not label that love, leaving it up to each fan to decide. But in the end, it is still love. In fact, the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, although far from perfect, is a wonderful model of a great love. It is something we all want, whether from a friend or a lover. Does it seem so odd then that heterosexuals and lesbians alike would see themselves in Xena and Gabrielle? In the end, what does it all mean? For me it means that heterosexuals and lesbians are not as different as we may think.


[34] I am indebted to the ideas of many women, but particularly to Kit Wilson, Carmen Carter, Kate Maynard, Beth Cavert, and Kym Taborn.


[35] I do not personally believe that the interpretation that Xena and Gabrielle are lovers or may be edging toward becoming lovers is the only reasonable explanation for what is happening on the television screen. But then neither do I believe it is valid to argue that Xena and Gabrielle can only be seen as platonic friends. Given the way the two characters have been presented it is possible to see the them as platonic friends, lovers, or potential lovers. For more information on the subject see THE FAQ FOR SUBTEXT FANS AND THE LOYAL OPPOSITION.

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[36] Producer Liz Friedman, a lesbian who calls herself a "representationally starved queer", said in an interview with a Boston radio show in October 1996 that she likes to "throw in references that I know the fans who are interested in that will pick up on, but don't necessarily flash any irrevocable red lights [to anyone else]." XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS staff have seldom told fans the exact moments that they intended to be innuendo. Friedman did tell THE ADVOCATE of one instance in the opening scene of ALTARED STATES (#19). Xena and Gabrielle are skinny dipping in a lake, and the viewer cannot immediately tell whether Xena and Gabrielle are engaging in some rather exotic water recreation or fishing. Turns out they were fishing.

[37] Other innuendo appear to include Gabrielle's vampire bite of Xena in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN (#28); Gabrielle's statement in BLIND FAITH (#42) that she cannot marry the king because she loves another and cannot be with "them"; and, Gabrielle's response in A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39) to a love-sick man's query about whether Xena might ever get married and settle down. Gabrielle says she does not believe Xena will ever settle down. "She likes what I do," Gabrielle says. After she is smacked in the face by a fish tossed by Xena, Gabrielle changes her answer and says that Xena "likes what she's doing."

[38] For me, the innuendo is a fun in-joke, but it is not what draws me to the relationship of Xena and Gabrielle. I love the fact that the production staff acknowledges lesbians, and therefore me, by throwing in these references, but jokes and sly references are not the foundation of a lesbian relationship.

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[40] This issue was raised in a letter to the editor in the July 1997 WHOOSH! #10 from Carmen Carter. If you are interested in understanding a lesbian viewer's perspective on this issue, I encourage you to read Ms. Carter's letter.

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[41] "Sacred Moments" is an orphan at the moment. Anyone interested in publishing it?

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