Whoosh! Issue 37 - October 1999

Yes Lucy, There Is Still a Subtext on Xena

Romantic Friendship

[31] In her 1997 Whoosh! article, "Xena & Gabrielle: A Revisitation of the Classic Romantic Friendship", Sherry Johnson described what constitutes a romantic friendship between women. According to Johnson, they; "Exchange verbal expressions of fondness... become jealous when others encroach upon the affections of their friend...declare undying devotion to each other... profess to not be able to live without one another... spend all their time together... [and] pine for each other when separated". She continues that, true to the Victorian nature and protocol of such friendships, the acceptable kissing, fondling, hand-holding, caressing, laying together and cuddling would never advance to more Sapphic practices [Note 06].

[32] The Midnight Cowboy factor of subtext outlines the overall devoted "love affair" between Xena and Gabrielle as displayed on the episode or emphasized by third-party characters. The romantic friendship aspect of subtext pertains to the actual verbal and physical displays of love, affection, devotion, and, yes, jealousy between the two.

Wow!  That really *is* a dagger in your pocket!

It's all hugs and sweetness in the first part of A FAMILY AFFAIR.

[33] Although these elements were present in previous seasons, they have become more pronounced in the fourth season. Our introduction to it was the most intense physical and emotional interaction between Xena and Gabrielle up to that point. It is the now considerably famous reunion scene in A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403). Xena drops her sword and embraces Gabrielle, hard, muttering "honey" and "sweetheart" into her ear. Gabrielle is crying and moaning and when they break off the embrace, their faces are close, eyes lock, fingers stroking strands of hair as they speak. When they sit on a log, they hold hands as Gabrielle tells her incredible story of surviving the lava pit. Xena coos and kisses Gabrielle's hand, and then a tear leaks from her eye.

[34] It would not be the first tear we see Xena shed over Gabrielle this season. In the SIN TRADEs (69-70/401-402), she first wails uncontrollably over Gabrielle before conducting the cross-over ritual. She then says to the spirit of Gabrielle, "I love you", and later sheds another tear while in the sweat lodge with Oteri when thoughts of Gabrielle flood her mind. She acknowledges to Oteri the gifts Gabrielle gave her. Xena directly reaffirms that to Gabrielle in A FAMILY AFFAIR (71/403) when she almost shyly states, "You are my way". She then suggests that whatever answers Gabrielle needs to find about her own way, it is most important that they find these answers together. In response to this statement of commitment, Gabrielle sits next to Xena, places her arm around Xena, and rests her head on Xena's shoulder as an acknowledgment of that commitment.

[35] An interesting aspect about fourth season subtext from a romantic friendship point of view is that there were several third parties present to potentially threaten the Xena/Gabrielle romance. More interesting is the fact that all but one were female.

[36] Thelassa in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407) is the first. She and Gabrielle are immediately drawn to one another and the scene they share, when Gabrielle soothingly applies the salve to Thelassa's mutilated arm, is very romantic in tone and dialogue. Although Xena is not aware specifically of this exchange, she appears to sense the mutual admiration between the two during the dialogue near the end of the episode. Her facial expression suggests discomfort over that admiration.

[37] With Aiden, in PARADISE FOUND (81/413), Xena actually assumes Gabrielle is smitten over the guru. When she catches him embracing a distraught and crying Gabrielle, she has a pained and jealous look on her face before storming out of the room crying herself. She appears even more jealous when she accuses Gabrielle of liking Aiden.

[38] In DEVI (82/414), Xena is threatened by the demon Tataka's continued invasion of Gabrielle's body. She hugs and comforts Gabrielle knowing fully that Tataka is inside of her. She is delicate with Gabrielle until she feels that Tataka has taken full control. Even then, I sense she exercises restraint in fighting Tataka for fear that once freed, Gabrielle will be the one suffering from the pain of the lingering physical injuries Xena desperately tries to avoid inflicting.

[39] Xena's greatest threat, the greatest bane in her romantic existence with Gabrielle since Perdicus, is Najara. Xena, along with most subtext-friendly viewers, senses the attraction between Gabrielle and Najara almost instantly. Gabrielle introduces them to Najara. Xena curls her lip. During the campfire scene, Gabrielle is mesmerized over Najara's talk of her Hospice. Xena's looks over and notices Gabrielle's enthusiasm. When Najara offers, "Sleep well". Xena responds, "Oh, WE will". Throughout the episode, Gabrielle carries on like a love-sick puppy, misty-eyed and smiling, while Xena looks as if her heart is exploding in her chest. In one particular scene, as Gabrielle mounts Najara's horse with her, she wraps her arm tightly around Najara's waist. Xena observes this, and the pained reaction on her face speaks volumes.

[40] When Xena and Najara battle the second time, Xena rattles on like an abusive spouse: "Well if I can't have her, nobody's gonna have her". Najara sounds like the boyfriend of which Heroditus and Hecuba would approve: "I knew you were no good for her".

At least my hair isn't as short as yours, Najara. That's the sign
of a true loon!

Najara still has issues.

[41] Old rivalries resume in THE CONVERT (86/418) as Najara takes full advantage of her own situation and Gabrielle's natural tendency toward caretaking. As Xena and Gabrielle have their first of many arguments over Najara, Najara takes the opportunity to nuzzle closer to Gabrielle. Xena does not like this at all. Gabrielle continues to provide care to Najara's wounds while Xena won't even speak to Najara. Unfortunately, when Gabrielle informs Najara that "my place is with Xena", Xena is not present during the exchange. Thus her jealousy continues to manifest into two more intense arguments with Gabrielle.

[42] Curiously, the only thing Xena says to Najara during their final fight scene is, "You shoulda backed off". From who, pray tell?

[43] Along with jealousy, physical displays reserved at the end or near the end of an episode also became a running theme in the fourth season, as if each end is meant to emphasize or capsulate the romantic bond between Xena and Gabrielle. In A GOOD DAY (73/405), Xena finds Gabrielle on the destruction-laden battlefield and hugs her, comforting her as Gabrielle cries into Xena's arms. Xena kisses the top of Gabrielle's head during the embrace.

[44] In A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406), the dancing partners embrace as the episode ends. They again embrace and reaffirm their commitment to one another at the end of LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407). In PAST IMPERFECT (77/409), during yet another tender campfire scene at the end of the episode, Gabrielle strokes the hair of a distraught Xena, then nuzzles her head into the side of Xena's while embracing her. After the crucial fight scene in PARADISE FOUND (81/413), a recovered Xena immediately drops in front of Gabrielle on the floor. They lock foreheads, look into each other's eyes and grasp hands.

[45] Near the end of DEVI (82/414), after Tataka is exorcised from Gabrielle, Xena cradles her, rocks her, and kisses her forehead. After defeating that other evil demon Alti in the final battle scene of BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), Xena and Gabrielle, broken, bloody and badly beaten, crawl to each other and embrace. At the very end of that episode, they once again reaffirm their commitment to one another by adopting a recognition symbol to identify each other in their future lives. The symbol they adopt is the symbol for Woman.

[46] At the end of THE WAY (84/416), when Xena is reassured that Gabrielle is staying with her, she places her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle responds by grasping that hand with her own.

[47] The most intense end-of-episode scenes of romance occurred in the actual season finales, ENDGAME (88/420) and IDES OF MARCH 89/421). In ENDGAME, Xena comforts a mourning Gabrielle. They have been through several funeral pyres together, but have never embraced as they do here. For a brief moment, Gabrielle rests her chin on Xena's breastplate. Xena then relaxes Gabrielle's cheek on her breastplate as she holds her, occasionally resting her own chin and then cheek on the top of Gabrielle's head. As the scene fades out, the two women begin to slightly rock. It is a beautiful image: two breathtaking women in a totally loving and comforting embrace.

[48] At the risk of sounding blasphemous, the prison scene in IDES OF MARCH (89/421) may go down in Xena's history among some as the series' most intensely romantic and loving scene, replacing the immortalized campfire scene of CALLISTO (22/122).

[49] First off, it was a cleverly prepared romantic set up. Amarice becomes the viewers' point of view. In other words, what Xena says to her is what she is basically saying to us and what Amarice observes, she observes for our benefit. First, Xena sarcastically informs Amarice when they meet in ENDGAME (88/420), "Oh I surrender before Gabrielle," but then Amarice observes her do pretty much whatever Gabrielle orders. Later, as she is commanding Gabrielle's Amazons, Xena tells Amarice that although she does not always like Gabrielle's methods, she has come to understand them. Amarice gets another earful in IDES (89/421) when Xena informs her that, "... whatever Gabrielle wants, Gabrielle gets". Also, once in each episode, Amarice is ordered by Xena to stay and protect Gabrielle when she is unavailable to do so.

[50] Still later, Amarice is present when Gabrielle, with Eli's encouragement, ceases all activity and becomes a perfect vessel for love. She "reached that state of emptiness," as Eli puts it, and is now truly ready to receive love. At this point, Amarice is no longer needed to act as our point of view. Gabrielle receives her love and, in so doing, kills eight men protecting her love.

[51] When Xena awakens in the prison cell, Gabrielle is her first thought. She is in Gabrielle's arms and when Gabrielle says her name, she sighs. Gabrielle kisses her forehead. They look at each other lovingly. There is dialogue about crying. The scene changes and then returns to them. They look at each other lovingly. There is more dialogue about mistreatment, self-actualization, and scrolls. They look at each other very lovingly. The scene changes and then returns as they are led to the crosses. They are tied down. They look at each other with love and concern. Callisto makes her appearance, and she and Xena have a dialogue. Callisto leaves. The partners look at each other with love and resolve.

XENA Gabrielle, you are the best thing in my life. GABRIELLE I love you, Xena. (They look at each other lovingly and smile.)
[52] The last image we see of them as they are resurrected is the two of them, holding hands, smiling, looking at each other and then both looking skyward. Romance cannot get any better than this.


[53] Eroticism is defined in Webster's Dictionary as sexual instinct and behavior; erotic pertaining to or prompted by sexual feelings or desires, as can be described in poetry, literature and film. It is from the Greek word Eros, the god of love (Cupid being the Roman equivalent). Homo-eroticism, predictably, is defined as sexual desire for a person of the same sex.

[54] If one chooses to dispute or explain away the two previously cited subtext elements of this article, one could probably present some persuasive arguments. However, there can be no logical explaining away of the blatant physical homo-eroticism displayed in the fourth season. Never before have I personally seen this level of lesbian eroticism on television that did not require a pay-per-view or subscription fee.

Why Gabrielle never gets to play 'horsie'

Xena and Borias emerge from under the bearskin.

[55] Homo-erotic behavior was evident in the premier episode of the fourth season, ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE I (69/401). Immediately following the very hetero-erotic sex scene between Xena and Borias, Alti enters their tent with Anokin, a small, young, scantily-clad woman (not wearing enough clothing to cover her body from the cold of the Steppes). Xena is immediately drawn to both women, and her attention is focused on Anokin as Alti strokes the young girl's hair. For added sexual intensity, the girl writhes and moans as though she is experiencing sexual stimulation, which seems to attract Xena even more.

[56] When asked about Alti's purpose in displaying Anokin to Xena, actress Claire Stansfield stated, rather bluntly, "Alti knew how to get Xena," adding, "Anokin was [used] to lure Xena" [Note 07]. Specifically, Alti's spiritual powers allows her to sense what Xena desired, and that desire was a specific type of female companionship. Even Borias wonders what kind of spell has been put on Xena as he watches her cradle, cry over, and appear to almost kiss a dead Anokin.

[57] In SIN TRADE II (70/402), Xena is a voyeur, plain and simple. She eyes Cyane's muscular nude form from the roof and would have continued eyeing had the roof not collapsed. This is evident in the fact that she hesitates in attacking Cyane once she is in the hut because she is too busy taking in the luscious body in front of her.

[58] SIN TRADE II (70/402) also marked another new phenomenon of fourth season subtext: the body massage. Oteri is the first lucky recipient as Xena strokes her back and cracks her neck in the sweat lodge. Xena is given her first Gabby massage in LOCKED UP AND TIED DOWN (75/407), her satisfied moan indicating that Gabrielle too has many skills. In PAST IMPERFECT (77/409), we learn that massages have been historically very important to Xena as she is treated to one by her slave girl Satrina.

[59] By the time they reach India, Gabrielle's massaging skills have improved so much, Xena utters an orgasmic moan as she professes to Gabrielle, "Maybe you are a Devi". DEVI (82/414) also displayed another homo-erotic scene when the demon Tataka, having now fully taken over Gabrielle's body, flaunts herself before Xena seductively, running her hands along her waist and breasts and proclaiming to Xena, "You want me out? You're gonna have to kill this sweet little body to do it, and I don't think you can". Furthermore, Tataka could have used her demon powers to injure Xena in any number of ways. She elects to lick Xena's face.

[60] With regard to massage scenes, however, the most homo-erotic massage scene takes place in the most erotic episode of the fourth season, PARADISE FOUND (81/413). This episode reeks of homo-eroticism from the first scene: clothes scattered about, we see a wet and naked Gabrielle, covered only in a bearskin, administering first-aid to Xena's left upper thigh. Xena is wet and covered also, but she is fully clothed. Gabrielle stands straddled between Xena's legs. Xena tells Gabrielle she has sailor's hands. Xena watches as Gabrielle puts on her bilious green sports bra and presumably everything else. A few moments later, as they discuss the "vision", Gabrielle is again straddled between Xena's legs and both of her hands nonchalantly rest, one on each of Xena's upper thighs.

[61] After arriving in "Paradise", Gabrielle's first thought upon meeting Aiden is securing a hot bath. To make sure Xena is on the same brain-wave, Gabrielle smacks her across her butt. Now, in all of the abundance of Aiden's "Paradise", the two women could have easily bathed separately, but then Xena would have missed out on a steamy, warm, candle-spiced shoulder massage from Gabrielle. This scene is far more erotic than the famous hot-tub scene in A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215) because there is literally no space between Xena's back and Gabrielle's front, leaving to the viewer's imagination where Gabrielle's legs are located and what Xena's hands are doing under the water.

[62] When Xena exits the tub as Gar enters the room, Gabrielle's eyes are on her partner's naked form.

[63] Later, the viewer is treated to a shot of a prone, seductive Gabrielle laying on the yin side of a bed while Xena frantically does sit-ups next to her. What makes this scene so erotic is if one considers the last time Xena was engaging in frantic exercise. It was A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222) and Xena was exercising in a vain attempt to get carnal thoughts of Draco out of her mind.

[64] Later still, back in the bath, Xena caresses Gabrielle's hand to her cheek just as the delusions take over and she envisions herself breaking Gabrielle's hand. When she comes out of the delusion, Gabrielle has draped that hand down Xena's shoulder.

[65] We are truly in "Paradise", however, and thus, the best is saved for last. Xena unties Gabrielle's halter top and gives her a body massage. What makes this scene ever so erotic, besides the obvious, is when one considers the fact that Gabrielle didn't need a body massage. She had a knot in her back that a simple knead to the area would have relaxed. What makes it so homo-erotic is that most people, besides massage therapists, would not have given this type of massage (back, up and down each arm, and down the back, past the butt, thighs and calves to the feet) to anyone other than a romantic or sex partner.

[66] The episode ends as it begins, in a cave, a totally naked Gabrielle pressing against Xena's back and then a bearskin-covered Gabrielle standing with Xena, sailor's hands and all.

[67] A close runner-up to PARADISE FOUND (81/413) in homo-erotic content is highly charged mehndi application scene in BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415). What makes this scene unusual is when the viewer considers the fact that, in body, it is a young man applying the paint to an old woman. Everyone around them sees them as Shakti and Arminestra. However, Xena and Gabrielle are able see each other beyond their "changed" physical form and respond very sensuously to the beautiful forms each knows and loves, hence the eroticism. When Xena is following the lines of the mehndi on Shakti's chest (and sighing, open-mouth, and hazed-eyes in the process) we know it is her Gabrielle that she is seeing and feeling. It is also important to note that the mehndi kit is hidden in a drawer behind a wall where the symbol for Woman has been painted.

[68] If subtexters consider the circumstances behind the mehndi application scene from BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), they may be able to put into perspective the Harry/Mattie kissing scene from DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422). This may be achieved by simply assuming that, once again, the souls of Xena and Gabrielle are seeing themselves beyond their changed physical forms.

[69] There were other brief physical exchanges in the fourth season which could be characterized as homo-erotic. In A TALE OF TWO MUSES (74/406), Xena and Gabrielle are laying next to one another outside and away from others by their own choice. Gabrielle starts to get up to dance and Xena forces her back down by throwing her hand on Gabrielle's chest just above the breasts. She takes her time in removing the hand. In IF THE SHOE FITS... (80/412), Xena watches Gabrielle shower for a brief moment before snatching the BGSB. In THE PLAY'S THE THING (85/417), Gabrielle and Actress Xena (Paulina) ham it up in a stage prop hot tub. In BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415), Gabrielle declares to Xena that she is sexy in her new outfit. And in THE CONVERT (86/418), Xena and Gabrielle again sleep in a clearing away from the others, including (and perhaps especially) Najara.

Now take off all your clothes and do the Xena yell

Therapy at its best in DEJA VU.

[70] Finally, despite the heterosexual tone of the story, homo-eroticism existed in the last episode of the season, DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (90/422). There was one brief scene. It occurred during the meeting of Annie and Mattie. When Mattie enters the room, all eyes are on her. She overtly flirts with both "Joan of Arc" and "Patton" before settling her flirtations on Annie.

MATTIE Ah, you must be Xena. ANNIE Um hum. MATTIE Are you ready? ANNIE Absolutely.
[71] Their four-line double-entendre dialogue, when their facial expressions, eye contact, body language and tones of voices are observed, can be easily described as seductive. This is true for two possible reasons. One, Annie is the reincarnated Joxer, and thus is responding to two-thousand years of hopeless infatuation for Gabrielle/Mattie. Two, Annie, being a huge fan of the show and believing herself to be the reincarnated Xena, is behaving consistently with Xena's perceived bisexual tendencies by responding naturally to her physical attraction to Mattie. Mattie, obviously, is behaving consistently with Gabrielle's bisexual tendencies. In any event, the scene is highly charged.


[72] For most of us either in a committed relationship or those of us who desire to be in one, regardless of our sexual orientation, the physical and sexual aspect of the relationship is just a portion of a bonding that encompasses so many other things: expressions of love, an emotional connection, a spiritual bonding, a profound friendship, and a desired commitment. For most subtext-friendly fans of Xena: Warrior Princess, these other elements which make up a relationship clearly exist between Xena and Gabrielle, regardless of whether or not there has been sexual consummation, and the relationship continues to be the primary drawing force for all viewers. Now going into the fifth season, these important elements will, hopefully, continue to exist on the show at a higher degree than in past seasons. Because two women are the focus of this type of loving relationship, the suggestion of a lesbian relationship continues to be a strong presence. Therefore, subtext, or maintext if one dares, is alive and healthy on Xena: Warrior Princess.


Note 01:
Michael Logan: "Wonder Women"; TV Guide, April 10, 1999, p. 22.
Return to article

Note 02:
Nikki Stafford: Nikki: Lucy Lawless & Renee O'Connor: Warrior Stars Of Xena; ECW Press, 1998 p. 325.
Return to article

Note 03:
Raymond Murray: Images In The Dark: An Encyclopedia Of Gay & Lesbian Film & Video; TLA Publications, 1994 p.98.
Return to article

Note 04:
Vito Russo: The Celluloid Closet (Revised Edition); Harper & Row, 1987 p.80.
Return to article

Note 05:
Boze Hadleigh: The Lavender Screen; Citadel Press, 1993 p.86
Return to article

Note 06:
Sherry Johnson: "Xena & Gabrielle: A Revisitation of the Classic Romantic Friendship"; Whoosh! Online Edition 1997
Return to article

Note 07:
Chakram #6; Official Xena Fan Club Newsletter p. 11
Return to article


Chakram #6; Official Xena Fan Club Newsletter p. 11

Hadleigh, Boze: The Lavender Screen; Citadel Press, 1993 p.86

Johnson, Sherry: "Xena & Gabrielle: A Revisitation of the Classic Romantic Friendship"; Whoosh! Online Edition 1997

Logan, Michael: "Wonder Women"; TV Guide, April 10, 1999, p. 22.

Murray, Raymond: Images In The Dark: An Encyclopedia Of Gay & Lesbian Film & Video; TLA Publications, 1994 p.98.

Russo, Vito: The Celluloid Closet (Revised Edition); Harper & Row, 1987 p.80.

Stafford, Nikki: Lucy Lawless & Renee O'Connor: Warrior Stars Of Xena; ECW Press, 1998 p. 325.


Valerie Foster Valerie Foster
Although I am a native of Detroit, I currently reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a.k.a. the "Michigan Bible Belt" where I am an attorney and adjunct professor. I am relatively new to the Xenaverse, having "discovered" the show during Rerun Hell of the Third Season. Because of my lack of emotional commitment at the time I originally viewed it, the whole Rift Saga does not affect me as deeply as it does many Veteran Nutballs. However, I now do proudly proclaim my Hardcore Nutball status, although most folks around here in Amway-land just don't get it.
Favorite episode: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302); ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313); CRUSADER (76/408), IDES OF MARCH (89/421)
Favorite line: Xena: "We're gonna kill em all!" THE PRICE (44/220); Xena: "Oooh, that's gonna hurt." CRUSADER (76/408)
First episode seen: LOST MARINER [in rerun] (45/221)
Least favorite episode: KING CON (61/315), KEY TO THE KINGDOM (78/410)

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