Gal Pals

Their joy is pure, unadulterated, love for queer women love.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a part of me for 20 years. It has been a bomb shelter when the world around me is crashing down, a dark tunnel to crawl through, to smell the wet earth and feel the big feels, and a spiritual text to return to again and again with new lessons to uncover. There is no single text or experience that has shaped me as fundamentally as Buffy. The series is so layered, so abundant in its offerings, that as I grow and change, my experience watching it always changes too. 

While I have converted many a newbie to Buffy, I’ve never met a Buffy fanatic that watched the show as I did and do. I resigned myself to the fact that while there probably were Buffy fans out there I could jive with, we may never find each other—- doomed to a solitary existence in my devotion. And I was totally fine with that. I was fine.

Then, during a stressful time and in need of comfort, I decided to look into Buffy podcasts. Why on earth didn’t I think of this before? The top rated of the bunch was Buffering the Vampire Slayer. Like the first time I watched Buffy, I began Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo’s podcast without fully comprehending the treasures that awaited me.

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Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo

Youngs and Russo began Buffering the Vampire Slayer, a podcast exploring every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in chronological order, spoiler free, in September 2016. Not only do they dive into the rich folds of every episode, but they write and perform an original song that encapsulates (both musically and lyrically) the essence of the episode. 

I, and all the rabid Buffy fans out there, have been given a true gift. The gift of two amazing queer women whose love for each other is matched only by their love for the “one girl in all the world,” the one show in all the world, that brings us together.

Spoilers ahead for Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There is a lot to gush about this podcast, most certainly the original songs, the jingles, their friend Kate Leth’s Buffy fashion updates, and the revelry for the show that radiates from Russo and Youngs in every conversation.

What’s truly special about Buffering is that Youngs and Russo center queerness in their engagement. 

As a queer woman, I’ve always found my queer identification in Buffy in the more obvious place— the love between Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode “Once More with Feeling”

In season 4 of Buffy, Willow meets Tara in a Wicca group on their college campus. They form a bond, start spending time together practicing magic (which in the first half of the season works as a metaphor for sexual intimacy) and leads to one of the hottest sex scenes in the whole show (metaphorical or otherwise).

Eventually the subtext becomes literal text and Willow and Tara are TOGETHER and they LOVE EACH OTHER and they have arguably the healthiest relationship of any one else in the series! Also, while Buffy was not the first show to ever have two women kissing on network television, it was still happening in an era where the creators had to fight hard for this kiss:

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5, “The Body”

So whenever I’m hungering for a queer story arc, I have traditionally turned to Willow/Tara in seasons 4-6.

That is, until I listened to Youngs and Russo’s Season 3 of Buffering the Vampire Slayer. These beautiful humans opened my eyes to the very queer subtext between Buffy Summers and Faith Lehane.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3, Episode “Enemies”

Buffy and Faith’s relationship arc has always been one of my favorites in the series. The writers’ original intention in the creation of Faith’s character was to have her serve as a dramatic foil to Buffy. Buffy is light, Faith is dark; Buffy is responsible; Faith is wild; Buffy has family she can trust and financial security; Faith has a history of childhood trauma and a flea bag motel. They embark on an often fraught, always deeply intense journey together that tragically ends in Faith’s eventual turn to the dark side and spiral into self-destruction. 

There is a long-standing tradition of queer fans of Buffy picking apart the romantic subtext of Buffy/Faith, but Youngs and Russo have shown a particularly bright, HOT light on the simmering tension between these women. Not only do they refer to Season 3 as “Season Faith,” but they discuss with unbridled excitement what is so obvious I can’t believe I never saw it before: Buffy and Faith are more than just gal pals, the chosen two, they totally wanna do it!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3, Episode “Bad Girls”

The tone for most Buffy/Faith centric Buffering episodes is a combination of Youngs making va-va-vroom noises to express her arousal engine revving, and Russo waxing poetry that she calls “erotic novels,” which she composes out of dialogue between the two (which you can now, and absolutely should, purchase in zine form at the Buffering store).

Buffy & Faith Zine - Buffering the Vampire Slayer - Hello Merch

“Buffy & Faith” Zine from the Buffering store

Their joy is pure, unadulterated, love for queer women love. 

But it’s not just all about the sex (as fun as that is), they also take great care in unpacking the emotional weight of Buffy and Faith’s relationship. They express this powerfully in their song for the episode “Faith, Hope, and Trick,” where Buffy and Faith first meet. Youngs voices Buffy’s parts of the song, and Jess Abbot of Tancred voices Faith’s parts.

Buffering the Vampire Slayer, Songs from Season 3, “Faith, Hope, and Trick”

The moment that always gives me chills is “I know a thing or two about private pain/ the look I see in your eyes is just the same/ as mine,/ as mine.”

The psychological and spiritual connection between Buffy and Faith is as beautiful as it is tragic. In the Season 3 finale “Graduation Day Part 2,” Buffy and Faith’s relationship has come to a head. Buffy stabbed Faith, who is now in a coma. Before Buffy goes on to prepare for the big battle, the slayers share a dream together. In it, Faith offers Buffy what she needs to win the upcoming fight. “Just take what you need” Faith says, as she reaches out to touch her. It is beautiful, and haunting.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3, Episode “Graduation Day Part 2”

Youngs and Russo linger in this moment in their song for “Graduation Day Part 2”:

“I saw you in my dream last night./ You told me what I need to win this fight./ For you I dream a dream of life./ For you I dream a dream of life.” Buffy and Faith understand each other in a way no one else could, and Youngs and Russo have helped me understand them.

I’m rewatching Buffy again, and just finished Season Faith. Experiencing my favorite show with my gal pals from Buffering whispering sweet queer nothings into my soul has really stirred some things up for me. As Russo so aptly exclaims during the episode “Revelations,” “Now that I’m re-watching, I feel like the queerest I’ve ever been in my life!”

The reason I’ve never seen the queer in Buffy/Faith is not only because the writers crafted their arc with heteronormative pens, but because I have heteronormativity internalized so deeply, like all social constructs, that I will spend the rest of my life and more unravelling and pulling the threads out.

That’s me with them at the live taping!

Buffering the Vampire Slayer is currently midway through Season 4. I was lucky enough to get to see them tape the episode “Beer Bad” live at The Littlefield in Brooklyn last month, where other queer Buffy fans gathered and I got to meet Youngs and Russo and they were the sweetest and I definitely blacked out.

Youngs and Russo are remarkable women doing remarkable work. Youngs is a insanely talented musician, you can find all her music here, and Russo is the cofounder of the organizations Everyone is Gay, My Kid is Gay, and the cowriter of This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.

I cannot WAIT to continue this journey with them, and am holding my breath until they get to the next chapter in the Faith/Buffy saga, the two-part body swap episodes “This Year’s Girl” and “Who are You?” 

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4, Episode “This Year’s Girl”

Russo and Youngs are the home, the family, the community where I can turn to feel loud and proud about my love for Buffy, and my love for women.

You can listen to all episodes of Buffering the Vampire Slayer for free wherever you access podcasts. Now that Russo and Youngs have begun Season 4 of Buffy (which is when the
spinoff series Angel originally began) their friends Brittany Ashley and Laura Zak (of the Daria podcast Sicker Sadder World) have started the equally delightful companion podcast Angel on Top! Whether you’re already fans of Buffy/Angel, or have been thinking of starting them for the first time, these are the people you’ll want to journey with.

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