Buffy and Faith's Relationship Taught Me About Queer Thirst
In the summer of 2003, I locked myself in my bedroom and took detailed notes documenting the secret lesbian romance in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "Fuffy" taught me that same-sex relationships could be messy, complicated, and real as hell.
Jul 5 2018, 2:58pm
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"You Make Me Wanna" is a column celebrating pop culture-fueled sexual awakenings—from crushing on cartoon characters to humping pillows while watching boyband videos.
Does metabolism correlate with libido? That’s what Faith, the leather-clad Bostonian slayer who arrives in the third series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, believes. After a session spent driving spiky sticks into her vampire foes in the Season 3 episode "Faith, Hope & Trick," Faith breathlessly husks to Buffy: "God, I could eat a horse, isn’t it crazy how slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?"
I didn’t do much slaying during the summer of 2003. Instead, I ate bagels, stacked high with melted cheese and drenched in creamy salad dressing. Every day, I’d devour one of those bagels alone in my darkened bedroom, curtains closed until mid-afternoon, while watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Being out with my same-sex desire wasn’t really an option at that time, not just because bisexuality was considered a girls’ party trick and lesbianism plain weird, but every crush I’d had on girls bordered on obsession. And one day that summer, Faith strutted in.
Her eyes were big and darting, her dimples obscenely deep, her eyebrows arched with depravity. And that voice, although littered with shoehorned Bostonianisms ("everything’s five by five" and "wicked-cool"), rasped in all the right places. Plus, Faith didn’t give a singular shit. Sure, there was a backstory—Faith was too troubled to truly connect with people—but what I first saw, and envied, was her steeliness. Winsome, warbling Willow, despite having an onscreen lesbian romance in the show, was always too malleable for me to relate to or find attractive: a nerdy girl who spoke like she’d drank too much milk. Faith, on the other hand, was a sexy nightmare—and that’s what I liked about her.
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Concealing her worries with tank-tops, toughness, metal jewelry, and night-time make-up, Faith arrives in Season 3 doing whatever she likes. Called to become a Slayer after Buffy’s replacement Kendra dies, Faith arrives in Buffy’s hometown of Sunnydale, which happens to be placed over a Hellmouth from which vampires spew forth. She shares Buffy’s powers and duties, but also represents freedom and subversion. Faith is flawed but exciting, helping our heroine stray—for the first time—into skipping school, stealing knives, and running from the police.
But it isn’t long before Faith’s history of trauma and violence begins to emerge through her reckless behavior. Though Faith and Buffy are pulled together by their understanding of one another’s secret gifts, Faith’s overzealous lust for the kill isolates her. She refuses to deal with the darkness inside her, instead sequestering herself in her motel bedroom to zone out and watch TV. In many ways, Faith was much like my teenage self—minus the bagels.
What was Faith so bummed about? Back then, I was convinced it was because Buffy had jilted her. Don’t argue with me about the subtext between Faith and Buffy: or as I like to call them, Fuffy.
Buffy aficionados and fan-fiction writers would have described Fuffy as a canonical sexual relationship: meaning that it could fit within the parameters of the storyline as set by its original creators, although we never got to see it on screen. Even as Faith flirted with Giles and slept with Xander, and Buffy went on to date military man Riley, Fuffy felt—to my teenage self—deeply real.
The season 3 episode titled "Bad Girls" is peak Fuffy. Faith turns up at Buffy’s school and, hot mouth open, draws a heart in the mist she blew onto her classroom window. She invites her new comrade out to play. And play they do: they slay together, eat ribs together, and dance to techno music together. After this, though, Faith and Buffy begin to feud: Buffy can’t accept what she reads as Faith’s bloodlust and amorality, and the growing distance between them is easily read as a break-up. And when, at the end of Season 3, Buffy stabs Faith with an enormous knife—well, that’s just what Buffy does to all her great loves (season 2 ended with her killing ex-boyfriend Angel.)
I recorded the clues to Fuffy's existence on a fan-fiction site, watching and re-watching my VHS tapes of Buffy whilst taking detailed, handwritten notes to post online. Doing this gave me a sense of achievement: I’d spotted all the clues of Fuffy’s existence. Like the scene where Faith challenges Buffy to a fight in the season 4 episode, "This Year's Girl." "So, let’s have another go at it, see who lands on top,” Faith quips, flirtatiously.
In retrospect, I can see that I'd turned my own yearning to be in a hyper-intense relationship of two individuals against a world that refused to understand us, into something quantifiable. I'd savor the moment when Buffy was asked by the Scooby Gang if she had a secret boyfriend in the season 3 episode, "Revelations." "Really," Faith said sarcastically, strolling in and putting an arm around Buffy's waist, "we're just good friends."
In summer 2003, Section 28—which banned Britain’s local authorities from promoting homosexuality—had only just been repealed. The only lesbians I'd heard of were P!nk and [English comedian] Jo Brand—and they weren’t even lesbians. Sure, Madonna would kiss Britney and Christina at the MTV VMAs that year in a simulated sapphic embrace, and a few KT Tunstall songs spoke to me, but really there was nothing in popular culture to latch my substantial lustiness onto—until Faith’s evil smirk beamed across my box-like TV.
Before Faith, my puberty had been shaped by boys’ sexual objectification: they either deemed me fuckable or unfuckable. Although I’d been on either side of that rusty coin, both situations sucked. I wanted a way out, a way to view desire as a woman-only enterprise. To then see Faith want Buffy was to see bravery in action.
It didn’t matter that Buffy couldn’t trust Faith to not turn to the dark side, or that Faith flounced off as soon as the Mayor, a Trump-esque character, turned up with offers of money and entitlement. For me, the power of Fuffy came from learning that women could objectify other women and treat them like lovers around the world do (badly). I saw how same-sex relationships were as complicated, messy, and real as the heterosexual pairings you normally saw on TV and in films; and this realisation paved a road to better places I never knew existed.
In an ideal world, I’d have learned about my sexuality from queer women around me. But my reality was a social life consisting of house parties, MSN Messenger, and nights sitting on park benches watching boys get stoned and down bottles of budget vodka. All the women I knew then who now identify as lesbians, including me, were afraid to live openly back then.
Hiding away with Fuffy was a welcome reprieve. Once I finished all the seasons of Buffy—and got to see Faith’s repentant turn in the finale—I followed Eliza Dushku, who played Faith, around cable channels, trivia websites (did you know she was raised Mormon?) and all the films where she was delightfully typecast as a readably queer tough girl: Bring It On, Soul Survivors, Wrong Turn, and The New Guy. I even watched the Quantum Leap remake Tru Calling!
And soon, I found real bad girls who made Faith seem one-dimensional—bad girls who came for me, bad girls who became my best friends and my worst exes. I'd sneak out to basement dive bars and gay clubs on my own and chain-smoke until someone spoke to me, then kiss them as thanks.
Looking back now, there are problems with the Fuffy pairing. It feels uncomfortable to me, now, that a man (Buffy creator Joss Whedon) was constructing my romantic fantasies, even if he insisted in a 2009 interview that the Fuffy fan theories initially made him "angry", as the lesbian subtext wasn't intentional. And allegations made against Whedon by his ex-wife in a 2017 essay have soured some fans' relationship with the show. But I’ll always be grateful to Fuffy for showing me there were others like me, others who had the same powers and vulnerabilities as me.
That long, hermetic summer of 2003, Faith sated a pretty hungry, and incredibly thirsty, young woman.