The show even helped me come to terms with my sexuality. Willow’s coming out to Buffy in season 4 was not only my first exposure to a “coming out,” but cemented the notion that coming out didn’t have to be scary. “Are you freaked out?” Willow asked Buffy, mirroring a question I’d find myself asking years later when I, too, came out. “Que? No,” Buffy tells her, looking slightly uncomfortable. Willow’s reaction wordlessly calls out Buffy’s judgment of her. Then Buffy, in a moment of recalibration: “No… absolutely not to that question,” Buffy tells her. “I’m glad you told me.” And she means it, as it’s evident this time in her words and her face. It wasn’t an after-school special moment, not at all treacly or saccharine. It was real life. Or, rather, it felt like real life. Moments like these happened often, and further deepened the connection between the show and its loyal audience.
And though “Buffy” ended its run in 2003, my love for it not only endured, it grew. The show that made me feel less alone in my youth would be the catalyst to discovering so many others like me — those who loved “Buffy” or those who grew up feeling outcast, or, as was often the case, both. That’s the thing about great works of art: They not only can teach us about ourselves and the world around us, enriching the human experience; they can also bring us together.
I don’t know who I’d be today if I hadn’t switched the channel over to the WB on Oct. 27, 1997 (yes, I remember the date!). “Evan, turn that off immediately,” my mother quacked, which sent me running to the basement week after week, taking this show in like a religious experience that could at any moment be ripped away from me. (Mom eventually acquiesced and let me watch upstairs.) I don’t know if I could move through the world without the confidence and self-assuredness this show gave me, or the ability to fake it. In that sense, Whedon was on the nose in cultivating a fandom that loves this show in a way that other shows can’t be loved.
I got to meet Sarah Michelle Gellar in 2017. Then again in 2019. And again in 2021. The latter was for an interview for my book, an oral history of “Buffy” that I was authoring ahead of the show’s 25th anniversary. They say never meet your heroes, but “they” have clearly never met Sarah Michelle Gellar. It’s odd, to say the least, humanizing a figure that for so much of your life you’ve spent deifying. But there’s a parallel here to the show in yielding that power away from one person and instead sharing it. I still love her, duh. But I also love I now, too, in many ways thanks to her. And I love others, too. The friend group I’ve cultivated. The boyfriend that childhood never knew I could have. And so many more.
And another thing “Buffy” taught me? To quote season 2, episode 19: “Love is forever.”