Queer Theory and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

As we watched the “Angel” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I became increasingly sure that there was a lot to be done with queer theory with this episode in particular. While there were certainly aspects of feminist theory, and the uncanny and unhomely within this episode I found myself primarily focused upon the threads of queer theory that I was seeing.

Angel is a vampire, but he is also one with a soul and with the ability to feel remorse for his actions. He is introduced as a handsome, older man who appears to be ‘normal’. His presence is a non-threatening one and he even helps save Buffy from a situation that was quickly going downhill. He seems to have assimilated almost perfectly to the human world and passes as human with ease. While he still needs to drink blood and needs to be invited in order to enter a home, he works hard to repress his inner urges and desires. The photo below is how Angel typically looks and further proves just how ‘normal’ he appears to be.

Image result for angel buffy the vampire slayer

He has a soul and a conscience but his inner desires are still there. They don’t go away because he has assimilated. He tries to be as human as possible and when Darla enters his makeshift home, she calls him out on this. She talks about how different he is from when they first met and how hard he is trying to be human. She mocks him for living above ground and even says that he will never be human. No matter how hard he tries, Angel will always be “the other”. To this, Angel responds with something along the lines of him not being like vampires either. This acts as a blatant denial of he is at the fundamental and most basic level. Furthermore, when Angel does act upon his inner desires, his entire face shifts. The angelic exterior is replaced with something foreign and unwelcome. This happens two times in the episode, once when he kisses Buffy and secondly when he is near Buffy’s bleeding mother. It seems important, and noncoinciedental,  that both times he shifts are related to moments of  repressed physical desire.

There are few different ways in which this relates to queer theory. Firstly, there is the fact that in Buffy the Vampire Slayer there are humans and there are vampires. The vampires are the “other” and are met with suspicion and viewed as threatening. As the “other” vampires aren’t the norm and most ‘people’ are assumed to be human. This is similar to heteronormativity and the ways in which people are assumed to be straight until it is proven otherwise. As Parker states, “compulsory heterosexuality refers to the impression, explicit or implicit, that people should be heterosexual or else something is wrong with them.” (Parker 187) If we apply this thinking to Buffy, we can see that there are explicit and implicit ideas that people should be human and that if they aren’t, they are a problem.  I recognize that it might seem like a stretch, but there is a longstanding history of vampires/werewolves and paranormal creatures in general acting as metaphors for homosexuality or representing the struggles that lgbtq+ individuals face. It doesn’t seem completely out of the question that this would be the case in Buffy.

Furthermore, there is the fact that much of this episode is about Angel’s repression of desires, yearning to assimilate and the shift that happens when he acts upon or is faced with physical desire. These all directly relate to queer theory as a significant part of queer theory is “thinking about the way that, across history, cultures have understood or repressed queer acts, enacted queer identities, or abused or denied the existence of queer people.” (Parker 185) Within this episode, there is the clear repression of queer acts and the denial of one’s own identity as well as abuse regarding identity.

There is also the literary closet within this episode. Angel’s apartment is a dark and rather dingy place where he is completely isolated. It is also where he stores the blood that he needs to drink in order to survive. His apartment acts as the literary closet particularly because the closet acts as a way for people “[to] keep their queer desires private rather than public.” (Parker 201) It is only here that he can feed. His desires can only exist within this private place away from the outside world.

While the actual plot of the episode involves the heterosexual relationship between Buffy and Angel, there are a variety of aspects about the episode that lead to a queer reading of it. This episode contains so much repression, denial, inner desires that can’t be acted upon, and these are all so heavily intertwined with queer theory.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael K. Johnson

     /  March 16, 2017

    Yes, this makes sense, especially if we consider “queer” in the context not just of homosexuality but in terms of “non-normative behavior” generally. For vampires, humans (male or female) are object of desire, and they will satisfy that desire by feeding on either sex. You’re right to read Angel’s space as a kind of “closet” as well, one which Buffy doesn’t even know about, and one which she (unlike Darla) doesn’t enter. Harry Benshoff’s “Monsters in the Closet” might be useful for you to take a look at. If you’ll remind me on Tuesday, I’ll give you a copy of a chapter that might be relevant to the argument you’re making.


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