1995: the year Bill Clinton signed an executive order banning LGBT discrimination. The year that San Francisco outlawed gender identity discrimination. The first challenge to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It also introduced us to a warrior princess. Xena was filled with lesbian innuendo, and it became a cult classic for that reason alone.
September 4, 1995 was the first day we saw the escapades of Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Gabrielle (ReneÌ€e O’Connor). From that day on, television and pop culture was never the same.
The show started out as a spin-off of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, where Xena would occasionally appear before she was given her own series.
Xena: Warrior Princess was known for many things. For one, prior to her, action heroes were largely men. Even the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon, admitted that Xena was a huge influence.
True, Xena was by no means the first female action hero—after all, the Bionic Woman and Wonder Woman both predated her. However, this warrior princess never had a long-term male romantic partner on screen, nor did she have an overly feminine alter-ego.
What many fondly remember about Xena today was the lesbian subtext to the series: the relationship between her and Gabrielle became what many viewers tuned in for. Leaving it ambiguous was by design; executive producer Stephen L. Sears later said that Xena and Gabrielle “have love for each other. It’s up to the audience to determine what that love is.”
Yet, the nature of their relationship became so obvious that Lucy Lawless went on record about it after the series ended. She told Lesbian News in 2003 that she felt that Xena was “definitely gay.”
ReneÌ€e O’Connor also spoke about the relationship. After a Xena convention in 2008, she told After Ellen, “To me it was main text. And even if it was subtext, it was very clear that we were together. They are so in love with each other, they love each other so dearly; there’s no way you can say that’s not true. Anyone can see that from watching the show.”
Xena: Warrior Princess became very well-respected, even if it was never incredibly popular. It won five ASCAP and one Emmy award. That’s not too shabby for a show that was eclipsed in popularity by more contemporary female action heroes like those in Buffy and Dark Angel.
The show ended its run in June of 2001. After five seasons, the series was over…
Or is it?
There are rumors going around now that there might actually be a modern reboot, meaning it’s entirely possible that we could see more tales of Xena and Gabrielle. The question is, are networks ready to bring it back?
Xena was and is a very important show. It talked about morality without demonizing sexuality, and showed that many were willing to accept their hero having a lesbian relationship even back in the 1990s. Xena became an archetype of a strong female hero who didn’t need a male companion to matter.
Xena: Warrior Princess gave a lot to television. It’s possible that we may get more of it in the future.