Nearly 25 years since its debut in 1997, Buffy The Vampire Slayer remains one of the most celebrated series when it comes to early depictions of queerness on television. When lesbian witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) first kissed in “The Body”, it marked the beginning of one of the first long-term lesbian relationships on American TV. Though the debate rages on about whether or not Willow and Tara make for good representation, the prevalence of queer characters on Buffy The Vampire Slayer sets it apart from many of its contemporaries. Even non-canon couples like Faith (Eliza Dushku) and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) have ardent sects of fan support, and make for compelling allegorical examples of the queer experience—a narrative mostly unexplored by the vast majority of its contemporaries.
But while discussions abound about the strides for lesbian visibility made by Buffy The Vampire Slayer, many academic and fan conversations surrounding queerness and representation on the show often neglect to mention the four queer characters who made up the Whirlwind. Composed of Angel (David Boreanaz), Spike (James Marsters), Darla (Julie Benz), and Drusilla (Juliet Landau), the Whirlwind was a quartet of mischief-making bloodsuckers who put a twist on the longstanding tradition of using vampirism as code for queerness. Crucially, though, the vamps on Buffy aren’t just coded as queer— they’re canonically bisexual. Darla and Dru even had a threesome with The Immortal in Angel’s “The Girl In Question.” That revelation is either ignored by fans or simply unknown to more casual viewers because of how little fanfare their bisexuality garners over the course of the series. Despite falling into some unfortunate cliches in horror and fantasy media, the Buffyverse’s presentations of vampire sexuality offered early examples of queerness being treated with the kind of casualness that most queer couples aren’t afforded in modern media.
Many authors have opted to use science-fiction and horror/fantasy elements to queer-code their characters, masking them beneath “otherness” and spectacle to throw mainstream readers off the scent, while still being recognizably queer enough to appeal to LGBTQ+ audiences. Authors and filmmakers have used every creature from cat people to shapeshifting aliens to code characters as queer, but no other sci-fi, horror, or fantasy creature has such notorious and longstanding ties to queerness as the vampire. Beginning with Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampiress Carmilla, continuing on through Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and skyrocketing in popularity with Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire and the subsequent film adaption, the queer-coded vampire is a staple of early LGBTQ+ characterization. But Buffy The Vampire Slayer takes the coding out of the equation entirely and presents audiences with four bisexual vampires, an updated but imperfect approach to queer characters in horror and fantasy.
It’s worth noting that all of the major LGBTQ+ characters on Buffy The Vampire Slayer are “others” in some capacity—Willow and Tara are witches, Kennedy is a Slayer, and, of course, the four members of The Whirlwind are all vampires. The choice to make only non-human characters canonically queer carries on the tradition of using mysticism as code for queerness; on Buffy, characters are allowed to be both supernatural and queer.
Where Tara and Willow’s sexuality is explored with tender care and depth, the Whirlwind’s queerness is almost entirely referenced in off-handed comments and casual remarks—a fact of everyday life for vampires as opposed to a revelatory breakthrough. Even before they’re united onscreen, it’s established that the Whirlwind has a notorious reputation for wreaking havoc across the globe and having lots of kinky sex along the way. Throughout the series, Spike and Angel walk in on Drusilla and Darla having sex, Spike makes reference to having been “intimate” with Angel, and the quartet is implied to have enjoyed many an orgy during their time terrorizing Europe. The Whirlwind’s quiet, but unmistakable bisexuality was basically confirmed by series creator Joss Whedon, who said in a DVD commentary track:
“I’ve never seen a more intense or beautiful romance. We finally found the right girl for Angel, and I’m sort of kidding… They were hanging out for years and years and years and years. They were all kinds of deviant, they were vampires. Are we thinking they never…? Come on people, I’m just saying. I’m just saying. They’re open-minded guys. They may be evil, but they’re not bigoted or close-minded.”
This informal attitude towards queer vampires persists throughout the series. It’s generally understood, both in the context of the show and among fans, that most if not all vampires are sexually fluid. Even straight-as-an-arrow Harmony (Mercedes McNab) starts musing about threesomes with Spike and Charlize Theron after she’s turned. But the two characters most often at the center of this discussion are Spike and Angel. Though most of the conversation surrounding Spike and Angel revolves around who’s a better match for Buffy, to analyze their relationship with each other solely through their respective relationships with the Slayer is to ignore the history the vampires share. Spike and Drusilla are introduced as a pair and remain that way for the majority of the show’s modern-day scenes, yet Spike and Angel share their own electric connection. Their first encounter is so steamy (literally), it establishes a near-instant bond between the two, who rampage together for the next few decades. It’s implied in Angel’s fifth-season episode “Power Play” that, during this time, Angelus and Spike had an intense physical relationship alongside their deadly cavorting, which adds context to the tension between them once they reunite in the early seasons of Buffy.
Homoerotic “bromances” and rivalries are certainly nothing new to TV (especially teen dramas). But in the case of Angel and Spike, their history and chemistry are a significant part of their characterization—even canon, not fan-generated fervor—and their intense connection can easily be recontextualized as an epic, volatile, centuries-spanning love affair. On first (or second, or third) viewings of Buffy, though, it’s easy to miss the queerness of the show’s vampires entirely. Unlike the lesbians on Buffy, Angel, Spike, Drusilla, and Darla aren’t afforded the same painstaking care and season-long arcs exploring their sexualities. Of course, this is probably mostly due to the fact they’re villains and thus don’t often warrant the type of empathetic coming-out arcs heroes get, but the lack of fanfare surrounding their sexuality is an oxymoron of representation. They’re notable because they’re not notable.
For Spike, Angel, Drusilla, and Darla, queerness is just a fact, an element that frequently goes unmentioned, but isn’t invisible or forgotten. For all the fuss Buffy makes over Willow’s coming-out, the queerness of the Whirlwind is remarkable in its simplicity. They’re queer, everybody knows they’re queer, and that’s that. As wonderful as their casual queerness may be, the depiction of queer vampires on Buffy The Vampire Slayer has been criticized throughout the years. Such close and constant associations of queerness with depravity and villainy (what vampires represent in both the literal and allegorical sense on Buffy) reinforces negative stereotypes, particularly that queerness itself is inherently depraved or evil.
As ahead of its time as the casual depiction may have been, it’s hardly a perfect example of inclusivity, and raises questions about why the series was willing to put straight and lesbian sex scenes on TV, but not gay ones. Visibly bisexual characters, especially men, are far and few between even on modern TV, so it’s worth wondering why Buffy The Vampire Slayer didn’t give its male queer characters any sex scenes. The show certainly wasn’t prudish for its time; quite the opposite—Buffy spends nearly as much time hooking up with her revolving door of boyfriends as she does slaying, and once Tara and Willow get together, they’re treated to their fair share of magical sex scenes as well.
The way The Whirlwind is matter-of-factly presented as queer and then accepted as such without fuss from the rest of the show’s characters is still progressive for the time. Even Buffy herself “wigged” when Willow first came out to her. And, in 2020, Whedon revealed to Metro in that he was told he couldn’t make Willow bisexual because viewers might interpret bisexuality as a phase instead part of the character’s identity. Considering the sheer, unabashed amount of sexual tension between Angel and Spike, on both Buffy and Angel, the fact that both characters were bisexual leading men is remarkable. Willow and Tara will likely always remain the first couple that comes to mind when audiences think of LGBTQ+ representation in the Buffyverse, and for good reason—their onscreen visibility is a landmark for queerness on TV. But just as there’s more than one way to slay a vampire, there’s more than one way to portray queerness on television, and with The Whirlwind, Buffy The Vampire Slayer gave audiences a set of delicious, dastardly vampires whose bisexuality was a fact of (eternal) life.