I’m Watching Xena: Warrior Princess for the First Time, and My Wife Is What Makes It Special

When my wife and I first started dating, we were talking about the things fundamental to our queerness. She told me Xena: Warrior Princess cemented her being a lesbian, and I remember being surprised by that. I had long known about Xena and Gabrielle’s place in the canon of lesbian representation, but I had never known anyone who pointed at them as a crucial part of their queerness. She had been eager to share the show with me, but for the longest time, it wasn’t easily available to stream. Earlier this year, I found out it was streaming on Prime, and we decided it was time.

I was aware of Xena when it was on the air, but it wasn’t something I was interested in watching since fantasy shows aren’t really my vibe. Regardless, I was super excited when we finally sat down to watch it, because I knew what a big deal it was.

Xena is a fundamental part of my wife’s DNA. At a time when she wasn’t fully aware of her sexuality, she was able to see this show and realize that despite what society at large told her about being a lesbian, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing she could be. She was able to see that a loving relationship between two women was possible, and it gave her something to aspire to. But it was also just a way for her family to sit and have quality time together around the television. They had no idea how profound of an impact the show was having on her. It was the glue that bonded her to her first girlfriend.

Much like the way she watched it with her family as a kid, we’re watching it with our son. He isn’t interested in every episode, but we know which ones he will enjoy, and we make it a point to go back and show him. He has his favorite characters and episodes too, and it’s a really nice way for us to have family time.

The show was also the catalyst for my wife’s biggest creative endeavor: her documentary, Feeling Seen, which is about the representation of queer women on television. It originally started as a love letter to the show, but the more she researched and talked to people about the show, she realized it was bigger than just Xena. She’s been working on it for over six years now, and I’ve joined her as a producer and co-writer among other things. It’s actually through the documentary that I started to really understand just how much of an impact Xena had not just on her, but other queer women over the years. Through the doc, my wife has met people from the fan community, and so have I. She’s also formed relationships with people involved with the show directly. Renee O’Connor, who plays Gabrielle, has become a friend, which is absolutely wild to me. Sometimes it feels weird to watch the show and see someone you know intimately!

This is the first time my wife has been able to really share something with me that means so much to her. I, on the other hand, have been inundating her with the things I love since we started dating. She knows more than she’s ever wanted to know about all of my favorite pop stars and has seen so many episodes of my comfort shows and the shows that made me. I have always welcomed the opportunity to share Xena with her, but I think she had to be ready, too. Sharing something that means a lot to you with the person you love is intensely vulnerable. And since we’ve talked so much about how different our interests are, I think she was scared I wouldn’t like the show.

Even though she’d never say it, I know that if I didn’t really like Xena, it would have been devastating for her. If I had rejected the show, it would have been like I was rejecting a part of her. She’s very sensitive — it’s one of the things I love the most about her. But she takes rejection deeply. We both do, honestly. I understand the seriousness of her finally sharing the show with me, and I would never take that for granted.

She doesn’t always realize it, but sometimes it’s more fun for me to watch her watch the show than it is for me to watch it. I love getting to see those glimpses of who she was as a teenager seeing the show for the first time. Certain scenes and episodes live in her body. No matter how many times she’s seen them, it’s like seeing them for the first time every time. The show meant so much to her — it still does — and I love that she’s trusting me with such a big part of who she is. There’s a way her body changes during those tender moments between the characters that she thinks I don’t notice, but I do. I can see that teenage girl who hung onto every touch between Xena and Gabrielle, every whispered “I love you.” She has this slight edge to her voice when she talks about the male characters that are introduced as romantic prospects for them.

One of my favorite things is the excitement she shows when there’s an episode she really likes or thinks I’ll like. She knows me so well that she has yet to get it wrong. I love getting to see this show through her eyes; I don’t think I’d enjoy it half as much if I was watching it on my own without her as a guide. I know it probably sounds corny, but I’m really honored that she trusts me to share something so important with me.

Also, it must be said, Xena: Warrior Princess is actually a really enjoyable show! The campiness isn’t something I would have appreciated back then, but now? I love it. One of my favorite things is the sound effects. Even though they happen constantly, sometimes all it takes is one woosh to send me into a fit of giggles. The episode where Xena and Gabrielle get fleas and you can hear the fleas pinging off their bodies? I laughed so hard I thought I was going to choke on my chips.

Aside from the campiness of the sound effects, I really enjoy the storytelling. I hate lazy or sloppy character development, and I have yet to find that on the show. Even when it was largely procedural and there were no long storylines, each episode was solid and felt complete at the end. And the side characters are so much fun. I personally have a soft spot for the villains. Ares and his weird ass facial hair? Love every second of it. Callisto? That bitch is wild, but I always enjoy her episodes. Heck, I even like Joxer! (That might be more because of my son, who often sings “Joxer the Mighty” to himself.) So far, there’s only one episode that made me think “WTF?” and that was the musical episode. But I’m critical of those anyway.

We’re about halfway through the series, and I continue to savor the opportunity to watch it for the first time, but more importantly, through my wife’s eyes. She has been so great taking the time to learn the important parts of me, that I’m happy it’s my turn now.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!
Related:

Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 115 articles for us.

10 Comments

  1. <3 is there a piece about everyone’s foundational t(w)eenage media up somewhere already?

    I’m trying to think of what mine is… probably Life is Strange, I’ve sat through at least 3 other people’s play throughs and am gearing up for the 4th.

    That and fanfic. Sharing my decades long favorite fanfic author (who’s still writing, bless her) with my partner was so spooky but turned out so nice :’)

    Anyways, this is my kick to start Xena, thank you haha

  2. This is so lovely and so personal! Thank you for sharing it with us!

    I first watched Xena in the 2020 lockdown when SyFy did Thursday morning marathons. It was the thing I most looked forward to in my isolation and loneliness being home every day without my wife, who still had to go in to work in person. I honestly think it was a saving grace for me to have it and now whenever I feel a little lonely or blue, I turn on Xena and I find it to be such a comfort.

    Glad to know I’m not the only late in life Xenite out there. :)

  3. Aww welcome to the fandom. I’m rather envious; I’d love to relive watching this truly excellent and life-changing show for the first time all over again. It was such a pivotal part of my developmental years. Entire sleepovers were planned around when episodes were aired on telly. Good times!

  4. I say this whenever Xena gets mentioned… But for the love of god everyone listen to “Xena: Warrior Podcast”. It’s SO GOOD. The three hosts are all film studies people and they’re so knowledgeable and insightful and also very much into the gay stuff.

    • YES THIS.
      The podcast is how I found out about the Xenite Retreat (literal Xena adult summer camp), and that’s where I met my partner and several friends! Also the hosts go to the retreat and they were awesome in person too. :D

    • It’s the Show of Shows. It’s classic, timeless, and utterly unique. Of course there are—and thank Goddess, will be—other great f/f love stories.

      But there will never be another “Xena Warrior Princess”, with Lucy and Renee, and at just the perfect time for it.

  5. Just an FYI. The episode you mentioned was about lice, not fleas. You should watch again and when Xena and Gabrielle are in the inn, listen as Xena flicks the first lice into the fire. The lice says, “Oh NO!! They killed Kenny!!” Loved your story.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!