Mother of Cups

By Zoe TuckJune 11, 2019

Mother of Cups

This piece appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal: The Occult, No. 22 

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Have you seen Buffy? Her mom’s name is Joyce Summers. She’s kind of a fringe character for most of the series. That’s part of what feels exciting about the show — the main characters, still in high school when the series begins, seem somewhat free to navigate the world on their own terms. There are teachers and principals, but mostly there is fighting evil and learning how to

be a person.

Joyce is usually portrayed as terminally clueless. To be fair, most of the populace seems equally clueless and possessed of an almost infinite capacity to rationalize or forget

being attacked

again and again

having their loved ones dragged to a screaming death or seeing them return, but evil.

Finally (and here I am making assumptions about Buffy’s writers), Joyce’s cluelessness

becomes too ridiculous, even for a show that walks the line between gravitas and farce, or perhaps it was that the writers of a show targeted at young adults starring young adults wanted

to address

topical issues

like coming out to your parents.

Except that — and this is what interests me as a trans woman — the series already depicts the coming of age/coming out story of a lesbian. So, why the need to have two coming out stories,

that is, Willow’s and Buffy’s?

There are three likely possibilities.

Buffy’s coming out narrative precedes Willow’s, so perhaps it was a way to test the waters with

a coded reference to queer sexuality. That’s option one.

What if both stories were planned in advance? In that case, it’s possible that Buffy’s coming out story was a well-meaning (if perhaps inaccurate) attempt on behalf of the show’s writers to say, “Hey, everyone has secrets or plans or attributes that diverge from those of their mothers?

We’re all kind of alike, aren’t we?”

The last option and, I believe, the least likely, is that the writers wanted to leave room for another way of being queer, whether that is a coded expression of an actually existing kind of sexual or gender difference (hey!) or a more mystical expression of a difference which could

exist, but does not yet exist, borne back to us from the threshold of the possible.

But what does this have to do with mothers?

Tonight I watched season three, episode 11, “Gingerbread.” At this point in the series, Joyce has discovered that her daughter is The Slayer and asked, “Have you tried not being a slayer?” By this point she has reconciled herself somewhat to Buffy’s slaying, going so far as to accompany her on her nightly patrol of Sunnydale’s vast, high-traffic graveyards.

Joyce finds two dead children, and her horror causes her to lead the town in a literal crusade against witchcraft which begins with a town meeting, whose theme is “Never Again,” organized by Joyce, but introduced by the town’s secretly evil mayor. It ends with Buffy, Willow, and Amy tied to stakes above burning pyres which their own families and neighbors have lit. There is a happy ending of sorts, orchestrated from the margins by Giles, the librarian, and Cordelia, a member of the slayer’s “Scooby Gang.”

The townsfolk, it seems, were possessed by an evil spirit, posing as two small children, who goaded them to ever more extreme acts of destruction because of

little ghosts who say

i’m still scared of the bad girls

you have to make them go away

Cordelia douses the flames, Giles incants a spell causing the spirit to reveal its true form, Buffy stakes it.

But why is it so easy for Joyce, and the other parents (although I must stress that the emphasis is on moms), to hate all witches because of the (supposed) actions of a few? Why was she unable to see the good witches for the bad?

Why, for that matter, are witches, more than non-witches, spoken and thought of in these binaristic terms?

It is as if she had already prepared a place in her heart for hate or had a place prepared

for her.

Why does the real work of fighting evil in Sunnydale happen on the fringe, while it is so comparatively easy for a bewitched PTA to work with the official mechanisms of power

the school administration

the police

the mayor

This is what I mean by a place prepared for hate.

I think of Giles as Halperin’s deviant teacher, within the system, but ever suspect, ever in danger

of being ejected from it.

I think of Laura Jane Klug, transgender teacher at Lumberton Texas ISD who was suspended

for no reason, except bigotry.

I think of my own mother, about whom I am grateful to confidently proclaim that she would never

lead a charge against me and others like me but who told me:

You know you’re very suggestible

It’s true

but implies

trans is catching

and that it’s bad to catch

You’re scared, mom, I hear that


Little ghost children are lying to you


Zoe Tuck was born in Texas, became a person in California, and now lives in Massachusetts, where she is building the Threshold Academy, a bookstore and non-traditional educational/performance space.

LARB Contributor

Zoe Tuck was born in Texas, became a person in California, and now lives in Massachusetts, where she is building the Threshold Academy, a bookstore and non-traditional educational/performance space. She co- curates the But Also house reading series. Zoe is the author of Terror Matrix (Timeless, Infinite Light 2014), and is currently working on new poems and a critical book of trans poetics.


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