The L Word Made Me A Better Person
Close to a year ago I saw an announcement that The L Word would be returning as The L Word: Generation Q. One of my favorite shows was coming back and not as a reboot but a continuation of the original with members of the old cast reprising their roles as primary characters once again. Bette, Alice, and Shane would be moving things along with some younger players and I made it my duty to let everyone know that I would be watching again just like I had before. The L Word changed my perspective on the LGBTQIA+ community (LGBT then) in the way that a white person probably had their eyes opened to Black history through Roots. It was an integral part of my growth as someone who is trying to advocate for those not exactly like me and it all started because...well...
In 2004, I was still living with my parents so I had access to all of the premium channels like HBO and Cinemax when they were a big deal. I was just about to turn 22 and saw previews for this show called The L Word about a group of lesbians in L.A. Being that Showtime and Cinemax showed lots of softcore porn at night, I figured that this would be more along those lines and so I would get to watch hot lesbians having sex regularly. Plus, Queer As Folk didn’t appeal to me at the time so this was a good entryway into LGBT content. What I was expecting was a show that would be on for a season or two that was just a reason to show lesbians having sex. What I came away with changed my whole perspective on TV, representation, and expectations. Also, Jennifer Beals. And Pam Grier! They knew what they were doing.
At that time I had met, and been involved with, several women who had identified as bisexual as well as a small handful of friends who were lesbian and actual gay men. LGBT had meaning to me and I was cool with the movement but I still talked about trans people in a disparaging way. Even then, as I do now, I take people as they are as individuals but I didn’t have the experiences to really engage with this world. And while I’m not saying that TV and movies are the most accurate representations of people or situations, at least having them at all made me ask questions when it came to the world at large.
Bette Porter, Tina Kennard, Alice Piescecki, Shane McCutcheon, Jenny Schecter, and Dana Fairbanks navigated a complicated world that was not without deep levels of drama (which is the point of the show) and, of course, sex. Kit Porter (sister to Bette) was the straight person entryway at times but she wasn’t the primary lens of the show and I think that was important. This wasn’t a show about how straight people gawked at how odd lesbians are, this was a show about lesbians, period, and then straight people came inside their world. If people ever wonder how lesbians can make it in a word without men, well, this gives you a glimpse but it was never that cut and dry. Alice is bisexual, which showed itself at various points mainly in the early seasons, Jenny came into the show with a boyfriend and then started exploring her sexuality and became a lightning rod for controversy throughout the series. Dana was a famous tennis player who had to pretend she was straight to become a more nationally recognized athlete, and during the series, a woman named Moira came into the fold who transitioned into a man named Max. No part of this show was simple and every part showed just how being who you are in one way can affect your environment around you.
For an inquisitive person like me, this show was fascinating. Each time you would think something would come easy to a straight, cis person, the world reared its ugly head here. When Bette and Tina tried to conceive a child, donors, and doctors had issues with the procedure, men thought they needed to donate “the old fashioned way” and even miscarriages happened with just that couple. Racism also reared its ugly head when Bette (a Black woman) wanted to get a Black donor for the child when Tina (her white partner and person going through with the actual pregnancy) hadn’t considered it. Later in the series, Ossie Davis came on the play the father of Bette and Kit and did NOT approve of his daughter being a lesbian and didn’t see their child as having a legitimate relationship with him. Things like this made me see how we in the Black community still have these strong feelings towards those who are LGBTQIA+ even though MANY of our own people are BOTH. There was a strong contrast between seeing how Bette lived her life as an openly lesbian, Black woman who was successful in her field, only to have her old school style father come in and regard her and her life as nothing. This world-building is necessary and helped to shape my own view when it came to those around me. How do you come in and judge someone for one aspect of their lives and invalidate all that they are? Bette and Tina went through hell to get to the birth of their daughter and when you see the emotional toll, you realize that Bette and Tina are just as much parents as any other straight couple. (I’m looking at YOU, states that want to discriminate against gay parents adopting.)
Another interesting aspect of the show that put my life and others around me into perspective were when straight men had to be involved in the lives of the characters. The men you see are generally the ‘nice guy’ types that we all know, and yet, when given any modicum of opportunity, some took it too far. Physical altercations happened at different points in the show but the most disturbing were the ones where men would violate their privacy. Specifically, a filmmaker came into the show and started to secretly record the women having sex without their consent. While watching one encounter, he discusses with a friend how lesbian sex even happens and at one point do you consider it sex? The issue is, who the fuck even cares? The important part is that trust was broken and now a crime was committed. It wasn’t his business to know either way. Then there’s the flip side of the coin where the boyfriend of Jenny has to go about his daily life, not realizing that his girlfriend is having a sexual awakening and sleeping with women behind his back. You can’t blame him for some of his reactions because he was caught up in something that he wasn’t aware was happening. So...not all men?
Again, this show has never been cut and dry and that’s the point. Not every lesbian was a saint, not every straight person was a villain, hell, not anyone was just any one thing. That’s what made it so captivating and engaging. The show was also not without its faults. While it showed many aspects of their lives, the show was accused of catering to the ‘lipstick lesbian’ demographic, with most of the characters being thin, femme women and at times having other body types as background characters or props. I can only speak so much about those concerns as it’s not fully my place but my biggest issue was how freely they were able to move around without paparazzi at their every move. At some point, EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER on the show was famous for one reason or another. Bette was the head of a prestigious art museum, Tina helped head a film studio, Alice had a popular radio show that turned into a social media platform before that designation existed. Alice also dated a Black woman who was involved in a major military case involving Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Shane became a model and ran a boutique hair salon, Jenny wrote a piece that made her famous enough to have a movie made about it (which Tina was in charge of running,) Dana was a professional tennis player and even Kit was a formerly famous singer. While they did have run-ins from time to time with people who recognized them (seriously, 7 famous people hung out in public and ate together regularly without cameras flashing at them all the time) it seemed like those were only brought up to push the plot along. It’s L.A.! I KNOW you guys have paparazzi.
After 6 years of watching, the show finally ended in 2009 with an ending that wasn’t much of an ending, that actually ended online, at then was retconned in the new season of the new show. As confusing as season 6 was, it didn’t negate the years before it and I didn’t realize that it made me a better person. Not until I was staying with a friend a few years ago. Back in 2017, in between moving, I stayed with a good friend for a few weeks. While there, she was introducing The L Word to her partner for the first time starting from the beginning. I would pop in from time to time as they watched and caught memories of watching certain scenes and remembering where I learned things about respect, consent, intersectionality and other tenants that are baked into my daily life. I hadn’t even realized that I learned those things first from The L Word but it made sense that I caught on so early and it was due to being so immersed in this show from 2004. And by immersed, I mean I not only do I have every single season on DVD, but I watched the interrogation tapes after the show ended, I have the downloaded fanfic PDF that was sanctioned by Showtime AND I used to visit the Our Chart site while it was up. Knowing the new show would be premiering last year got me all kinds of excited. I just finished season 1 and I already cannot wait for season 2 as more lessons are being taught and I am receptive to learning them.
The L Word taught me a lot about a world not my own but it also taught me the respect to live in a world that’s a lot closer to the one we’re in now. I may not be an L.A. lesbian but I love to support and I’ll keep on watching this show so long as the content is as good as it's been (we don't discuss season 6 that much.)
And for anyone that hasn’t seen it, yes, there’s actually lots of sex and nudity in the show but after you get invested in the characters you almost don’t want it to happen sometimes. I cringe knowing people are going to hook up because it causes more drama but I love the show so...balance. Also, growth.