What Did You Learn From “The L Word”?
Me and my best friend Erin would sit, anxious and full of astonishment in her movie room, holding hands, our eyes incredibly wide for entire L Word weekend marathons — where we would watch beautiful, intelligent women engaging in all kinds of love with other beautiful, intelligent women. Before either of us had a girlfriend. Before either of us even knew to call ourselves queer. We would sit still and admire and dream about a world at least a little like L.A. where we could be our most creative, our most passionate, our most non-normative selves. When I watched The L Word at 17 years old, and when I watch it now, I know most certainly that representation is of the utmost powerful tool. Representation grants a kind of permission. Am I saying L Word is responsible for my sexuality? Of course not. Am I saying that the sheer glory of watching a group of women living as they saw fit ignited my every cause for dreaming? YES.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan (albeit liberal by America’s standards), it was a lifeline to feel invigorated and affirmed each time I saw women like the me I would eventually become. Well, not exactly like me. Let us be real. Most of the core characters, the ones with rounded-out personalities and depth, weren’t Midwestern, or adolescent, or, um…oh, yeah, BLACK. In fact, many of the women-of-color characters left much to be desired (that Papi character was a MESS). But largely, they were fierce, and they were fly professionals, Ivy League–educated, museum curators, journalists, hairstylists, tennis pros. They owned beautiful houses. And in watching those depictions, in the truest, most juicy sense, The L Word, like any good media, nourished my dreaming. It taught me to imagine a world where I fit; and then, it made me hope for that world; and then, it made me search for it.
My friend and I used to watch The L Word and play a drinking game called “Drink Whenever Jenny Says Something Stupid or Obnoxious” (drink three times if she quotes her insipid short story about manatees). We were young, queer, dyke-bar-loving writers, and we did not like The L Word.
Like many queers, we cried foul. Who were these celluloid, airbrushed versions of ourselves? They sipped lattes at The Planet; we drank plastic cups of watered-down whiskey at a dive called The Hole. It was the first time an entire television series was devoted to lesbians, and naively, we kinda wanted to see ourselves. What The L Word taught me is that there are many, many, many different queer women in the world — and having a wide range of queers is maybe the best thing about being queer. You could be a geeky lesbian who thought Alice was your spirit animal; you could be a radical queer punk who refused to watch; you could be a bi gal whose boyfriend loved the show more than you did. You could skip the episodes but never miss an AfterEllen recap. You could write college essays that dismantled the paternal investments within Bette and Tina’s relationship. Loving or hating The L Word didn’t make anyone more gay or less gay than anyone else — it was at least good to have something gay on television to rail against or throw weekly parties for. And it made a hell of a fun drinking game. I recommend it.
The L Word got a lot of things wrong. It’s an incredibly problematic show, and it negatively skewed my expectations about what being a lesbian should be like, but that is worth an article in and of itself. I still watched and own all seasons, and the show definitely served the purpose of providing us with lots of intense and sexy queer girl sex. I remember resisting it for a long time because of the insufferable Jenny Schecter, but I don’t regret watching the show. If nothing else, it was a show that showed women delighting in each other’s bodies, and there’s a lot of great humor on the show. The show’s mention of Anne Carson in the pilot always wins it points in my book, and the obsessive affair Jenny has with Marina in the first season, as Jenny is discovering her sexuality, touches me. Even though I hate Jenny as a character, that intensity of first queer love is powerful, and the hushed, rushed, covert bathroom secrets and sex remains one of my favorite part of the show. Actually, I think all of my favorite scenes happened in the first season. Dana, the closeted tennis player, was always my favorite character, and her romance with Laura, the ginger chef, felt so genuine.That question of whether or not Lara was a lesbian, and then the desperate attempts Dana made to have a genuine relationship with Lara while at the same time protecting her public image, which she thought would be destroyed if she came out.
The way that fear ultimately destroyed their relationship was heartbreaking, yet very authentic. I think the abrupt ending to Lara’s storyline is what makes it so bittersweet and beloved. Finally, I loved the way the show would foreground art and the art world. Though I hate the way Jenny as a writer is portrayed, I loved the fact that literature, writing, painting, sculpture, the making of art was such an important part of these characters’ lives. As a young poet trying to figure out my place in the world, I loved seeing a glimpse into a world where queer women made art and discussed it and made a living curating it, teaching it, making it.
When I first came across The L Word, I was around the age of 14. I happened to be scrolling through channels, and I saw a scene from the show. I found it fascinating and seemingly forbidden, because I had rarely seen any aspect of homosexuality given my upbringing in a sheltered Connecticut town. The idea of the show almost was like taboo to me. My parents weren’t home, so I decided to keep watching. I felt almost ashamed, but couldn’t turn my eyes away.
I always knew something about me was different, but I wasn’t sure what it was. By watching The L Word, I realized what my strange feelings had been. I never thought that my attraction to girls was strange; this didn’t seem unnatural to me. Like this was the way I was meant to be, it just felt right. I didn’t watch too many episodes of the show after my first exposure. After a bumpy road, I came more to terms with my sexuality, and felt more comfortable. In conjunction with watching more queer films and TV shows, I was able to realize that I was not alone. I actually watched all of the seasons after I entered college. Clearly I didn’t know what was going on in the show when I first viewed it, because then I would have had a totally skewed representation of the lesbian population. I love the show, and it accurately represents the community, being that everyone has been with or hooked up with someone else in the social circle. But sadly not all the lesbians in the world are that attractive.
However, this misrepresentation doesn’t make me think less of this amazing show. Looking back, it really helped me realize that there was nothing wrong with me and that I was not alone. Media is making great strides with shows that now include homosexual couples, but this show is really geared toward shedding light on the lesbian population and a lot of the troubles and joys that go along with it. I feel that if there were more programs like The L Word going on today, it would greatly help the gay population growing up, because it really aided me in finding myself.
I first stumbled upon The L Word online while I was frantically searching for television, media, or a friendly voice to tell me what the heck was going on inside my head. I had no gay friends, I didn’t grow up in a very liberal environment, and frankly…I was freaking out. Once I found that show, I absolutely devoured it. I watched all the seasons in a very short span, I fell in love with the characters; I felt like these were the gay friends I never had. I know some people detest the show for one reason or another. They say it had no diversity, that it wasn’t realistic, or that the lesbians were “too pretty.” Excuse me? This is television… Everyone is too pretty and nothing is ever realistic. While I would love for there to be more realistic and “real-life” lesbian shows, I think there is a place for dramas like The L Word in television. The characters dealt with so many problems (gay-related and simply human-related). The L Word was the first of its kind, and frankly there still hasn’t been a show since that has accomplished what that show did. When someone steps up and creates another well-written drama like this show, I will be forever grateful — I think we need it now more than ever. It taught me that lesbians were out there, and they weren’t so scary or different from anyone else. The L Word was my door into this other world, and I wouldn’t change a second of it. Well, OK, maybe I would have nixed the whole Season 6 plotline. But no show is perfect, right?
I started watching The L Word when I was a junior in college (fall 2009) on the recommendation from a friend. I was out to her, but not to many of my friends. I rented it from the campus library, checking to make sure that no one I knew saw me grab the bright pink box, and would watch it in my room with the door closed so that my suite mates did not know. I had watched South of Nowhere in high school before coming out, and I really liked the show, but it only had three short seasons. The L Word’s episodes were much longer, had more seasons, and had a more diverse cast of characters to relate to. In the early seasons, Dana was always my favorite. As a college athlete, I could relate to her best, and I found comfort in watching her grow from in the closet in the athletic world to being the image for gay athletes through Subaru. After she passed, my favorite character became Tasha. I loved Tasha because she was a genuine person. A lot of the characters on The L Word seemed to sleep around, and that wasn’t something I could really relate to, because that’s not who I am. Tasha came into the show and she had a moral code similar to my own.
I still watch the show once or so a year, and enjoy the broad range of topics it covers. Additionally, who wouldn’t love watching attractive lesbians? (I will always have a soft spot for Shane, no matter how cliché that is). I should mention too that now that I am more out, I am not ashamed to watch it and will watch it with a few lesbian friends. It’s more fun that way because we can voice our own opinions about characters, situations, and other themes. The L Word will always be special to me because it portrayed lesbians when I didn’t know any, and it gave me people to look up to, even though they were fictional.
I started watching The L Word a month before I came out. For all of its problems — the heavily stereotyped characters of color, the problematic and transphobic treatment of Max as a character, the hair, Jenny Schecter’s existence — it meant something for me to see not only a sex scene between two women that was well-acted, and hot, but the various relationships that can exist between two women. I identified with Dana’s cautious flirtation with Laura in the first season and became hopeful that even I, with my awkward, goofy inability to talk to a woman I am attracted to, could one day find love with a cute chef (or my equally goofy friend). So I endure Kit’s often-painful dialogue, Jenny’s laughable flashbacks, and Shane’s dirt, in order to cry with (and about, obviously) Dana, fall in love with Carman, and aspire to be Bette.
I think that in all seriousness, what The L Word taught me was how much bad writing and [how many] ridiculous story arcs we’ll endure for a bit of representation/relation to characters on TV (see also: every lesbian movie on Netflix). The last season of the series was practically mocking its viewership, it was so incredibly bad, but all lesbians still had to watch it because it was the only show with all dykes on at the time. Even the actresses seemed miserable and knew how bad it got toward the end.