Could The L Word Revival Be the Answer to Lesbian Erasure?

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“In these trying times when queer identity has been commodified, there is a new urgency for lesbian visibility. It’s the urgency specific to these times, when folks wrongly think that because of aforementioned gay marriage and RuPaul, that suddenly homosexuality is universally accepted, that lesbian spaces are no longer needed and are even problematic, that lesbian itself is a dirty word, which is and should be replaced or redefined at breakneck speed. Dear Showtime, Ilene Chaiken, Kate Moennig, Leisha Hailey, and the rest of the gang: please make America gay again. Please bring us the lesbian representation and lesbian diversity we so desperately need.”

Growing up an Evangelical Christian closet case in Indiana, there were no adult lesbians in my life that I could look up to. I did not have a Ring of Keys moment. I did not know how to flirt with or fall for girls, and when I started listening to Tegan and Sarah with the Catholic girl from the softball team, I knew I was in over my head. I wanted to try lesbianing, but the first time I attempted in earnest with my best friend, she was grossed out that I wanted to do more than kiss. How to approach the subject with the softball hottie? What bases could we round in the back seat of my mom’s Toyota Celica?

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Enter The L Word, giver of life for young lesbians, opener of so many closet doors, handbook for vanilla hookups. It took approximately two days to illegally download an episode on no-speed internet, which I would watch, with the volume around the level of an anxious prayer, after my parents were asleep, hand on the mouse in case I needed to pull up the “paper I was working on” any time the hallway floor creaked. After each episode, I’d lie in bed awake, thinking about Shane romancing me, about being Jenny (this was 2004, so Jenny was just like me: a misguided bisexual writing self-indulgent stories, not yet a lunatic with a purse dog), about being surrounded by a community.

Me and my softball sweetie and the one other lesbian I knew would spend lots of time analyzing Bette and Tina’s dysfunction, Alice’s obsession with other people’s love lives, what Marina’s favorite book is. But mostly we just went back and forth with different exclamations of “she’s so hot!” and “I watched that sex scene five times!” I still get a touch of the vapors when I think about Shane: her poor posture, her long fingers, her terrible hair cut. Shane. The L Word was a formative experience for me and many young women.

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The L Word was my introduction to lesbian culture. This is where I first discovered the Dinah Shore weekend, the concept of the U-Haul, the very-true-to-life stereotypes that lesbians love to process, the balance of tension and attraction between lesbians, bisexual women and transmen, the reality that you’re going to have a crush on half of your friends and did or will start dating them at some point. By the time the show ended when I was in college, it *was* lesbian culture, and it has remained a staple throughout these long years. No show has risen to the occasion to present us with a lesbian-centered utopia a la the Planet, not even OITNB.

The L Word was my introduction to lesbian culture. This is where I first discovered the Dinah Shore weekend, the concept of the U-Haul, the very-true-to-life stereotypes that lesbians love to process.

Lesbians occasionally admit to me that they haven’t seen The L Word, but more often they’ve seen all of it (multiple times through, thanks to Netflix) even if they think it’s cheesy/cliche/literally the cruelest/worst series finale in the history of television (which isn’t even to mention Dana’s death from which I have yet to recover). I have seen this show played as the visual element at women’s dance nights. There is even an L Word trivia night in NYC. It is the microwave macaroni and cheese of lesbians in distress: The L Word, a pair of basketball shorts, and a cuddle with your best friend will fix you whether you just had your wisdom teeth removed, you got dumped, or you’re too tipsy after feminist book club to drive home and are metabolizing the wine on your host’s couch.

Not only did The L Word introduce me to lesbian culture, it introduced me to actual lesbian actors. The show starred many real-life lesbians like Kate Moennig, Daniela Sea, Leisha Hailey, and Jane Lynch, and bisexual women like Sandra Bernhard and Kristanna Loken. Rewatching the show in 2016, my most popular Google search became “Is Papi* a dyke in real life?” (*insert every single character whether occupying recurring roles or bit parts). We exist! We work, and are successful and are hot as fuck!

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The L Word offered mainstream lesbian visibility, even though the West Hollywood, passing femme power lesbian thing is hardly representative of the diversity of lesbian experience. The show is under no obligation to represent all lesbians at all times, and is a functional period piece serving us BoBo WeHo lesbians in the early Aughts. As the show went on, it seemed to appeal less to the male gaze and the straight gaze, and really speak to us women-loving women.

What I love about the old L Word, and what I hope the writers maintain, is the focus on lesbians first and foremost. Unpopular opinion: we need a diversity of lesbian representation, not diversity of everybody representation. Remember those scenes with that guy Jenny dated? (I know, me neither, but if you go back and watch again, there are all these random scenes with this uninteresting guy being straight and stuff). How about the “male lesbian” Alice dated? Avoid altogether.

What I love about the old L Word, and what I hope the writers maintain, is the focus on lesbians first and foremost. Unpopular opinion: we need a diversity of lesbian representation, not a diversity of everybody representation.

To be honest, I would like this show to fail a reverse Bechdel test. Let there never be a scene in which two men speak outside the presence of a lesbian, or in which two straights speak of anything other than a lesbian. Let the poly kinky hetero characters go unnamed. When the credits roll, I want to see Random Straight Guy 2, and I’d be especially pleased if he’s played by a gay in real life. Heterosexual characters literally have representation in all other shows not eponymously for girls like us.

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In these trying times when queer identity has been commodified, there is a new urgency for lesbian visibility. It’s not like the old urgency, in the days before marriage equality and Drag Race, when a young Hoosier gal had never knowingly met a lesbian adult she could identify with, emulate, or look up to.

It’s the urgency specific to these times, when folks wrongly think that because of aforementioned gay marriage and RuPaul, that suddenly homosexuality is universally accepted, that lesbian spaces are no longer needed and are even problematic, that lesbian itself is a dirty word, which is and should be replaced or redefined at breakneck speed. The title of the show alluded to the word’s taboo place in society at the time, and it seems that today history is repeating itself, just in a new queer package (See: literally everyone identifies as queer, and lesbian is still taboo).

The title of the show alluded to the word’s taboo place in society at the time, and it seems that today history is repeating itself, just in a new queer package. 

The L Word alludes to the tabooness of lesbian existence in the Bush years and before (Goddess, remember those cheeseball flashbacks??), but even after all the visibility and representation the show earned for our little stripe on the rainbow flag, the subject of lesbian-specific community, culture and eros is no less taboo. We still have Steve Bannon slamming and degrading Hillary Clinton for alleged dykiness, we still have Kimberly Hively being discriminated at work for being married to a woman, we have prominent politicians supporting reparative therapy, not to mention our lesbian sisters across the world who are targeted for corrective rape, forced marriage, murder, and on and on.

Good Lorde, I never meant to get on my soap box when it came to the L Word, but then again I’m one of those angry, man-hating lesbians your parents and your pastor warned you about. At least I’m staying on-brand.

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Photo via EW.com

Dear Showtime, Ilene Chaiken, Kate Moennig, Leisha Hailey, and the rest of the gang, please make America gay again. Please bring us the lesbian representation and lesbian diversity we so desperately need. Please show the world the power of women in love and lust and all those other alliterative things about the waaay that we liiiiive, as BETTY sings in the theme song. Oh, and bring Jenny back; she’s sexy as fuck even if she’s batshit crazy.

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