Notes & Queeries: Change Comes to “The L Word”

 
 

Tina, in Season 6, seems to know this. “I don’t want to
deprive you of something that’s so fundamental to who you are,” she tells Bette
in Episode 6.02.

She believes that Bette is defined by certain unmutable
characteristics, just as most of us believe that our personalities are defined
by traits that have solidified by the time we reach adulthood.

That’s why we
tell each other, “People don’t change,” or “Don’t try to change her — she won’t
change.”

But as much as we might want to believe it’s true, we don’t
remain solid and unchanging all our lives. We’ve known this since we were
children, but as adults, many of us try to forget it.

Because if you can’t
depend on yourself to act in certain ways, who can you depend on?

It’s only years later, when you’re getting ready for bed at
9 p.m. because you have to go to work at 6 a.m., that you realize you’re no
longer that overeager teenager sneaking out at midnight. You’ve changed, and
it’s crept up on you, unnoticed.

Do you remember your senior year in high school? At the end
of the year, when the yearbooks were distributed, we passed them around in a
ritual of remembrance; they would anchor us back in those locker-lined hallways
every time we opened them. In my yearbook, several people wrote “Don’t change!”
or “Stay the same!”

Those words were defensive barriers against all the change
that was about to come flooding through our lives.

I think we all knew
somewhere inside ourselves that we could not help but be changed by what was to
come. But those words allowed us to cling to the idea that we could weather the
storm intact, that we would remain the same people we always were.

It’s a romantic idea: the solid, unchanging rock in the
storm, secure and stable. But wind and water will still wear away that stone
grain by grain, and a new landscape will eventually emerge.

When I graduated from high school, I could hardly wait for
the change to come. I hated high school and thought that anything would be
better — especially college in far-off Massachusetts,
where nobody would have any preconceptions about me.

But when I first arrived, alone with my two suitcases, the
change was so extreme that I found myself longing unexpectedly for the sameness
of high school. It didn’t help that my two suitcases got lost on the way from
the airport to the college, and for the first two weeks, I had none of my
clothes with me. By the time my suitcases turned up (misdelivered to the dorm
next door), I had spent two weeks fumbling my way into a new life with only
what I’d brought in my carry-on.

For someone who was already insecure about who she was, having
so few physical reminders of home was very hard.

I remember calling my parents
while sitting in my dorm’s living room, looking out the long, tall windows at
the rainy night — yes, it was actually raining — and crying. I had never been
away from home for so long, and because I had wanted so desperately to leave, I
had a hard time recognizing what I was feeling as ordinary homesickness.

But college was expensive, and of course I stayed, and of
course things got better — and my life kept changing. I came out, for one
thing, and though that experience was not exactly fun, ultimately it made all
the difference.

The truth is, so much good can come of change. In reality,
the exhortation to “stay the same” is a ridiculous one.

Why would we wish for
someone to never develop, never move on from a time in their life that was
meant to launch them into something new?

I’ve been thinking, too, that the end of this season of The L Word — its last —
marks quite a big change. However you feel about the show, it will always have
its place in the lesbian community, and this change on its own might seem
daunting to many fans of the show.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel that it’s a little bit
comforting to see Bette and Tina and Shane and Alice doing the same things
they’ve always done. Whatever has happened in our lives over the past six
years, these characters are still there. They have become, for many, a constant
to rely on.

The good thing is, even after The L Word ends, it will still be there for us. It’s like that yearbook.

Every time you watch an episode, it brings you back to where you were the first
time you saw it — in your living room, maybe, or surrounded by friends.

Simultaneously, The L
Word
has created a major change for us.

We’ll never be able to go back to a
time when lesbian characters have never been the leads on a prime-time show. Even
though it is still a struggle to get lesbian characters and story lines on TV,
I can only see The L Word as positive
progress for our visibility.

And when there are no more new L Word episodes, there will be even more room for other visions of
who we are and what we look like.

It is a wide-open landscape out there, full
of possibility.

As we watch Bette continue her struggle over the last few
episodes, I am hoping that she pulls through this time. I hope that, like many
humans who have fought for years against their own bad habits, she finally
turns down the path less taken and embraces the change in herself.

For more on Malinda Lo, visit her website.

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