Outside the Lines: Elizabeth Ziff

AE: Moving on, what
was it that happened to your sister?

EZ: Amy was on the show, on Season 3,
the episode on the Olivia cruise. Among the writers, we decided that we wanted
a woman of size to be in a scene, a sex scene. I told the other writers, "My
sister’s a woman of size, she’s a feminist and she embraces who she is; I think
she’ll do it."

It took a lot for her to appear in that scene — a lot of
guts. She’s not skinny, she’s not what you see on TV, she’s not what you see on
The L Word. But she understood that
we live in a culture that hates us and hates our bodies, so it was important
for her to represent a whole lot of people who are underrepresented on
television, in film — and in life.

But what people wrote about her was unforgivable. On one
hand, you can’t believe how many women thanked her for doing it. She was like a
folk hero. On the other, some women denigrated her. When
I read it, I burst into tears. I thought, "Oh my God, say whatever you
want about me. But don’t touch my f—ing family. It was very, very hurtful."

AE: My God — I’m so
EZ: You know what was the worst part
of that? Is that it came from other women, other lesbians. I’ve been part of
this community since I started playing music as a 21-year-old. I’ve always been
out as a lesbian. I have never been in the closet; it never even occurred to
me. BETTY played for gay rights marches and AIDS benefits before it was
fashionable. I mean, I’m not saying aren’t we so great. I’m saying we have always played for people that we
loved. So this hatred, especially among each other, I just don’t believe in it.

Left to right: Alyson Palmer, Amy Ziff and Elizabeth Ziff of BETTY

Photo credit: Sabrina Usher

AE: I hear you. So,
tell me how you went from doing The L
‘s music to being a producer?

EZ: I started as the show’s
composer, and Ilene wanted me to use the music to represent the community. To
show the musical diversity of our community, to let women use our voices on the
show. So right from the start, working with the music supervisor, I tried to
use a lot of lesbian musicians. Like Toshi Reagon.
She’s an old friend, and I wanted her to do a song, "How Long," that
her mother wrote. That’s historic. And the Ditty Bops;
I’ve known Amanda since she was 11 years old. The Cliks;
I used them as an end song.

I also tried to reintroduce iconic musicians to a whole new
audience. It’s cool: Even when people have no idea what they’re listening to — from
Nona Hendryx singing a song written by lesbian icon Carole Pope of Rough Trade,
to Sweet Honey doing a Ferron song to Joan Armatrading — they dig it.

I also oversaw the mixes of the shows, which is what a
producer does, and I can write, so they made me a producer.

AE: I was surprised
to see your writing credit on that hot show last season when Bette and Tina got
back together at the club.

EZ: I mean I’ve always written. I
wrote, we wrote, BETTY RULES.

AE: Your
rockumentary. I saw that
EZ: I know the craft. Think about
it: Songwriting is storytelling. A good song has a beginning, middle and an
end. So yeah, I’m a writer. I’m happy that my writing on the show has been
really well-received, even by people who don’t like my music.

AE: Did you write the
[episode about the] "Pink Ride," last season’s episode about breast
cancer? It was very moving.

EZ: Angela Robinson actually wrote and directed that episode, but at the time, I was dealing with
breast cancer. You knew that, right?

AE: Yeah.
EZ: In 2007, I came home after the fourth
season, and I was really tired after touring with BETTY and doing The L Word. I’m like a rock star, so I
travel and stay up late and drink and party and stuff, but I was even more
tired than usual. I went to the doctor and had a full physical and everything
was fine. But I also needed a mammogram.

AE: What happened

EZ: It was weird. I found out right
around my birthday last year that I had breast cancer. So it was like my cancer
birthday. We tried to have a birthday party, and I’m cutting the cake thinking,
"cancer birthday." I look over at my sister, and she’s so drunk
because she’s freaked out and scared. Both of our parents died of cancer, so it
was really deep.

AE: And now?
EZ: I just got checked a few months
ago, and I’m totally clean. My case was mild; I was really lucky. I had great care,
and my sister was by my side the whole time I went through this.

AE: I’m glad. The L Word‘s winding down. What are you
going to do?

EZ: What I’ve always done. I’ve
never stopped doing BETTY, and we have a new album coming out, probably late
September, early October. We think it’s going to be called Betty Bright and Dark, probably a double CD. We’ve been performing
the new single, "Did You Tell Her." We’re really excited about that.

AE: And your writing?
EZ: I hope to sell a movie I wrote
called The Bomb Squad. It’s about a
group of girls in the late ’70s, two weeks before graduation from high school.
It’s about their friendship with a twist. It’s got humor and pathos; that’s
what I like.

AE: Anything else?
EZ: Yeah, the Gloria Project. It’s
an oral history, a collaboration with Gloria Steinem, who’s a good friend. I’m
always surprised when we play at colleges and mention her and young women don’t
know who she is. She’s a feminist figurehead, but unsung. No, not really
unsung; she just needs to be fully sung. So we’re putting together her speeches
and lectures and also having her comment on the state of feminism and humanism.
We want it to be available to libraries and as a free iTunes download in March
next year, for Gloria’s 75th birthday.

AE: That’s exciting.
One last question. Can you give us an itty bitty hint of what’s going to happen
on The L Word next season?

EZ: No.

AE: Geez, Elizabeth —
come on! Please, just a crumb?

EZ: Hey girl, I’m sorry, but I
really can’t say anything. I signed a confidentiality paper. I can’t even talk
about it to people who are on the show!

For more on Elizabeth
Ziff, visit her MySpace page. For more on
writer Linda Villarosa, go to lindavillarosa.com.

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