“The L Word” Reinforces Negative Bisexual Stereotypes

Over the last three of
its five seasons, The L Word has sent
messages that erode positive representations of bisexuality by creating story
lines and characters who reinforce myths that all bisexuals are crazy, in
denial about their true sexual orientation, and likely to cheat on their
partners for the other gender. The show didn’t always so flagrantly display
this style of prejudice. It used to discount it.

When The L Word debuted in 2004, it featured two strong bisexual
protagonists — the characters of Alice Pieszecki (Leisha Hailey) and Jenny
Schecter (Mia Kirshner) — on very different sexual journeys. Alice was an out
bisexual, always eager to defend the legitimacy of her orientation to her
lesbian friends; Jenny was discovering her attraction to women while in a
heterosexual relationship.

Through these two
characters, particularly Alice, the writers addressed the lesbian community’s
biphobia while still acknowledging the legitimacy of the orientation. Unfortunately,
this informed depiction of bisexuality proved short-lived, surviving only the
first season.

As a bisexual viewer, I kept
tuning into The L Word in hope that
it would magically revert to the beginning, when it portrayed bisexuality
fairly. That hope officially died last Sunday during The L Word’s fifth season episode "Lay Down the Law,"
when our former bisexual heroine, Alice, confirmed to viewers everywhere, under
oath, that she’s now a lesbian.

Called to testify during
a military hearing concerning her girlfriend Tasha’s sexual orientation, Alice
is drilled by Col. Gillian Davis about
her own sexuality.
"So,
you’re a lesbian, Miss Piezecki?" Davis asks.

Alice responds,
"Last time I checked."

Though Alice has been gay for more than a season
now, I, like many bisexual viewers, maintained hope that her character wouldn’t
fulfill the stereotype that all female fence-sitters transition into lesbians.
My expectations were a little too optimistic.

Way Back When

During the first season
of The L Word, someone’s bisexuality would be challenged by a lesbian
character, and the recipient of the challenge would defend her sexual
orientation. For instance, in the pilot episode when her friend Dana attacks
Alice for her bisexuality, Alice fends off the accusation that she needs to
pick a side:

Dana: Christ, Alice, when are you going
to make up your mind between dick and pussy? And spare us the gory bisexual
details, please.
Alice:
Well, for your information, Dana, I’m looking for the same qualities
in a man that I am in a woman.

Later in the first
season, Alice dates a man. True, it’s for comic relief — he’s "a lesbian-identified man"
named Lisa — but her craving for male intimacy comes off as believable. Alice tells Tina, who questions Alice’s rationale for "going back to
men," that she’s "had enough drama and mindf—s, and women are
f—ing crazy."

Tina (Laurel Holloman), a
recovering bisexual, reminds Alice that "men are boring." Alice
replies, "Yeah, well bring it on, ’cause I could use a little nice, uncomplicated
boring boy-girl sex masquerading as love."

In Season 1, we are also introduced
to Jenny, who’s in love with Tim. She seems to enjoy having sex with him after
describing the two naked lesbians she saw in Bette and Tina’s swimming pool.
Later, she confirms her love of Tim to her lover Marina, saying: "I’m going to marry
Tim. I can’t imagine my life without him. I don’t want to imagine my life
without him."

 

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