My Hopes and Fears for The L Word: Generation Q

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photo via Showtime

For many of us, The L Word was a huge part of the culture of coming out of the closet and into an understanding of lesbian culture as baby dykes. The L Word felt so true to my experience that I’ve often wondered if life inspired art or if art inspired life in this instance.

My lesbian community in Saint Louis refer to ourselves as The STL Word and we may or may not keep a chart as detailed as Alice’s in the show, chronicling the hilarious and sometimes absurd overlap in our dating lives. I recently met a middle-aged lesbian couple who told me about their Sunday night gatherings to watch The L Word with their own tight-knit lesbian community. The show crossed generations to bring lesbians seeking representation together.

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This was our media. Over the years representation has improved some. We’ve had movies dedicated to lesbian narratives and shows whose main characters were unapologetically lesbian. When The L Word was released, however, we were still relegated to sidekick roles, an afterthought (I’m looking at you Buffy), and were often the butt of the joke. The L Word gave many lesbians the chance to see their own lived experiences on the screens in their living rooms. Sometimes a girl needs a break from Mary Daly and just wants to breathe a breath of fresh dyke drama. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that The L Word was returning — and then the immediate disappointment when I saw it followed by “Generation Q.”

Despite my millennial status, I’ve never identified with the umbrella term “queer.” I was blessed to be exposed to a number of older lesbian mentors in childhood who experienced the word as a slur. I grew up in a small, rural Illinois town where it’s still actively used as such. My health teacher in my public high school used the word and said she wanted to line up and shoot gay people. The reclaiming of a slur is a complicated process that often leaves the most vulnerable members of a community — the older members, the members trapped in those rural towns — behind. But beyond the discussion of whether slurs should or should not be reclaimed, I love being a lesbian.

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Lesbians have a rich history of struggle, protest, and community. Lesbians have done incredible work for feminism, for the broader gay community, and for each other. We have a culture and a community that is defined by the shared experience of being women who are exclusively attracted to women. Seeing our experience represented in The L Word was empowering, affirming, and a bonding agent for lesbians seeking to create their own communities similar to that in the show.

My own lesbian community is invaluable to me. These are the women with whom I have shared experiences of trying to navigate compulsory heterosexuality, gender nonconformity, and a sense of identity. While I have many friends that would fall under that Generation Q umbrella and would identify with the word, my relationships with lesbians offer something many of my other friendships don’t: the affirming and life-giving experience of sharing my truth with someone who gets it.

Inclusivity should mean that the general population makes space for marginalized people. Inclusivity should not mean that marginalized people who have created spaces for themselves through hard-fought effort should open their doors to anyone seeking community. All marginalized people deserve exclusive spaces to find commonalities, community and support. Those spaces are the heart of protest and change. I would never deny those spaces to other marginalized groups. Lesbians deserve that, too.

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When I heard Marja-Lewis Ryan, show-runner for The L Word: Generation Q on a Television Critics Association panel say, “my point is to say that the act of making the show is my response to TERF lesbians,” my stomach dropped. That slur was hurled at me last spring defending my thesis. My offending crime was using Merriam-Webster’s definition of homosexual. It’s been hurled at me when I tried to share my experience of trauma due to sex with men. It was thrown at me when I wore a “pussy hat” in response to the horrific comments about pussy grabbing by our current Commander in Chief. It’s a loaded word, deployed almost exclusively against women and specifically used to shame lesbians. Its intention is to shut us up, deny us a platform, and even as the precursor to violence

It feels like lesbians can’t win. Although my high school health teacher isn’t calling me queer and making threats on the lives of people like me anymore, the modern LGBTQ community has taken over that role. The death threats, the casual slinging of slurs, and the claim that my innate sexuality is somehow bad or wrong haven’t gone away. They’ve only changed hands from right to left.

So, will I watch the show? Probably. I am dedicated to the characters and look forward to seeing where they’ve ended up. Do I expect to feel represented by this new era of The L Word? No. I don’t. I honestly expect to feel further marginalized and hurt by the community that is supposed to be home.

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