“The L Word” Reinforces Negative Bisexual Stereotypes

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Even after Jenny and

Tim’s relationship unravels, Jenny initiates sex with Tim and seems to want to

get back together with him, but he rejects her. Jenny later tells her old

college roommate Annette, who’s visiting from out of town, that she identifies

as bisexual.

Jenny: I think I’m bisexual.

Annette:
Oh, brother.

Jenny:
I do, I really do.

The first season ends

with Jenny dating both a man named Gene and a woman named Robin, and with Alice

breaking up with Lisa (because he’s too much of a lesbian) before pursuing

Dana. The character arcs and story lines for both bisexual characters proved

accurate, fair and realistic. Too bad they didn’t last.

Don’t Ask Alice

By the beginning of

Season 2, the show began to display a rather biphobic agenda, turning the

visible bisexual characters into closeted lesbians who transition rather

roughly into their gay identities. Instead of showing Jenny realistically

exploring the gray areas of her sexuality further, Jenny’s boyfriend Gene tells

her bluntly that she’s gay, and it’s accepted as fact for the rest of the

series.

Alice’s bisexuality is

mentioned in Season 2 purely for comic relief. During the episode

“Labyrinth,” when Alice, Dana and Dana’s girlfriend, Tonya, visit a

sex toy shop, Tonya jokingly shoves a chocolate, penis-shaped lollipop in and

out of her mouth and says, “I guess this is a little more up your alley,

isn’t it, Alice?”

Alice grabs a

breast-shaped lollipop and responds, “Actually Tonya, this might be a

little more up my alley.”

Tonya waves the

penis-shaped lollipop before Alice and asks, “More than this?”

Alice replies,

“Yeah, maybe a little.”

The confrontation ends

when Dana asks Alice, “Which one would you rather put in your mouth,

Al?”

Alice glares at Dana and

doesn’t choose.

But by Season 3, Alice

begins to fulfill the “crazy bisexual” stereotype. After being dumped

by Dana, she loses it — she pops pills, stalks her ex and refers to herself as

“a gross bisexual love addict.” She also begins to blow off her

attraction to men.

In the episode “Lost

Weekend,” she discounts her heterosexual side as a safety blanket, telling

a support group: “I think the reason I was with Lisa, the lesbian man, is

because he wasn’t dangerous for me. I knew I wouldn’t get addicted to him. I

knew I wouldn’t get addicted to a guy.”

But Alice does get

addicted to women, as evidenced by her inability to let go of her relationship

with Dana. Alice’s love addiction is used to make the point that she only gets

addicted to those she falls in love with, and that she’s incapable of falling

in love with men; thus, she cannot be bisexual. The logic is flawed, given that

many bisexuals who don’t fall in love with both genders still self-identify as

bisexual based on their ability to enjoy sex with both men and women. It seemed

clear that Alice enjoyed sex with Lisa, and so to bisexuals like me, that means

she’s not gay.

In Season 3, Bette’s

partner, Tina, also starts to fulfill a bisexual stereotype: that bisexual

women will always leave their lesbian partners for men. After Bette catches her

having an online sexual relationship with a man identified as

“DaddyOf2,” Tina admits her craving for men. After much heartache, Bette

encourages Tina to explore her attraction. Tina is quickly painted as the

villain in the relationship and begins to discount her lesbian side, reminding

Bette that she was heterosexual before she met her.

Although Tina’s desire to

stray is more likely due to her dissatisfaction with her relationship with

Bette than some unpreventable compulsion for bisexual women to cheat on their

lesbian partners with men, that underlying truth is never overtly addressed. By

the end of the third season, Tina is in a relationship with Henry, a single

dad, and most of her lesbian friends express their disgust with her behavior.

That, unfortunately, is one of the most realistic components of this story

line.

From Defender to Attacker

Alice’s transition from

bisexual to lesbian is completed by the end of Season 3 with a distasteful

deathbed joke that uses bisexuality as the punch line.

In Episode 3.10,

“Losing the Light,” Alice is sitting at Dana’s hospital bedside when

Tina pops in for a visit before a date with Henry.

Tina: How do I look? Am I too dressed

up? I feel dressed up.

Alice: You look good.

Tina: OK, bye.

Alice: [to Dana] You’re right. Bisexuality

is gross. I see it now.

Though Alice was joking

to cheer up her dying friend, the joke was at the expense of an entire minority

group. I couldn’t imagine African Americans or Jews being referred to as

“gross” on national television without having an organization

advocating on their behalf demand an apology from producers. But no LGBT organization

spoke out to publicly condemn the offensive joke.

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