“The L Word” Reinforces Negative Bisexual Stereotypes


By the second episode of

Season 4, Alice has completed her transformation into a bisexual-hating

lesbian, as demonstrated by an

exchange she has with Tina at the Planet:

Alice: Where have you been? Oh right,

stuck in the far reaches of Heteroville, that’s right.

Tina: It’s so scary.

Alice: Ooh, scary.

Tina: I think I remember you lurking

around there a couple years ago.

Alice: But I did come to my senses,

see, that’s the difference between you and me.

Having bisexual

characters eat their own develops into something of a pattern in Season 4. In

the episode “Layup,” Jenny, who once identified as bisexual, accosts

Tina for wanting to play on their lesbian basketball team. Instead of using the

B-word, Tina tells Jenny that she still identifies as a lesbian.

“Yeah, but when you

walk down the street with your boyfriend holding your boyfriend’s hands

enjoying all the heterosexual privileges, you stopped being a lesbian,”

argues Jenny.

Alice suggests Tina use

the bisexual label. Tina tells her she considers the lesbian label to be a

political identity, which prompts Jenny to respond angrily: “It’s not

about who you vote for. It’s about who you f—.”

In the scene, both Jenny

and Tina are written to be extremely unlikable — Jenny for her intolerance and

Tina for her refusal to admit she’s no longer gay. Both of the unflattering and

inaccurate representations reinforce stereotypes that most bisexuals are either

transitional or in denial.

But Jenny’s criticisms of

Tina don’t matter for long. By the end of Season 4, Tina has dismissed her

heterosexual side and her relationship with Henry as an aberration, telling

Bette she’d prefer her control freak tendencies. “I’ll take it over the

same boring man I’ve been seeing any day,” Tina says.

Yet again, the show

simplifies a complex area of sexuality into a simple, disparaging adjective:

boring. What’s not boring is the irony that at least one of the actors forced

to betray her character’s bisexual orientation has publicly stated her support

for the bisexual community.

Leisha Hailey, who plays

Alice, told The Advocate in February

2004 that “I’ve really come to learn that bisexuality is a true,

legitimate sexual orientation. It’s not about crossing over from straight to

gay.” Too bad the show’s writers couldn’t enable Hailey to impart this

wisdom through her character.

During an interview with

AfterEllen.com just before the premiere of Season 5, Alice’s previous

bisexuality was mentioned, and Hailey joked that she didn’t remember that her

character was bisexual. She then continued: “It’s not up to me if they

don’t wanna play the guy thing. I can’t help that. Maybe that perfect guy would

be out there [for Alice], you never know. I just kinda forgot about that. I’ve

been trained to forget.”

And that’s clearly the

problem — L Word viewers have been

trained to forget the show used to depict bisexuality with more realism and

less stereotype. It’s just that some of us — the ones who stomach the biphobic

remarks in hope that someday we’ll be represented fairly once again — remember.

And that’s why we foolishly keep tuning in.

As one of the few queer

shows on television, The L Word has a

responsibility to remember and to be inclusive (or at least scientifically

accurate) in its representations of bisexuals, instead of glossing over our

orientation to push the biphobic and outdated belief that bisexuality is a

gateway drug and an impetus for infidelity.

Perhaps the producers of

the show should read the recently published findings by researcher Lisa M.

Diamond of the University of Utah, who conducted a 10-year study of 79

“non-heterosexual women” and discovered that bisexuality is a

“distinctive orientation.” According to her findings, women who

labeled themselves as bi or “unlabeled” maintained stable attractions

to both men and women over the years.

Perhaps The L Word‘s writers could also ponder

this: Diamond found that bisexual women were capable of successful long-term

monogamous relationships, and a larger percentage of them were in relationships

at the conclusion of the study than their lesbian or heterosexual counterparts.

That might not lend itself to soap opera-style melodrama, but that’s a show

that I — and I’d wager a few other viewers — would rather watch.

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