LGBTQ Spotlight: The L Word (2004-2009)

A TV screen displays a rainbow. The title states, The L Word, l g b t q spotlight.

With all this talk about The L Word: Generation Q, here is a little review of the original series and whether or not you should watch it.

In preparation for Gen Q, my girlfriend and I rewatched The L Word, finishing the day of the premiere. A lot of the real-life GEN Q would likely find The L Word way too problematic to get into. In this post, I’ll highlight some of the main issues with the show and tell you why you should watch it anyway. (This post includes plot spoilers without character names.)

If you don’t know what The L Word (2004-2009) is about, here’s the quick overview: Lesbians in LA.

The Trans Character

The trans character in the show always rooted in token territory, allowing other characters on the show to pitch their somewhat-supportive-yet-mostly-ugly opinions throughout and after his transition. The actor is not trans, which ticks a clear problematic box. To make matters worse, they gave the trans man a pregnancy storyline when they could’ve written him out entirely with ease, as the show never really integrated him into the clique of lesbians anyway. Yikes.

The Token Bisexual

In a show of Lesbians! there is one bisexual character (arguably the most important character of the show). Two issues here. First: One bisexual? Really? Bisexuals make up the highest percentage of the LGBT community as a whole. My two best friends IRL friends are both bisexual. The unlikeliness of only one bisexual? Ridiculous.

Second: One of the lesbians spends a season (or two?) dating a man, but she refuses to label herself bisexual because lesbian “is a political identity” that she doesn’t want to get rid of, which seems insulting to both lesbians and bisexuals. Either way, the treatment of the real bisexual and political lesbian in a relationship with a man doesn’t meet the best of attitudes from other characters.

Not One Faithful Character

Literally everyone on show cheats while in committed, monogamous relationships. It goes without saying that portraying every single sapphic relationship as something that results in cheating and affairs is a bit of an issue. Especially because the show often paints this as a character flaw, expressing that being knowingly unfaithful while still entering monogamous relationships is just a part of who they are—or by extension—the lesbian identity.

Mental Health Plot Device

As all watchers know, we hate Jenny. (Sorry this plot spoiler reveals character name.) We specifically hate Jenny for her ego growth after becoming the director of the film adaptation of her “fiction” novel. Ever since her psychotic break after finding herself in sex tapes without consent recorded by the glorified lesbian porn enthusiast, Jenny had never been quite right. Eventually this led to her becoming a completely different character from the first couple seasons, until she became so unbelievably dislikable that we danced on her grave.

My big gripe with watchers hating Jenny has to deal with the fact that the writers never granted her a redemption arc, unlike every other insufferably flawed character on the show. Even though Jenny’s background of trauma, self-harm, rape, etc. can reasonably explain why she turned so crazy by the end of the series, the show never explored the correlation here or allowed the development of redeeming qualities, or even just some simple intervention for her clear mental health issues.

Lisa the Male Lesbian

The only man that the bisexual dates is Lisa, a “male lesbian” who insists on being a lesbian trapped in a male body. No, the character is not trans in any way. A literal cis dude claiming to be a lesbian. It was just fucking weird and wholly unnecessary.

Why I still watch The L Word

A lot of it has to do with nostalgia for me now, going back and watching a show that I watched years ago when it was simply one of the few shows with queer women in it. But that’s not all of it. I kind of like that its shitty in a soapy-overdramatic way. The drama of it sucks me in like a bad reality TV series. Plus, it’s so fun to have a show without token gay characters. The L Word brings together a group of gay friends in LA—the only gathering of gays for a friendship, rather than a token gay unrealistically having only cis straight friends. And even then, it’s a little questionable because how are Bette and Shane really friends in the first place?

Probably all these major issues with the show and yet my continued enjoyment of it peels back the ways we starve for representation. Regardless, I loved The L Word then and I love it now. It’s a classic with problems, like most of the mainstream big tickets for gays. I am watching Gen Q, and you can expect another post after the series finishes. How do you stand to watch The L Word now? What’s your take on Jenny?

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