Showtime Series might be just as
retrogressive as it is progressive
By Curtis Main
I first avoided “The L Word”
as much as possible, vowing to never support a show about lesbians
that has a cast of Victoria’s Secret models as actors. The queer
women I knew looked nothing like them, and I preferred real dyke
drama from friends to some fake, catered-to-straight-men series from
I had already been
avoiding “Queer as Folk” for the same reasons. But then, I was
sucked in to these two shows in a matter of months. I was disgusted
and intrigued, left out and included, but hooked without a doubt.
Who is to blame for my
addiction to “The L Word”? My housemates Jes Albrecht and Ali
McNeill. Jes bought the first season as a present for Ali just to
see what the talk was about, and they soon found themselves immersed
in a world of chic lesbian drama and struggle.
We all admit the
producers did a horrendous job representing queer women; but at the
same time, the struggles many of the characters encounter are very
real to queer women.
Take the situation of one
of the main characters, Dana, played by Erin Daniels. She faces the
dilemma to come out of the closet and risk her career and family, or
stay in and remain a “closet case” full of fears and darkness. Her
struggle with the closet is what queer people must face their entire
lives. Although rejected by her family, she is also able to land a
business deal with Subaru as an “out” lesbian. As is often the case
for queer people, coming out has both beautiful and dangerous
Although the show does
portray a variety of issues and themes that queer women face, I take
issue with the cast. This is a group of white, upper-class, skinny,
lipstick lesbians.This is one of Jes’ main conflicts with the show.
“It’s not representative
of all lesbians,” she said. “It just perpetuates the stereotype of
the kind of lesbians men want to sleep with. They are not going to
cast some 250-pound raging bulldyke, (but) I think it would be
really cool if they did.”
The other important issue
Jes brings up is that “the men who are on the show, like Snoop (Dogg’s
character Slim Daddy), think lesbians are hot, and that is totally
written off as flirting. This gives men an excuse to make real
lesbians into an object of their pleasure – just something else to
get off to.”
What angers me the most
about the show and about much of the gay and lesbian movement in
general is that both depict LGBTIQ people as mostly affluent,
in-shape, white people. Sure, there is Pam Grier’s character Kit
Porter, the only nonwhite main character. But she rarely receives as
much time as the other characters, she has an alcohol problem and
her sexuality is barely touched upon.
There are two other
notable nonwhite characters. Alice is an angry black feminist
lesbian and brings up very important points in the show. However,
the other sides of her arguments are given no time to develop, and
she is written off as an exception to some arbitrary rule. The other
character, Candace, is a love affair for Bette (portrayed by
Jennifer Beals). She is given more time on the show but just as a
sexual interest. She is also very light-skinned, which can easily be
seen as a sign of colorism.
Yet another drawback of
the show is the affluence of most of the characters. For “The L
Word” to depict queer women as void of financial struggles is a lie.
It downplays the systems of sexism, racism and heterosexism that
keep queer women from being financially confident.
Last but not least, Jes
brings up a highly ironic aspect of the series – the sex scenes. One
might assume that in a show about lesbians, it would be bursting
with delicious, erotic, warm scenes of lesbian sex. Funny, though,
that straight sex occurs just as often or more and gets more time
There was also a
borderline rape scene between characters Bette and Tina in a recent
episode. The scene went from “no, no, no” to “yes, yes, yes” very
quickly. Rape happens between women, and it should not be overlooked
or simplified and especially not made erotic.
So our feminist and queer
politics may not agree with the show, but we must admit that we
still had “The L Word” parties in honor of the premiere.
Like most media
portrayals of queer people, this series is progressive and
retrogressive at the same time. What we have may not be fair, but at
least it is something – and there is always room for improvement.