“As I listen to Shane mumble like some kind of lesbian Elvis, I realise how much this programme has managed to pervade my lesbian cultural consciousness”
THE L WORD / SHOWTIME
BY ELEANOR MARGOLIS
One episode into The L Word and a lot of stuff is starting to make sense.
Please don’t shout at me. Coming out as a lesbian is one thing. Coming out, to other lesbians, as someone who has never watched The L Word is another. They yell. It’s terrifying. It’s like telling an environmentalist that black rhinos “had it coming, the leathery pricks”. Chairs are thrown. Well, emotional chairs perhaps.
So, over a decade late to the party, I’ve decided to give the most iconic lesbian TV event to occur within my lifetime so far (or so I’ve been told…) a chance. I should probably explain why I’m so late. It’s not a snobbery thing, I swear. Bad Girls got me through my first heartbreak. Bad Girls. The lesbian prison drama so ITV you can practically smell the writing. Also, and only semi-ironically, one of my favourite series ever. Don’t think for a second I didn’t full-on weep when Nikki and Helen finally got together.
Bad Girls and The L Word both ran in the early 2000s, although I didn’t start watching the former until my third year of uni in 2010. I was late to that party too. The L Word premiered when I was a closeted 15-year-old. I remember seeing a huge poster for it, thinking, “Oh my god, I think I know what the ‘L’ stands for,” and practically having a heart attack. Without watching it, I managed to convince myself it wasn’t my thing. For some reason, that feeling stuck.
So back to that first episode. As I listen to Shane mumble like some kind of lesbian Elvis, I realise just how much this programme has managed to pervade my lesbian cultural consciousness, without even watching it. All of these tropes: the soft butch stud who is somehow never without a pool cue (Shane), the workaholic pant-suited power lesbian (Bette), the agonisingly coy ingénue with massive eyes (Jenny); this stuff is all uncannily familiar.
More importantly though: sex. I’ve been told by at least 30 lesbians that this element of The L Word is the main thing I missed out on. The moment Shane’s bush crops up on my laptop screen and practically mumbles, “Hey,” I concede that they may have had a point. Although she then proceeds to have sex in a pool, which upsets me. I think of all the impressionable young gay and bi women who must’ve seen this and inferred that sex in water isn’t a complete nightmare. Irresponsible, L Word Writers.
I’ll admit, after the first episode I want to call it quits. This isn’t just because of the pool sex. Nearly all of these women are shallow, dull and irritating LA stereotypes, and I never want to see them again. I persevere though and, by episode three, I’m fully emotionally invested. I can’t work out how this happened. Maybe I am into the sex. It’s exactly the right amount of graphic and, mercifully, rarely involves water. Granted, there’s a lot of mood music and hammy orgasm faces (I’m looking at you, Jenny). But it’s nice to be able to convince myself that I’m not watching porn because, before sex, things like, “Every time I look at you I feel so completely dismantled,” are said (I’m still looking at you, Jenny).
Mid-series, I’ve started playing Lesbian Sex Bingo and I’ve jotted down notes like, “TOILET CUBICLE SEX” and, “CAT ON THE BED”. I’m also well on my way to a kind of televisual lesbian bed death. The sex scenes are so frequent and samey that I’ve become jaded to them and genuinely more interested in some of the surprisingly gripping plotlines. Which I realise sounds like a slightly more modern “I only read Playboy for the articles”. The episode where Bette’s homophobic father tells her and Tina that he won’t accept their unborn kid as his grandchild is mildly heartbreaking and so much more interesting than Jenny’s “demonic possession” (gag) sex life.
More about Jenny though. Every line she delivers is in the tone of someone telling a friend, who has asked for an honest opinion, that the cardigan they’re wearing isn’t particularly flattering. For all I know, she and the boring as porridge cuboid-headed jock boyfriend get hit by a bus in season three. If not, I’d genuinely like to know how so many of my friends managed to put up with her and her career as someone who writes like a 13-year-old “poet” for six whole seasons.
Watching The L Word alone and so many years after literally every queer woman I know, I’m not 100% sure who I’m “supposed” to hate. But if it isn’t Jenny, I’m clearly way out of my depth with this show.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of DIVA.
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