This has been a long time coming. The L Word ended in 2009, so it has in fact taken me about 1,000 rewatches to get here, I wish I was exaggerating. The L Word fucked us all up. Whether it was creating grossly inaccurate expectations for living, to grossly inaccurate portrayals of how to relationship. We all walked away from the L Word thinking that we could cheat, lie, do all the drugs, and somehow live in gorgeous duds in LA with girlfriends and best friends who would love us anyway. Which ok, everything in moderation; but The L Word was everything in extreme excess. And yes, that is what t.v is for, except so much of The L Word felt real. It wasn’t so much like watching fantasy, for a young lesbian it was watching what could be. Which is why, it fucked us all so hard. Let’s explore how, character by character, The L Word totally screwed us all.
Bette – Let us start with the matriarch. Bette was The power dyke. Educated, strong willed, cultured, independent, fiercely loyal, and wealthy. In many ways she was a total inspiration, and someone not only to look up to, but aspire to be. But lord was she a tyrannical mess.
Masculinity and Double Standards – As we see often in life and on The L Word, “masculinity” is often used as a free pass to be, for lack of a better word: a jackass. As the main breadwinner in the house for years, and the one who did not carry Angelica, Bette was written as the “man”. Take for example when Tina was caught cheating, the world ended, she was ostracized from her friend group and seen as a confused bisexual who just couldn’t seem to make up her mind about her sexuality. Bette least we all forget was a serial cheater, and was allowed to be just that. She was allowed to throw tantrums when Tina challenged her power or questioned their relationship, but allowed Tina no such space. Granted Tina was far from perfect (we’ll get to that), but if we were to assess the one who had the most strikes in their relationship, in my opinion it would be Bette. Bette’s unwillingness to meet Tina on equal levels is on par with many heteronormative relationship structures. Tina should of course not be pardoned for her cheating, but it should be noted that when Tina strayed, it was for love, while when Bette did, it was for power; she fucked her TA for gods sake. Bette was always allowed the space to excel at work, even when she was fired she ended up on top. With the series ending with the viewer knowing she had a job waiting for her in New York. Bette was always wanted, where as Tina was constantly punished for being a strong femme.
Mixed race – So I really have never understood this aspect of Bette’s character. Mainly because the only time Bette ever felt the need to state that she was mixed, was when she was up against a wall. Being POC was never a full part of Bette’s life. It was a tool she used when all other tools were too weak to help her win an argument. It also linked her to the extremely problematic mess of a character that was Kit. That these two possibly grew up knowing each other seems like the most ridiculous stretch in the history of character plot lines. Kit’s world is one of Black stereotypes; while Bette’s is of higher education and elitism.
Responsibility and Accountability – Lol. Much like a white male of privilege, Bette never seemed to be held accountable for her actions. I am a firm believer that she killed Jenny. She saw someone who was going to challenge the perfect life she had finally been able to create. A job, a wife, and a child. There was no way she was going to allow anyone, never mind a powerful femme to destroy that. She did what she had to do, and felt no remorse for it, because this is Bette’s world, and the sooner you understand that the easier it will be for all of us.
Jenny – Is apparently the shows main character, which is funny because usually the main character of a show is the most likeable. This is a good place to say that if you are a Jenny apologizer, you will not like one word I have to say about her, and should probably bypass this character assessment cuz like I hate her. Where to begin.
Self Centered – GOD HAVE YOU EVER ENCOUNTERED SOMEONE AS SELF ABSORBED AS JENNY SCHECTER? If you have I am terribly sorry for both you and your therapist. It is safe to say that everyone in Jenny’s life was there for her entertainment. And solely for her entertainment. In essentially every relationship Jenny is in, it is for her benefit or amusement. Funny how she admits her love for Shane, when every other person in her life has finally had enough of her. Jenny needs to be needed. Max was a fun project when they first met. Maura was new, she was different, and she needed guidance, much like all of Jenny’s lovers. Jenny wanted to date those she could sculpt and mold, because honestly if your life was together why the holy fuck would you date her? Nicki was a young and naive actress, trying to figure out her sexuality and where her power in this world lay. Shane, well Shane never grew past being a puppy. And the poor vet she dated. Jesus where to even begin with that storyline – Jenny killed a dog in order to get back at the author of a bad review. She killed. A dog. And then proceeded to string someone along who was feeling vulnerable and unloved in her relationship. Which leads right into her other biggest flaw:
Narcissist – There was literally nothing Jenny would not do to come out on top. From dog murder, to stealing the film of her movie, to screwing over every single one of her “best friends” in the last season. And the thing is, the reason it is so easy for me to outright and fully hate Schecter, is that she shows absolutely no remorse for her actions. None. Her last thought before death was probably: No great artist saw success during their lives. In death, I will become infamous.
Sexual Assault – The L Word handled Jenny’s childhood and sexual abuse, in the most confusing and matter of fact way. While it never specifically victim blamed, it did allude that because of her past Jenny was now this insanely fucked up human. There was no space for conversation, because we were shown her abuse in an almost fairytale like way. Other than flashback scenes, Jenny never addresses what happened to her, and how or why it has shaped the human she is. Much like with so many other important topics, the writers dropped the ball on what could have been an eye opening discussion on what sexual abuse during childhood continues to do to adults. By presenting her abuse in such a fantastical way the viewer never got the seriousness of how powerful and life changing sexual assault is. You instead saw a manic pixie dream girl with no concrete understanding of how much her assault shaped her life.
Shane – Where to even begin. Where oh where to even begin. I personally blame Shane’s character for creating a generation of non dateable humans. The L Word, was all many of us had. No other t.v. show or movie depicted LGBTQ life the way that The L Word did. These people seemed like they could be our friends, they seemed like who we wanted to grow up to be. Shane made a generation of lesbians and trans men into walking fuckable yet detached douche bags.
Past – Shane had a rough childhood. She went through foster care, and the system, and therefore did was she had to do to survive. Shane’s teenage years are probably the most relatable to many LGBTQ youth growing up today. Kicked out of their houses for who they are, and forced to grow up much too fast. Unfortunately Shane came out of all of that a sociopath. An often funny and loveable sociopath, but a sociopath all the same. The writers also never showed how Shane was able to escape the streets. All of a sudden you see a human who is admired by all, with a job, money, and women literally dropping their panties for her.
Relationships – Da worst. God, Shane you are the worst. The actual absolute worst. Shane was always dependant on her looks to get essentially everywhere and anywhere. While fucked up, Molly is the only person who points out that Shane basically has nothing to offer. Now it is of course insanely fucked up not to note that of course Shane lacked a strong educational background due to the fact Shane grew up devoid of the privilege. This is yet another area where the writers could have done so much more. What an amazing space to start the conversation about the lack of resources and education those in foster care have to deal with. So what the viewer is left with, is that someone who grew up tough is given the allowance to be a vacant partner, who is rightfully allowed to leave when things get too tough, because poor Shane.
Style – I blame you for my teenage bangs Shane. I. Blame. You.
Alice – A character that started extremely rough around the edges, led to being one of my favorite characters on the show. While she had her flaws, she was one of the only characters that actually felt human.
Bisexuality – The writers killed sexuality on many different occasions. With many characters, on the show that strayed from being lesbians their other “tastes” where either made fun of, villainized, or treated as phases. Alice was probably the most experimental of all cast members and stuck by her choices, even mistakes, strongly. Her because flaw came from the transphobia she directed towards Max. She speaks out against him being a part of Our Chart, only to then shoot a podcast with him apologizing. The problem is, the way this scene is shot makes the entire thing seem more like comedy than a genuine apology. For those who don’t remember, Alice invites Max to a sit down at The Planet, which she has Shane videotape. While a very serious dialogue is going on between her and Max, a very horny Shane uses the time behind camera to zoom in on various women at The Planet. What the viewer than see’s is a butch lesbian obsessing over female bodies, while a bisexual and a trans man discuss how they fit or don’t fit into lesbian spaces. Their voices are in the distance, why Shane’s antics are front and center, ruining what could have been a groundbreaking conversation.
Carmen – It’s funny, while Carmen will always stand out in my mind, she really wasn’t around for that long, and her character really was not super developed. Yes she was Shane’s partner, and yes for a hot second she was fucking Jenny. But we never really got a taste of who Carmen was. She was a piece of many pieces Shane would devour and dispose of.
Latina – The two (and maybe only) Latin American women on The L Word were stereotypes. Carmen was a beautiful, sassy, and domestic woman. Papi was a working class player. Neither was given much substance, while both were highly sexual, and essentially nothing more than bodies. Interestingly enough, while Papis stay on the show was shorter, I feel like we were given a bigger window into her character. She was introduced as a player, but after meeting Kit saw the possibility of partnership. Carmen always just felt like Shane’s hot girlfriend.
Femme – What the writers lacked in giving Carmen a true personality, they made up for by making her bat shit crazy. Shane is a monumental asshole of a cheating douche bag. Dating her would make you crazy. We got to see Carmen freak out at the thought that the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, was actually just loving her until she found someone better. Shane’s actions and Shane’s cheating were never really shown in the correct light. That light being, when you constantly fuck someone over, they usually get sick of you. Instead Carmen chose to go down the path of marriage. Everyone woman that entered Shane’s life set out to “change” her, and after Shane fucked up time and time again, the writers wrote these women to be CRAZY FEMMES. Shane always was presented in a fairly calm manner. Artistic even. While these women suffered at the hands of heteronormative limiting stereotypes.
Tina – Tina kind of makes me think of watching paint dry. She was second fiddle to Bette, and therefore had to be written as the whiny wife. She seemed to always just be waiting around for Bette to get her shit together. She was less patient than the women who entered Shane’s life. Bette was given ultimatums, and made to suffer numerous times.
Kit – Ugh. Why write a Black character if you aren’t willing to WRITE a Black character. Very similar to Max, Kit’s character failed miserably. She remained likeable throughout the entire series, and funny enough was one of the only characters to take Max’s transition seriously and with compassion.
Race – Dynamite! Oh Kit must be entering a scene. If there was 1970’s slang being heard, there most be a Black woman entering the pristinely white world of The L Word, I am not sure on what planet we were supposed to imagine Bette and Kit being sisters, but ok sure. Bette somehow got all of the benefits of being a white passing woman, while Kit struggled with: alcoholism, sexuality, cheating, abortion, menopause, a homophobic son, people constantly trying to ruin her business, falling in love with a drag queen, god what am I missing? While kudos I guess, to the writers for making her a successful businesswoman, all of the snarls for making her seem like an extra from What’s Happening. What’s interesting is Illene Chaiken The L Word’s creator, wrote The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and now writes Empire. She constantly writes Black roles, and for anyone that has watched Empire, writes them really fucking well. How unfortunate that Kit was not given the same treatment.
Max – Max was the FIRST trans person I had ever seen on television. And for years, the only. Too bad The L Word completely and utterly destroyed him. I could probably write an entire novel on how badly Max’s character was written, because honestly there were just so many cringe worthy moments.
Gender and Sexuality – There was never any time taken to talk about the differences between gender and sexuality, which becomes extremely dangerous when you have a trans character who first appears as a lesbian and then starts taking T and becomes attracted to men. And then becomes pregnant?!? It is 100% true that some trans men chose to carry babies, but without any form of background Max’s character becomes a circus act. For most of Max’s early screen time we have to hear Jenny bitch about how hard it is for her to be with someone who is transitioning. Which yes, of course, any huge life change that your partner goes through is going to affect you, but this is Jenny, so all attention and compassion is lost for Max. The viewer is forced to feel bad for her. Which honestly is harder than chewing on a bottle of broken glass under the boat slip in P-Town. While pregnant Max is presented as what I can literally only describe as an angry caveman. The viewer is not drawn to feeling sympathy for him, but instead is looking at a disheveled, angry, and whiny gay man. His relationship with Tom is violent and abusive. Again, as it did many times beforehand The L Word presents men in an unsatisfactory light. Please for a second sit back and tell me if you can name one man in the shows history who is shown in a celebratory manner. I’ll wait.
Work – The writers did address how at risk trans people are, to being fired at their bosses free will. This is probably the only good thing we are shown when it comes to Max. He deals with his boss and douchebag coworkers to his best ability, and leaves admirably. Unfortunately his life then begins to spin out of control.
*You will note that I left out a few characters:
Helena – While I loved Helena, her character is pretty much filler. She’s great and sexy, and has a completely un-relatable life. She is perfect for entertainment value. I like to think that she got rid of Dylan real quick and is back on an island with Dusty.
Ivan – Ivan clearly was on his way to transitioning, but the writers clearly were not ready to write for him. I like to think that he showed up at The Planet one day and whisked Kit away.
Jody – Probably the only person who gave Bette a run for her money. She also showed that someone with a disability was just as capable, fucked up, and brilliant as anyone else.
Dana and Tasha – Are both perfect humans and should only be referred to as such.
The L Word, shaped an entire generation of LGBTQ humans. For better or for worse it has become an intrinsic part of many of us. While flawed in many ways, it does live on as a groundbreaking show that can still be watched with the same esteem and emotion as when it first aired. That emotion mainly being: