In the 21st century, there is still a lack of positive and accurate representation of women in the LGBTQ+ community on television, and even more so about similar women of color. Proper representation is very significant and important, and the under-appreciated show “The L Word: This is the life” needs to be brought back into the light.
“The L Word” is a Canadian- American show that aired from 2004 to 2009. The show follows a small but tight-knit cast of characters who identify as mostly lesbian or queer women. The show consists of 70 episodes and six seasons, starring Jen- nifer Beals (Bett Porter), Leisha Hailey (Alice Pieszecki), Laurel Holloman (Tina Kennard), Mia Kirschner (Jenny Schecter) and Katherine Moennig (Shane Mc- Cutcheon).
Although it is a large cast of characters, which are not mentioned in its entirety here, each character comes together as a family. Their sexualities may bring them together, but their labels do not define their bonds.
The show starts out with characters Tina Kennard and Bett Porter focused on trying to start afamily,while Porter struggles with her identity as an African- American lesbian woman who is the ‘bread-winner.’ Trailblaz- ing with her career as manager of the fictional prestigious Californian Art Gallery, as well as dealing with her homophobic African-American father, Porter speaks to many more marginalized individuals. Her character represents those whose identities are scarcely tackled on a major television series, and even though the show cycles through various characters over the five year run, Porter was there start to finish.
Furthermore, character Alice Pieszecki identifies as a bi- sexual woman, and struggles with others accepting her sexuality. She is often judged based on her choice in partner, rather than her orientation. Pieszecki often reflects on how bisexuals like herself face an issue from other members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as those who identify as straight.
The identity of ‘lesbians’ is not the only theme and sexuality “The L Word” bravely at- tempts to portray and understand. Themes of transgender identities, questioning sexual- ity, exploration of identity, as well as drug abuse and rehab are prevalent. For example, Porter’s half-sister,whoidentifies as a straight woman, struggles with alcohol abuse, and finds herself falling for a ‘gender- queer’ individual named Ivan, who performed at a lesbian bar as a drag king.
The newcomer type character, Jenny Schecter, struggles in the first season with her sexual orientation, and finds herself breaking off her engagement to a straight man, falling for the ‘dangerously tempting’ owner of a lesbian coffee shop and bar. Her struggles as a writer fresh out of college, as well as some- one who deals with poverty enhances her very real situation as well as mental struggles with finding who she is. She attempts to find herself through various relationships with men and women, and struggles with what she needs in life.
Various relationship types are explored by the show, such as monogamy, adultery, polyamorous relationships and ‘casual flings.’ Each representation is neither viewed as ‘bad’ nor ‘good’ or better than another. The show attempts to capture a slice of reality, and stays away from judgement. It allows the viewer to cast their own judgement.
One of the most difficult, yet common themes in the show is that of a budding female tennis player who identifies as lesbian, but cannot safely come- out because of her growing fame and career. She struggles with accepting herself as well as deciding what she values more; her career or finding the love she deserves. Similar instances of coming-out stories and scenarios intend to capture the varying reality of such bravery.
The show wonderfully portrays innocent moments of first- love, painful coming-out scenarios, as well as prefacing every episode with something from the past or happening parallel to the opening of the episode after the title credits. One example is a young woman who falls in love with another female friend. After being kissed, she spurns her friend’s advances, and exclaims that such feelings should not be acted on. Toward the end of the episode, after her own daughter comes out to her, she rejects her daughter and remarks that “such feelings should not be acted on, no matter how badly you might want to.” Moments such as these are sometimes fleeting, but have a strong impact on the overall message and reality the show at- tempts to offer viewers.
Although the show may seem outdated to some viewers, the concepts, themes and character portrayals remain relevant in today’s complex world and society. Not everyone supports the lifestyle or identity of the characters, but their struggles and triumphs encourage viewers to keep on watching. Their lives do not revolve around who they are attracted to or what they do to feel happiness. This is what makes “The L Word” such a significant show. Their orientations and sexual behavior are not something to marvel viewers for the sake of inclusion.
The show is designed to capture the reality of life, in all its forms and complexity. It asks questions of its viewers, as well as plays on their emotions. It is very much a strong reminder that people are people, and that a great show can be made with positive representation, a strong female cast and a range of mi- norities in a successful attempt to show how complex and beautiful life really is.