Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: ‘The L Word’ has kinks to work out

Growing up queer during the early 2000s was rather confusing for me.

Although a lot of progress had been made in the LGBTQ movement, acceptance still felt like an uphill battle. We didn’t have a strong presence in the media I consumed and, to my knowledge, none of my close family members were queer. I didn’t really know what gay meant until I was a teenager. Then, “The L Word” happened. I discovered it by accident, possibly while looking for shows I had no business watching at that age.

The show was a bit racy so I had to sneak and watch it while my mom wasn’t looking, but I was hooked. To me, that show was the representation that I needed. Not only did I see queer women, I saw them living normal and successful lives. They had careers and families that loved them through their mess. This show was also my first exposure to transgender people outside of those horrid “Jerry Springer” and “Maury”episodes.

“The L Word” means a lot to me because although my journey as a queer woman has been complicated, that show made the ride a little easier. That said, I had mixed feelings when show creator Ilene Chaiken revealed that there was a reboot in the works. Although this show did a lot for me as a kid, upon re-watching it as an adult, I felt like something should remain in the protective shroud of nostalgia.

“The L Word,” while groundbreaking, was extremely problematic. Most of the main characters were white and class-privileged. The ones that weren’t white were able to pass the paper bag test and were usually stereotypical. A huge example of this would be Papi, the Latinx character introduced in Season 4. She was the quintessential hypersex ualized Latin lover. Another character, Tasha, was the archetypal rigid, no-nonsense black butch lesbian. And, like almost every other character of color, they primarily dated and desired white women. The show’s dismal racial politics were most evident in Bette and Tina’s relationship. The storyline about Tina not wanting a black donor for their baby was cringe-inducing. The show’s analysis of Bette’s biracial identity was superficial.

Additionally, the show’s relationships fit comfortably into heteronormative roles. Sure, people slept around, but it was more so for ratings because people love to see lesbians making out and rolling around with each other. The show’s portrayal of gender identity and presentation wasn’t very fluid. The main cast was comprised of conventional attractive femme women and the androgynous Shane. Tasha and Papi weren’t introduced until the fourth season. The show didn’t do its trans character, Max, any justice. The other characters, including his partner, were transphobic to him and eventually, his transition was just mentioned in passing.

Hopefully, in this new social justice-focused climate, “The L Word” will have worked out its kinks. I’ll be watching.