The L Word Tries to Go Deep, but Can’t Keep It Up

Daniela Sea as Moira/Max   After Ellen posts an essay by Malinda Lo, on the topic of The L Word's mishandling (no pun intended) of the butch/transgender storyline[s]:

In interviews prior to the start of Season 3, Chaiken noted that she wanted to "deal with the issue of gender.  We wanted to tell that story, a big story in the gay community and, in the last couple of years, a huge story in the lesbian community."  Chaiken is absolutely correct that transgender politics has become a flashpoint in the lesbian community.  In San Francisco, where I live, so many formerly butch-identified lesbians have transitioned from female to male that one of the biggest open secrets in the lesbian community here is a concern that being trans has become the latest trend…

Unfortunately, The L Word's engagement with this complex issue suffers from being locked in a binary two-step.  The fact that Moira can transition to Max should illustrate that gender is fluid, that it is not an either/or situation.  Indeed, the character of bisexual, flamboyant, hypersexual Billie Blaikie (Alan Cumming), manager of the Planet, seems to be meant to symbolize this fluidity…

To further underscore the dichotomy between men and women, Moira's transition to Max is situated in comparison to a parade of male characters that illustrate a range of manliness, from the conservative bigotry of Kit's son, David, to the sensitive New Age Guy that is Angus the "manny".  In a parallel storyline, the character of Tina undergoes her own education in masculinity through her hetersexual reawakening.  She goes from a sordid cybersex experience about the imagined act of heterosexual fucking to a  traditional relationship with the safely sexy single dad, Henry.

What is disappointing about this engagement with masculinity is that The L Word is a lesbian show.  By only allowing men — or women who are in the process of becoming men — to display or engage in masculine behaviors or attitudes, The L Word continues to deny a major part of what has made lesbian cultures so fascinating and so queer for hundreds of years.

But The L Word does more than only enable men to be masculine — it ridicules women who do possess masculine characteristics.  Although Moira is accepted as a normal part of the lesbian scene in Illinois, where she is from, as she makes her physical journey from the Midwest to Los Angeles, she transgresses the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Lo also points out the fact that the writers seem to be confused about the very topic that they are attempting to dramatize for the viewers:

But The L Word continues to conflate gender expression with "role playing".  In Season 1, Kit sarcastically dismissed "butch and femme role playing" when Bette warned her that Ivan the drag king was courting her "old school".  In Season 3… Tina muses wonderingly, "I'm just surprised that [Jenny] wanted to role play like that, especially after everything that [she's] been through."

The misunderstanding that butch and femme are roles that are played rather than identities that are lived situates The L Word in a world of 1970s lesbian feminism that denigrated such personal identities as unfeminist.  It positions The L Word as mainstream, even conservative in its understanding of gender.  It is increasingly understandable for men or women to want to change their sex, but it is difficult for the mainstream to grasp the concept that within one sex, there can be many different gender expressions.

The Showtime series, in its first two seasons, demonstrated that it is not particularly invested in telling complicated stories about complicated issues.  The L Word is at its heart a soap opera, more Days of Our Lives than Six Feet Under.  This is not unexpected, given the fact that series creator Ilene Chaiken spent five years of her pre-L Word career working as an executive at Aaron Spelling Television, the production company that brought us soapy hits such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Dynasty.

The rest of the article can be found here


Related Link:  "L Word Season 3: Year of the Cock"



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