The L-Word

By Femke Boom

I often find myself thinking about The L-Word, and I wonder how many LGBT+ people still remember this. I sometimes doubt the ‘younger’ people – although I am just about 28 myself – know about this one. The L-Word was a TV show that ran from 2004 until 2009, and it was about the LGBT+ community. It was (mostly) about lesbians to be precise.

The L-Word is set in LA, right in the middle of the LGBT+ community. The L-Word shows topics like age difference in relationships, sexualisation of women and w/w relationships, gay marriage (unofficially, same-sex marriage is legal in California since 2015) and how a divorce worked for such a relationship, adoption and surrogacy, and so on.

Most of the focus is on lesbian relationships, although one of the main characters, Alice, is bisexual. Alice’s sexuality was often a point of discussion in the show, as not everyone took her seriously; it led to the frequent comment “Why don’t you just choose a side”. Alice also had a theory that everyone was somehow connected through sexual / romantic relationships. She began a mind map, connecting her and all of her friends together via relationships they had with others (i.e. not actually with each other). It is famously referred to as ‘the Chart’ in The L-Word. Personally, I felt like the ‘bisexual-issue’ was never quite resolved as the same comment kept coming back until Alice ended up sticking to relationships with women.

This TV show tackled taboos and stayed on-topic. It covered sexual harassment and abuse, partially through the character Jenny who had suffered much abuse through her young life. It showed the devastation of a loved one falling ill – someone in the show got breast cancer. This was especially well received by fans of The L-Word, as it is a disease that affects many and the portrayal of it in The L-Word was not romanticising cancer. This is something that tends to happen quite frequently in my opinion, like In a Walk to Remember or The Fault in Our Stars.

In the later seasons of The L-Word a transgender character was introduced as well. This character was Max; he was first introduced as Jenny’s ‘butch girlfriend’ Moira, but as the story progressed, the more Max decided to show who he really identified as. It also showed Max getting hormone treatment and choosing his own perimeters regarding gender; he decided not to go for top surgery, and showed that one doesn’t necessarily have to fully transform physically to become themselves.

Now why would I write about The L-Word? Part of it is nostalgia; it was one of the ways in which I discovered I identify as pansexual (bi at the time, as it is part of the same spectrum). It also reminds me of a talk I had with my mother about it because we watched this show together. She had a dear friend when she was young. They both studied medicine to become a nurse. Her friend, also a young woman, often struggled with drugs and relationships with men. She proposed to my mother to live together, just the two of them, for the rest of their lives (keep in mind, this was probably early 1970s). My mother, heterosexual and coming from a small village, refused. She told me that “I had no idea how that was supposed to work because we were both women; the idea of a same sex relationship had never even crossed my mind.”. When I came out as bi, her comment was “I think everyone is a little bi at heart”, so perhaps that is the real conclusion to that story.

My other reason for writing about The L-Word is to show that this (albeit slightly older) TV show still has something to offer. I think many of its themes are relatable. It also got a sequel recently, although I admittedly do not know anything about it. For those who are interested, it is called The L-Word: Generation Q. As the theme song goes “Women who long, love lust. Women who live. This is the way, it’s the way that we live.” and I suppose that is what it is about. Amidst the glitz and glamour of LA, it boils down to the ordinary lives of the heroines… however ordinary that may be.

The L-Word and its sequel The L Word: Generation Q (2019-) are both available on Videoland (NL).

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