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:: ' L '  I S  F O R  I N V I S I B L E  ::

By Winnie McCroy
New York Blade
October 31, 2003

Showtime’s new show, ‘The L Word,’ promises lesbians a ‘Queer as Folk’ of our own.
But the real target audience is heterosexual men.

WHEN I FIRST heard rumors that Showtime was developing a “Queer As Folk”-type program for lesbians, I was curious to see the end product. So I welcomed the invitation to attend an opening party for “The L-Word,” scheduled to air in January, at a restaurant in Times Square last week.

Media and show-business types milled around — as they do at such events — drinking ice-blue martinis and interviewing cast members. Among the actors were some stars and film veterans, including Jennifer (“Flashdance”) Beals, Leisha Hailey, Mia Kirshner, Karina Lombard, Katherine Moennig and Pam (“Foxy Brown”) Grier.

All good-looking, straight-looking women.

As the cast members played to the photographers, shaking back their long tresses and flashing a little leg, I began to wonder exactly which ones were supposed to be playing the lesbians on the show.

At lunch, I was seated next to a couple of butch lesbians from a cable-access program, “Dyke TV,” when Showtime began rolling clips from the upcoming first season.

But while the heterosexual sex scenes came close to soft-core, the lesbians were limited to kisses and panty shots.

And all the lesbian characters on “The L Word” are tall, beautiful and pretty much all femme.

Don’t get me wrong: I know a lot of beautiful lesbians who fit into this mold. But even when I get together with my Upper West Side, Columbia Prep-spawned ultra-femme friends, there are still always a roughly equal number of cute butches.

In fact, the only cast member who looked like she could even pass as a lesbian (not even a “real” lesbian, but a Gina Gershon-dream-ideal-lesbian-type lesbian) was Katherine Moennig, who plays “Shane,” the requisite scruffy-headed bad girl.

WAS SHE SUPPOSED to be the butch? As luck had it, she was sitting at the table adjacent to mine, so I tapped her on the shoulder and asked her that very question.

“My character’s not very butch,” she replied.

“She sure isn’t,” I readily agreed and explained our confusion.

Moennig talked for awhile about our complaint that “real-looking” lesbians had been omitted from the show.

I kept referring back to the classic butch/femme balance so prevalent (for better or worse) in contemporary lesbian circles. She kept countering, “It’s TV, not reality, and sex sells. It doesn’t try to represent the reality of every lesbian, just this group of friends.”

She hinted at future plot twists in which the Pam Grier character hooks up with a drag king, and encouraged me to give it a chance. I agreed, however uneasily, with a nagging feeling that again real lesbians had been kicked to the curb in favor of the fantasy lesbians of straight men’s porn.

My suspicions were confirmed several days later, when I came across comments made by Gary Levine, Showtime’s executive vice president of original programming, in a Daily News TV column.

“Lesbian sex, girl-on-girl, is a whole cottage industry for heterosexual men,” Levine told Daily News Editor Richard Huff, noting the popularity of talk shock jock Howard Stern’s frequent references to lesbians.

So we’re a cottage industry now, neatly and conveniently packaged for heterosexual men.

Of course TV executives are generally scumbags, whoring themselves for ratings, but that only slightly tempered Levine’s extremely offensive sound bite.

I laughed when I heard the show described as “something quite bold, something unexpected” by creator Ilene Chaiken. I guess if you consider that lesbians are otherwise invisible, even fake lesbians come across as “quite bold.”

BUT I WAS truly disgusted when I read comments by Scott Seomin, entertainment media director at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, about the show’s promise as a tool for consciousness-raising.

“If they pull them in and they get hooked on the titillation factor, that straight male is going to learn about the lives of lesbians,” Seomin told the Daily News, adding, “The straight men are going to sexualize beautiful lesbians anyway. Let’s educate them along the way.”

What?! The nation’s leading voice for promoting realistic and positive images of gay men and lesbians in the media is giving the thumbs-up to the idea of lesbians as jack-off fodder for straight men?

Not to mention that a look into the fake lives of a bunch of ersatz lesbians probably isn’t going to be the least bit real or insightful or educational to the problems real lesbians face. I’ll hold my breath waiting for story lines dealing with affordable health care, domestic partnerships and having children.

GLAAD gave a similar high sign to the new ABC sitcom, “It’s All Relative,” which pits a desexualized, namby-pamby gay couple against an equally stereotypical Irish-Catholic working class couple, a lá “La Cage Aux Folles.” (The show’s gay couple was also featured on an Advocate cover hailing the show as a breakthrough.)

Does any programming with gay characters, no matter how misleading, stereotypical or one-dimensional, score high marks with GLAAD and the Advocate? Are they waiting for Archie Bunker to settle into his armchair pulpit before they speak up? Or is it the money and clout of big networks like Showtime and ABC that keep them smiling and scraping like gay Uncle Toms?

I also blame some of our brethren in the gay media, who feature actresses playing lesbians on mainstream TV shows as though they were heroes. Do we even care about their opinions about our lives? Are we supposed to be grateful for these miserable crumbs?

We should challenge ourselves to demand more from those who claim to be speaking for us. If lesbians have to choose between remaining invisible to the mainstream, or being represented by Showtime’s clipped and plucked “lesbians,” I choose invisibility.

After all, real lesbians will still remain invisible — at least until our lives become more than a marketing tool or cottage industry or pud fodder for Joe Sixpack.

Is it so much to ask that a TV show purportedly dedicated to showing our lives actually portray real multi-faceted, inherently dramatic, women-for-women reality?


The L Word Online has been designed by Oz and Slicey.  Unique images designed by Oz.  Site maintained by Oz & Slicey.  This website is intended to be fun and informative, and was created with respect to show appreciation for the women and men involved in the creation of TV's first real lesbian drama.  This site is not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with Showtime Networks Inc., the television series "The L Word," or any person involved in the making of the show.  No copyright infringement is intended.  Images and other borrowed content are copyright their respective owners.  Credit is given where due.  All original content is the sole property of  the creators of The L Word Online copyright October 2003.