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