Notes & Queeries: Friends and “The L Word”

This is the first installment of Malinda Lo’s new monthly column focusing on the
personal side of pop culture for lesbians and bisexual women.

Four years ago when The L Word first premiered, I ordered
Showtime, then I called a bunch of friends and invited them over for dinner and
the series premiere. Although there was a bit of dyke drama — a friend’s
ex-girlfriend walked out when she saw that her ex had brought a new fling with
her — we mostly had a grand old time. For the next two months, my apartment was
filled every Sunday night with lesbians watching The L Word and getting tipsy on countless bottles of wine (unless
we drank cocktails — I can’t remember).

But then things started
to get out of hand. My friends began to invite their friends, and by the time a
friend of a friend invited a woman she met at Dolores Park earlier that
weekend, I knew it was time to call the whole thing off. Thus ended my short
stint as an L Word hostess. It was
quick, exhilarating and came to an abrupt halt because of another woman. Much
like many lesbian relationships.

Since then, The L Word has played a complicated role
in my life. As a writer for, I have essentially been forced to
watch The L Word for my job. And as
one of those contrary students who always hated any fiction that was assigned in
English class, even if I might have liked it had I discovered it myself, I have
developed a similar sort of feeling for Showtime’s lesbian soap.

On the one hand, there
are plenty of things to analyze — this season, for instance, I’m actually
intrigued by the show’s attempt at a meta-narrative about itself — but at the
same time, the show often feels like an assignment to me.

I know that there are
plenty of L Word viewers who feel
differently. I’ve been astonished at how dedicated the fan base is, even going
so far as to organize international L
conventions. This is the kind of ardor I’d only expect from sci-fi
fans — and I’m one of them.

But The L Word, for me, has never come close to my TV faves, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar
(the Katee Sackhoff version, of course). Maybe if The Planet were
actually a planet, and Jenny were some kind of super-intelligent but
inscrutable alien, I would suddenly become a hard-core L Word fan. There’s something about the grandness of science
fiction that seduces me in a way that a show like The L Word, with its more intimate dramas, will never be able to

Nevertheless, I watch the
show. It’s my job. And I watch the reaction to the show, and I marvel at it. The
unwavering investment in Bette and Tina’s fractured relationship, the heartfelt
mourning over Dana’s death, the vitriol against Jenny — it all amazes me. These
characters have clearly become touchstones for so many viewers.

The question “Which L Word character is your favorite?”
— closely followed by “Which L Word character
would you date?” — has become a standby getting-to-know-you question among
lesbians. Even though I don’t count The L
as one of my favorite shows, I know that I would be suspicious of
anyone who answered “Papi.” (And for the record, Bette is my favorite
L Word character, but I wouldn’t date
any of them. Well, maybe Tasha, if I were forced to choose.)