Gender Trouble on “The L Word”

Daniela SeaKate Moennig

Before the beginning of the third season of The L Word, series creator Ilene Chaiken said of new character Moira (Daniela Sea), “She’s our first real butch on the show—a fabulously attractive butch, but nonetheless a real butch.”

I, for one, was excited. Even though Chaiken’s statement revealed that she actually felt that few butches were attractive, at least she admitted that The L Word had never before had a “real” butch on the show. Nope, not even Shane counted. Could this mean that Chaiken and the producers of The L Word actually knew what a real butch was?

It’s too bad that as soon as that “real butch” sauntered onto the scene, she transitioned from female to male in a clumsy storyline that reduced the complexity of transgender issues to a stereotypical war between the sexes. To make matters worse, Moira’s transition into Max was written in a way that not only dismissed the possibility of butch identity, it ridiculed it.

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 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.

In episode 3.9, when Kit confronts Max about his transition, saying, “It just saddens me to see so many of our strong butch girls giving up their womanhood to be a man,” she voices a feeling that many lesbians are too politically correct to admit.

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.

But Blaikie’s potential as a character is never fully developed, and he is little more than an absurd cross between a drag queen and a smarmy rent boy who exists only as a white rabbit to lead Moira down the path to becoming Max.