The L Word’s Vanishing Bisexual

Alice (Leisha Hailey)Jenny (Mia Kirshner)

When Leisha Hailey, The L Word’s only openly lesbian actress, originally took on the role of bisexual journalist Alice Pieszecki, she expressed her commitment to portraying bisexuality with as much authenticity as she could. “I’ve learned a lot about [being bisexual],” she told before the series premiered in 2004. “It’s not something that happens to you on the way from being straight to gay, or anything you dabble in. There are very real bisexuals in the world, and that’s fun to explore and portray. I hope I’m doing it correctly.”

While Hailey may have developed a better understanding of bisexuality, the same cannot be said for L Word viewers. Alice has indeed had both male and female lovers, but there has been little attempt to situate her as bisexual beyond a few comments scattered throughout the series, and the only male lover Alice has had on the series was a “lesbian-identified man” named Lisa–who was clearly played more for laughs than anything else.

The show’s other primary bisexual character, Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner), isn’t giving bisexuals a good name, either. Between her betrayal of fiance Tim, increasing self-mutilation, and newly acquired habit of stripping at nasty straight bars, she isn’t exactly a model bisexual–but she gets less and less bisexual as the series progresses anyway.

Viewers also casually learned in an flashback episode (“Looking Back”) at the end of the first season that Tina (Laurel Holloman) is (probably) bisexual, when she mentioned that long-term partner Bette (Jennifer Beals) was the first and only woman she had been involved with. But this has yet to be explored any further.

The L Word’s representation of bisexuality reflects popular and sometimes opposing ideas about bisexuality. One belief–represented best on the series by Jenny–is that those who identify as bisexual are merely experimenting with their sexuality before they choose to identify as strictly heterosexual or homosexual, thus suggesting that a “bisexual” identity is at best a transitional identity, and at worst a false one.

The second is the belief that everyone has the potential to be attracted to people of either sex; in other words, everyone is at some level bisexual. This has been most clearly expressed by the character of Shane (Katherine Moennig), who stated in the second episode, “Sexuality is fluid, whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.”

Third is the stereotype that bisexuals are sexually promiscuous or indecisive, with the added threat that a bisexual woman could, at any moment, leave her female lover for a man. While Alice is not promiscuous, she is framed by the other characters–particularly friend-turned-lover Dana (Erin Daniels)–as indecisive. In the pilot episode, Dana demands, “When are you gonna make up your mind between dick and pussy?” Alice responds, “Well, for your information, Dana, I am looking for the same qualities in a man as I am in a woman.”