The L Word’s Vanishing Bisexual

warning: potential Season 3 spoiler at the end of this article

In the second season episode “Labyrinth”, Alice, Dana, and Dana’s then-girlfriend, Tonya, are shopping at a sex-toy store when Alice is once again asked when she is going to decide whether she’s gay or straight. Tonya declares, “I don’t understand you bisexuals! I mean, really, make up your minds already” And Dana adds, “Make up your minds already”

Though Dana’s uncertainty about Alice’s sexuality is in part explained by her character’s own uncertainties, as well as her developing sexual relationship with Alice, and Dana’s aggressive attempts to make Alice “choose” are reflective of how many lesbians see bisexuality, the fact that Alice’s main opportunities to discuss bisexuality occur in defensive situations mean that bisexuality is almost always cast in a negative light.

In addition, as the series has developed, Alice’s interest in dating men has declined while her interest in women–particularly Dana–has taken center stage, underscoring the first assumption that bisexuality is simply a transitional phase. Of course, many bisexual women enter into serious relationships with other women as Alice has with Dana, and there’s nothing unrealistic about this.

The problem is that none of the show’s bisexual characters enter into serious relationships with men.

The “just a phase” belief is also supported by Jenny’s storylines. Soon after her affair with Marina, Jenny tells her visiting friend Annette, “I think I’m bisexual,” but her identity as a bisexual is short-lived. In the first episode of Season 2, her male lover, Gene, tells her in exasperation, “I’m sorry to break it to you, but you are a girl-loving, full-on lesbian!”Jenny doesn’t refute this statement, just admonishes him, “I don’t think that’s for you to say.”

Though Jenny and Alice both make subtle references to their bisexuality in the season 2 finale (“Lacuna” Alice says, “I follow the heart, not the anatomy” there has been little action to support their talk.

Instead, as the series has developed, it appears that both Alice and Jenny are moving further and further away from bisexuality and toward an exclusively lesbian sexual orientation. Again, while this is representative of the experiences of many bisexual women, having all of the show’s bisexual characters only date women offers a skewed picture of bisexuality–that it’s just another word for “lesbian”.

It’s clear that The L Word‘s heart is in its lesbian storylines, and there’s nothing wrong with that–it’s even to be applauded, given the dearth of good lesbian characters on TV. But the show also promised to include bisexual women, and has so far failed to do more than pay them cursory attention.

With the January 8, 2006 debut of the third season of The L Word only weeks away, is the series poised to finally deliver on its promise to accurately and sensitively portray bisexuality?

Probably not. One of the most obvious ways The L Word could be more fully representative of bisexual experience would be to include a male lover for either Alice or Jenny–one who is not an object of ridicule. But writing in an opposite-sex relationship for either of these two characters is not likely to generate a lot of enthusiasm among the show’s lesbian fans, which suggests that bisexuals aren’t likely to get much screen time on The L Word in the future.

This points to the difficult situation the L Word writers find themselves in with regard to pleasing viewers: if they do give Alice or Jenny a serious boyfriend, many (lesbian) viewers will be unhappy; if they don’t, many bisexual women will continue to feel poorly represented. It’s a no-win situation.

There is rumor (potential spoiler warning) of Tina leaving Bette for a man she met at work in the third season, but even if this turns out be true, it will do little to counter any of the aforementioned stereotypes about bisexual women, and will in fact just anger viewers already starved for media images of lesbians in committed relationships.

Which means for now, television viewers are better off turning to America’s Next Top Model or South of Nowhere to find realistic bisexual characters than The L Word.