Thanks, I hated it! ‘Eastsiders’ Gives Lesbians the Shaft (Literally)

Eastsiders has been on Netflix since 2012, and is like the male version of The L Word, chronicling the lives of gay men living in Silver Lake, Los Angelos as they navigate breakups, hookups, substance abuse, and existential crises. The show reached out to AE and asked if we had interest in the lesbian storyline featured in season four. Yes, please! 

Thus began my week of binge-watching — for lesbian science, of course. At first glance, the show had great acting, fresh dialogue, thoughtful cinematography, and briefly Constance Wu. But where were the lesbians? I waited for them to show up. But when they did, I wanted them to leave. 

The gist of Eastsiders is this: Starving artists Calvin and Thom are each other’s first loves. But after four years together, things are stagnant and tense. Cal is judgmental, whiney, and insufferable, and all but forces Thom’s hand to cheat. And cheat he does, with a dude named Jeremy. A confused and jealous Cal confronts Jeremy, and OOPS they sleep together, too. Then Cal sleeps with his boss. After months of trying to make it work (evoking dread and anxiety in anyone who’s been in a toxic, dead partnership) Cal and Thom break up. Thom dates tender Jeremy. Then dumps him. The first season ends with Cal and Thom laying on the floor of their old apartment, surrounded by moving boxes, completely afraid and unmoored, but still connected to each other.

In season two, they get back together, but with changes. They want to be less shitty people and communicate better, and their once rigid relationship evolves into a series of threesomes, sex addiction, an open relationship, but ultimately greater intimacy. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who they started or ended the day in bed with, they’re each other’s support system and great loves. I found this depiction of non-monogamy compelling, portrayed with great diligence and nuance. It takes Thom and Cal a long time to get this arrangement right. They see plenty of people doing it wrong, and have their doubts, too. It’s not your typical love story, and perhaps not the one the gay community would want as our poster image, but important nonetheless.

Okay, on to the lesbians. Remember Jeremy? He moves in with his sister Bri after emotionally falling apart. But femme for femme couple Bri and Vi are basically token representation. They hardly appear on screen, and when they do, it’s all nagging, sourness, and boredom. Bri is a type-A goodie-goodie, while Vi is… honestly I don’t know, kinda an asshole? They have as much chemistry as flat soda. Which makes it easier to believe that the characters haven’t had sex in six months. We don’t know why Bri suddenly has no libido or how that’s taking a toll on Vi. They don’t talk about it except in a short, harsh whisper at their bachelorette party.

That’s right folks. After eight years, a house, and two adopted kids, these weirdos feel obligated to put a ring on it. But they’re just going through the motions. At their shared pussy-themed party, Vi looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. The Gal Group makes sapphic jokes while Bri retorts like a prude. Someone mentions how they think humanity is dispositioned towards bisexuality, which segues to remembering the time Vi dated a guy briefly long ago. Vi gets prickly, adamantly dismissing that it’s not of any importance, and by doing so makes it clear she doesn’t identify as bisexual.

Yet mere hours later, she’s romping and chomping on a disco-stick. Fam! I’m not making this up. Vi picks up a dude at the bar, encouraging asian fetishization, and within 30 seconds of knowing him, blows him. She sneaks out every day afterwards to go to his house, pretending to go on a run. She says sleeping with a man is okay because she won’t catch feelings, and that her wife is on board (she’s not).

Cheating aside, this is bi AND lesbian erasure, and perpetuating the negative stereotypes we still fight against. If you’re bi, you’re bi. That’s great! But don’t call yourself a lesbian. Because — all together now — Lesbians Don’t Like Dick. That’s kind of our catchphrase!

That night, Bri tries to spice things up. The two are lying in bed, not touching, staring at the ceiling. Bri says something along the lines of, “thanks for humoring me in the shower. I know it’s not your thing.” You mean… sudsy sex? Speaking for myself, I’d eat pussy on the moon, or in a cardboard box. How could warm, wet, wonderful fun be something anyone should apologize for? Vi is despondent and not in the mood for more touching. Bri offers, “you can lie there. I’ll do everything.” Vi reluctantly agrees to be a pillow princess, but viewers don’t get as much as a kiss between them, just the sound of a vibrator starting up. Meanwhile, the show consistently depicts a montage of naked dudes having sex. I was not impressed.

Vi keeps hooking up with the guy. It’s ironic, because the first words out of Bri’s mouth in the show are basically, “if someone tried to The Kids Are Alright us, they’d have something else comin’ to them.” When that happened, I was like yesssss, screw that movie. But then the show LITERALLY WENT AND DID IT, TOO. For those of you lucky enough not to have seen this movie, keep it that way. In The Kids Are Alright, Julianne Moore and her doctor wife Annette Bening have lesbian bed death, and she fucks the sperm donor dad Mark Ruffalo of their teenage kids. It’s vom-inducing. If this is lesbian representation I don’t want it. Although, an insightful analysis published on AE years ago here makes the point that often negative lesbian representations is simply bisexual representation.

Eventually, Bri tracks Vi’s running app, and confronts her at the guy’s house. And is somehow relieved that it’s not a woman? The two talk about how they’re unhappy and want to work on it. Sweet Sappho, have mercy.

Season three of Eastsiders is all butt fucking. In the fourth season, we see Bri commiserating with her brother Jeremy over their broken love lives. She says Vi made her quit her job to provide child care, and now that the two are separated, Vi has all the power (and a new girlfriend). Bri is on screen for like five minutes this season, in which she gets a new girlfriend Jill (it was too boring to watch closely). After two weeks together they decide to move in together. Jeremy says that’s nutty, but Bri giggles that she’s a cliche and it’s okay.

Um? U-hauling after six months is one thing, but two weeks (with kids) is just irresponsible. They make Bri seems like an airhead. AfterEllen talks about why U-hauling is a lesbian trope here. While this quick-to-cohabitate cliche exists, have you met straight people? They say they’re dating each other after spending 3 hours together. Plus lesbians don’t have to wait a year to see if their partner is a serial killer or a porn addict. Anyway, the show slaps a “happy ending” on Bri’s saga, but honestly there wasn’t enough story to end.

To wrap up this rollercoaster of gay shenanigans, Eastsiders made me feel greater affinity and camaraderie with my gay brothers, because at our best, we homosexuals have a lot in common. But the show also made it abundantly clear that there’s a lot we don’t understand about each other, if for the mere fact of how poorly they depicted lesbians on screen. Eastsiders wants a lesbian site to plug their show. I say, go plug yourself.