Throughout the same decade however, the representation of gay women arguably fell behind. TV depictions were few and far between. Movies like Basic Instinct and Wild Things offered girl-on-girl action fashioned by men for men, while an era of New Queer Cinema brought with it a slew of underground, arty lesbian films like Go Fish, High Art and The Watermelon Woman, which – as significant as they were – did little to propel lesbian lives from the margins to the mainstream.
The L Word was based around a gang of fictional gay women living in LA; Bette, Tina, Alice, Dana and Shane. You might describe them as “lipstick lesbians”: mostly femme, white, middle class women – women who were wealthy enough to spend their income on cappuccinos at their friend Kit's bar and café, The Planet. One was a champion tennis player, another a curator at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art... they don't exactly represent the "everylesbian" but the strangeness of this group did at least say something about how eclectic queer communities come to congregate, finding similarity in their difference.
It all started quite innocently; we were first introduced to the women when "straight girl" Jenny moved in next door to Bette and Tina, along with her boyfriend Tim. Soon, Jenny met Marina – a seductive Italian lesbian who liked to namedrop Nietzsche – and the two end up in bed together. By the end of the first season, Tim was virtually out the picture. With this opening storyline, The L Word successfully pulled in straight viewers – who could probably see the merits in becoming a lesbian if all lesbians were as tall, Italian and beautiful as Marina – and gay girls, who could probably identify with Jenny’s coming out story.
Over the course of six seasons, issues ranging addiction, gender transition, fertility, cancer and 'Don’t Ask Don’t Tell' skewered the various character’s plotlines
Our community has never been known for its fashion forwardness but time has been unkind to both Alice’s armband tattoo and everything Shane wore
While the cameos were fun, it was the characterisation of the protagonists that made The L Word what it was for six seasons. As with other iconic TV shows like Friends or Sex and The City – it flaunts a line up of character “types” that carefully tread the precipice between ‘two dimensional enough for anyone to identify’ and ‘complicated enough for us to care’. There’s a Buzzfeed quiz called “Which Character From The L Word Are You?’ and it works precisely because you’ll only ever take it to confirm a conversation you’ve had with yourself countless times already; ‘Am I a Shane or a Jenny? A Tina or a Bette?’ (When I suggested an L Word themed murder mystery party with my friends there was a real clamour over not being Tina. Everyone wanted to be Bette.)
TALKING, LAUGHING, LOVING, BREATHING, FIGHTING, FUCKING, CRYING, DRINKING, WRITING, WINNING, LOSING, CHEATING, KISSING, THINKING, DREAMING
Still though, The L Word was informative – depicting experiences of gender transition, IVF and coming out at work – and fictional or otherwise, it definitely gave me role models. I have no problem admitting that, even now, at the age of 24, I am trying – and failing – to channel Bette’s sass on a daily basis. I am also desperately trying to emulate The Shane Effect. No show since The L Word, except maybe Transparent or Orange Is the New Black, has portrayed LGBT lives with so much sensitivity and accuracy, which is why we must never stop watching it and re-watching it. We must pass The L Word on to people who need its optimism, no matter how dated it will continue to seem. Queer, feminist, radically inclusive, it wasn’t just a show for lesbians, but for anyone who loves women, and needs a bit of help loving themselves.