Monday, February 28, 2011

Lesbians on TV: Transphobia on The L Word

This is another one of those cases where the first couple seasons of the show did an alright job of doing the story lines of diverse characters justice, and then it all went to shit.

Ivan is a recurring character in season 2. He is portrayed as a drag king at first, performing with a drag king group, but also presenting as a man full time. My understanding of the character is that he is either trans or genderqueer.

Ivan and Kit find themselves attracted to each other, even though Kit is "straight" and, according to other characters, Ivan is a lesbian. This doesn't stop the two of them until Kit goes over to Ivan's apartment earlier than expected and see's Ivan's strap-on and then his naked, female, body. Ivan is so distraught and infuriated by this experience that he flees the city. I think, in this instance, the writers of The L Word did a good job of portraying real trans* experiences. At least from my limited experience. Yay writers!

But then, they really screwed up. Let me introduce Moira, a new main character starting in season 3, when she (at the time) has an affair with Jenny. Jenny went to crazy camp after having a breakdown, and met Moira in her hometown. They road tripped back to L.A. And Moira lives in the garage turned apartment behind jenny's house.

Moira is an FTM trans* man, and has known this since before he was on the show. Being in L.A. Gives him the blank slate he needs to start transition, and so he announces that he will be going by the name Max from now on. This is good, for a little while I thought they would do a good job with his transition. The problem is that the writers didn't do their research.

So Max starts taking testosterone, without a prescription or doctor supervision. He's taking too high of a dosage and becomes super aggressive and angry. He is physically violent and hurts Jenny. Ok, this is something that can happen with testosterone, it's also a stereotype about men. Max then goes to a trans* support group, is told that he's taking too high of a dosage, lowers his dosage, and everything is better. He's calm and rational and everything is alright. Because that's oh so realistic. Really? Things like that are not so easy.

When a trans* person transitions, especially at later ages, they have to undo and then redo puberty. Even on a correct dosage, that shit's tough, and emotions can get out of hand. Think about 12-15 year olds going through puberty, are they sane? At all? No, and many of them are not dealing with the same type of dysphoria that a trans* individual is.

Moving on, when Max starts to have feelings for a gay man, because said man treats him "like a man." Cool, now Max identifies as gay. Um... really? Part of this comes from a good place. A lot of trans* men can get hurt over lesbians who date/have sex with them for all the wrong reasons, like the lack of a penis. Some of these lesbians see the trans* men as really butch lesbians. This is not OK. BUT not all trans* men turn out to be gay men, and if they do turn out to be gay men, it's because they are attracted to men, not because they don't like the way lesbians treat them.

So, Max, who was attracted to women pre-transition, is now attracted to only men. He gets pregnant. Yeah, it happens but this turn in the story came right after the media blitz about the "pregnant man." Same story, but in real life. And because this real life story was so sensationalized, it became a stereotype for trans men.

So they took this sensationalized story and gave it to Max so he could deal with his upcoming "motherhood" (yeah, they all called it that. Not fatherhood, motherhood.) instead of focusing on showing a normal guy who just happens to be trans*, or, god forbid, show an accurate representation of his transition.

The thing is, the writers of shows like The L Word and Queer as Folk have the responsibility to show something relatable because many young LGBT folk who are just figuring out their identities don't have access to resources like an LGBT center or gay bars and these shows are their first experience with anything LGBT other than themselves, and maybe a few peers. And I don't think the writers of The L Word did a very good job.


  1. Plenty of trans men dated women pre-transition even though they found men attractive because the idea of being with a man AS A WOMAN was repellent to them. They may have also NOT BEEN ATTRACTED to heterosexual men, and only been attracted to queer men. I am one of these trans men, and I have learned I am not alone. Once I transitioned, I could not only BE with the kind of men I was attracted to (feminine and gay or bi) but also be SEEN as who I really was (a man) and have sex the way I wanted to (as a gay male TOP not as a heterosexual female who is usually assumed unfortunately to be a bottom). Hope this helps.

  2. What? What? Uhhhhhh, WHAT? Good grief. A man, who is a woman, but is a pregant man, that likes men that think they are women, who used to be bi and slept with gay men/women who were straight - with a penis (or, without). Get real.

    Also, it is not Hollywood's job to "educate" anyone. THAT is the problem with the country. Also, the writing for this show is just shit. I stumbled across it (Showtime free weekend - thank God for FREE). I cannot believe this was on for 7 years. I guess once you subscribe for ANY show, you fund them all. :/