Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lesbians on TV: Media Representation in The L Word

Like any good dyke, I have seen every episode of the popular Showtime show, The L Word, at least once and I admit, I like the show. However, liking a show does not mean it is without fault. The L Word follows the lives of a group of lesbians in West Hollywood. There are a lot of problems with the way that issues such as trans* issues, class, bisexuality, drug use, etc. are portrayed in the show. That being said, this will be the first entry in a series of posts about the show.

Let's start with the representation of the lesbian community. In the land of The L Word, lesbians are almost all white, thin, femme, wealthy, and fit within the media's standard of beauty. They all live within this cloistered community where everyone knows everyone's business and they have the money and time to go out every night.

The main characters are archetypes of the way lesbians supposedly are. Here's a list of the character you need to know for the purposes of this blog.
Alice: the gossip. She has a chart of who has slept with who.
Shane: the heartbreaker/slut.
Bette and Tina: the couple that has been together for years.
Dana: the closeted athlete
Jenny: the straight girl who turns gay
Moira/Max: the show's failed attempt at having a trans* character. More on this later.

So, all these characters represent the basic stereotypes that permeate the way the less informed public sees lesbians. Yes, some of it is correct. Many lesbians are heartbreakers, or gossips, or end up in very long term committed relationships. Many lesbians are athletes, many are in the closet, and most lesbians identified as straight once. I even had a chart similar to the one Alice has at one point.

The problem is that not all lesbians fit into these boxes, and, at least in my experience, the LGBTQ community does not function in quite that way. I don't know anyone who hangs out with almost entirely lesbians, nor do I know anyone who lives a life that completely revolves around gossip. Yes, gays gossip, but that's not all we do.

Same goes for sex. Sex is great, it's wonderful, but my life does not revolve around it. If your only experience with lesbians was watching The L Word, you wouldn't know it. Sometimes I feel like the show is soft core porn with a slight storyline. My life is not like that, at all.

To an extent, I get it. Sex sells, and without it the producers lose their straight man audience if they tone down the sex, but for once I would really like to see a show that represents who I am, in a relatable way.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Importance of Being Out

A good friend called me yesterday to tell me about an amazing experience she had with her father. They were talking about being out and she told him that being gay is not the only part of her identity, but it is important to be out. He asked why, and she said that it's important in order to give people like him perspective, because then it's not just this other group of people who can't get married or join the military, or this other group of people who get bullied at school for being who they are. It's your kid, friend, neighbor, or coworker.

Her dad said he never thought about it that way. And, truth be told, I hadn't really either. Not in depth. It's important to be out.

This is not to say that EVERYONE should be out. There are some situations where it is unsafe for someone to come out as LGB or T, but in those situations where it is safe, it's important to be out.

Out and Active.

When people have no perspective on "this other group" that does not have these rights, it's easily othered and forgotten, even for those with the best intentions. However, when this "other group" becomes a group that includes your friend, family member, neighbor, co-worker, or classmate, they are no longer that forgotten group of people.

Because being LGBT is not readily identifiable, as say being a person of color is, anyone could know someone in the LGBT community and not realize it. That's why it's important for those of us with the privilege of being able to be out should be out, and active, and loud. How can you fight for your rights when no one knows what you're fighting for, or why?

This goes for Allies as well. It can be hard to come out as an ally, but it's equally as, if not more, important to be out and loud as an ally. (More on this in later posts.)

It's that easy, just come out if you are in a safe situation to do so. Look at all the changes that can make.