Dear Lesbian Bloggers, Isn’t it Time to Forgive?

[Note: This isn’t my usual writing prompt. If you want to use it as a writing prompt, take “time to forgive” and run with it.]

I’m asking you, dear lesbian blogging colleagues, isn’t it time to forgive Ilene Chaiken and The L Word for not being perfect? I’m not a lesbian blogger, so I fully I realize the hypocrisy of me chastising you, but let me explain my thinking.

the l word promo for season 6
Season 6 promo image from The L Word

I don’t have Showtime, so I didn’t start watching The L Word until it was off the air. I watched DVDs sent to me by Netflix. I was hooked on the large cast filled with women from the first episode. I wanted to be there in The Planet with them, having morning coffee and listing all the euphemisms for vagina I could imagine.

While I was busy relishing the refreshing impact of a drama featuring mostly female characters, I looked around the blogosphere for reviews and comments on this show I thought was so fabulous. That’s when I discovered lesbian blogs and bloggers.

Keynote panel
Ilene Chaiken (in white) at BlogHer09 via Flickr

I surfed around among many lesbian writers, sampling what they had to say about The L Word. I was surprised when I discovered a plethora of complaints, vilifications, and shaming. Nobody liked Ilene Chaiken. Nobody was satisfied with the plot. The characters were all too pretty. It wasn’t realistic. Everyone was mad because Dana died. Everyone hated Jenny. And on, an on, and on. Strangely, however, everyone seemed familiar with every episode.

That was a couple of years ago. From the many lesbian blogs I looked at back then, only two have remained on my regular reading list: Dorothy Snarker’s Dorothy Surrenders and the big group blog After Ellen. Why those two? Well, although Dorothy Snarker posts a fair number of eye candy posts, she also writes serious posts. When she does, they are exemplary: thoughtful, well-written and full of emotional impact. I admire good writing, and I agree with her stance on equality for all LGBT people. After Ellen has a variety of posts, but often reviews or talks about movies and TV shows that I watch. The recaps of TV shows that After Ellen publishes are sometimes hilarious and often better than the shows themselves. I support the values and societal changes that After Ellen endorses and promotes. After Ellen gives me insight.

Yet each time something related to Ilene Chaiken or The L Word comes up on After Ellen, there is still that continuing little dig, that continuing little echo of complaint.

Even as that continues, The L Word has become like Shakespeare or the Bible as a point of reference. A quote or a scene from The L Word is as well known to the lesbian community as any quote from Shakespeare or the Bible or any other cultural focal point. That says to me that most lesbians know everything there is to know about The L Word! Because in spite of all the kvetching, they’ve seen every episode more than once. In spite of the complaining, it was important and it mattered to them. It created a common vocabulary, a common means of connecting one cultural event with another, a common history that informs everything that followed.

When Sarah Shahi guest stars on Chicago Fire and says to her hunky fireman, “I’ll dance. You can just watch,” the image of Sarah Shahi dancing for Shane (Kate Moennig) in her undies in The L Word enters the head of everyone who ever watched The L Word. Because it’s a shared reference point. Like Shakespeare, the dots connect and the image applies to multiple situations.

Pick a scene. Any scene. If there is even a remote connection to a scene in The L Word, it will be recognized and commented upon. I think it’s because everyone knows The L Word because it meant something important to them – perfect or not.

When a gorgeous brunette (Anna Silk) throws a gorgeous blonde (Zoie Palmer) down on a bed, rips off her jeans, and then climbs on top of her in Lost Girl, L Word fans remember another brunette and another blonde – Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman – doing almost exactly the same moves.

While we’re on the topic of Lost Girl, the show takes a lot of moves from Buffy the Vampire Slayer too, but nobody is complaining about how Joss Whedon portrays lesbians. There are some who name the BtVS character Willow (Alyson Hannigan) as their favorite lesbian ever. Is that because Whedon gets some slack for being a man, but Ilene Chaiken who is both a woman and a lesbian has to be perfect?

For whatever reasons, Ilene Chaiken and The L Word complainers haven’t been ready to give even a tiny bit of slack to a show that brought them from almost no representation on TV to at least some representation on TV. Isn’t it time to ease up, forgive the imperfections, and recognize the importance and achievement of Ilene Chaiken to the lesbian community? If I had a valid vote to cast in that world, I would vote in her favor.

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Author: Virginia DeBolt

Writer and teacher who writes blogs about web education, writing practice, and pop culture.

4 thoughts on “Dear Lesbian Bloggers, Isn’t it Time to Forgive?”

  1. No one complained that Ilene Chaiken couldn’t write a good storyline. Yes, it’s true, even today you will hear quotes from The L Word sifting in the crowds of the LBGT community. That’s because for a lot of us, we didn’t recognize our feelings due to the suppression of our emotions that were taught and forced upon us since the beginning of dawn. Sure a few made it out of the “straight” thoughts and used their own. But many related to Queer as Folk and The L Word for many different reasons. However, the no one can deny it helped us think for ourselves, and understand ourselves. These shows helped us feel it was O.K. to be who we are, and not what society wants us to be. You say we quote it like the bible and Shakespeare. The bible is about God’s word, Shakespeare about romance, and The L Word is about us. When you read between the lines of the complaints from the fans, you will actually find they’re acting out from anger, and the root of this anger is the feeling of betrayal of Ilene Chaiken. Believe me, I’m not trying to justify the lashing of Ilene Chaiken. I just hope I can help make sense of all this. Believe it or not. The fans are still sitting on the edge of their seat, biting nails, waiting patiently for a response. 1) Why did Dana have to die? 2) Why was Jenny turned into a psycho? 3) Was Adele ever punished? 4) Did Tina ever find out about what Jenny thought she saw with Bette and Kelly? If so, what happened? Did it have an effect with the move to New York, their relationship, the adoption of a new baby? 5) Did they adopt Max’s baby? Because Bette said, “I think he (Max) has finally excepted to being a father” (or something like that). But Max didn’t confirm that. 6) What did Shane do about Molly after reading the letter? 7) Now that Tina is returning the film, will she get her job back? 8) Does Kit find true love with her new beau? 9) And the $6 million dollar question: Who killed Jenny or was it suicide? Your LGBT fans would take the answers on college paper with ballpoint ink and devour them inside forever. THEN, they will forgive. But they will not see before or after the answers the art she has displayed.
    In Ilene’s eye, she has painted a beautiful artwork and has finished it. In the fan’s eye Ilene has painted a beautiful artwork. None like ever seen before, and not only did she not finish it, but she selfishly refuses to finish it.
    Ilene, I’m an artist. I believe if it doesn’t come from the heart, then it isn’t art. You are definitely an artist. Your fans of the LGBT community never have and never will understand that, and without that knowledge from them, you will only be viewed as a Andy Kaufman and not Ilene Chaiken. Your art is so important to you and you want them to view it the way you view it. But they can’t and/or they won’t. I’m really sorry about that. You have a choice to make, keep your art or your LGBT fans. The choice….is yours.

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