The Magic of Representation: Reheating the Tea on The L Word

In case you've been disconnected from the internet for a while, a familiar series will be returning to television along with some very familiar characters like Alice the podcaster, Bette and Tina the lovable but dysfunctional married couple, Dana the tennis star, and of course Shane, the haircutting rockstar, herself. That's right, The L Word is coming back to bust down more doors they left in their wake almost a decade ago on Showtime. But what about the show's relationship with trans male rep?

In some ways, The L Word broke boundaries by casting trans men as trans men on the show (remember the extra at Max's fundraising party talking about his scars?). In other story arcs, though, characters like Max and Ivan faltered faster than Superman staring a kryptonite meteor in its green glowing, multifaceted face.

Revisiting all six seasons, I found six of the most glaring trans omissions that I hope to see corrected or improved upon when the series returns.

1. Hire trans writers and actors to tell authentic trans stories

This is a major problem I saw, right off the bat, while re-watching the show. Daniela Sea is great as Max, as is Kelly Lynch as the charming Ivan Aycock, but the problem is with the writing itself.

Max blames most of his emotional problems on taking testosterone within the first few times we see him, while Ivan doesn't let his romantic partners into his life other than his work field. You have so much to explore with these two arcs alone, L Word writers!

You attempted to reason with Max's character by compromising his emotional problems with his testosterone levels. Testosterone doesn't make us trans men into Hulk-like beings filled with rage. Fix that.

Get him a therapist if he's having issues with his friends. Granted, it's black market T, in regards to Max, but even still; if you need T, for the love of all that is good in the world, head to a reputable endocrinologist at a clinic that you can get it from with insurance. If insurance doesn't cover it, ask for a sliding scale of pricing.

While Ivan, on the other hand, sounds like he needs someone to talk with. Whether or not he's romantically involved or with a therapist, it's good to talk with a trans-inclusive group outside of work, like PFLAG.

We do need to find more about Ivan's backstory, though. He's such an awesome character in a show that terribly underutilized him. Ivan's story didn't have to be shown through Kit's eyes, Ivan has his own. Use them.

In regards to trans writers and creators, please ask around. It's not hard to ask. If you write a trans story without asking a trans person, I guarantee that your work won't feel as authentic as the person you're writing about.

2. Don't equate genitalia with being trans

This happens, in spectacular fashion, via Pam Grier's Kit Porter. Twice, in one episode. You don't lose your womanhood when you do the surgeries you need to be complete. You gain your own definition of manhood, Kit.

Surely, Daniela Sea's turn as Max, minus the armpit goatee, and Pam Grier as Kit, did all the best they could with the writing given via the script, but the ignorance could've been confronted by another character. There were, like five to ten people in that crowd scene, alone! Give them a line or two!

The other instance was Kit walking in on Ivan while he was preparing for his next gig, out of drag, and in a binder. Even though Kit insists repeatedly that it was an accident, I, like Ivan, would've been scarred for life seeing a stranger in a vulnerable state like this.

3. Avoid equating a drag king with a trans man

You wouldn't believe how many times I've seen this happen on television (and in real life). Too many. Drag is entirely separate from a person being trans. Yes, there are trans men who do work through drag, but please, please, please do not equate a trans man with a drag king. To do so is problematic.

4. Speaking of trans entertainers, give more airtime to Ivan

In fact, why not add in more trans entertainers working in more fields besides drag and the podcasting industries for The Planet? It would give real people jobs. Jobs equate to links in society. Society needs more trans folks in jobs we love.

5. They're being shown, but, not heard enough

In regards to trans men, in particular, especially Max and Ivan, I've noticed a critical issue in the final episodes, an that is that they're not really heard enough.

Whether it's through a relationship, in Ivan's case, or as a trans man who not only works behind the scenes in Max's case. Again, if you plan on having these characters, have them on for the long haul.

6. Avoid plot fails (in general)

In regards to technological advances made throughout the series of the show, a plot fail in the final episode was that, if someone could actually be lost in a house as massive as Dana's house, I'm pretty sure ringtones were invented by that time, and the team could've easily have called Jenny from the couch.

That logic makes them all (minus Lucy Lawless as Badass Detective Numero Uno, over there) complicit in Jenny's demise.

If the writers took so much of their time to correct the misgendering and microagressions of Max within those last two seasons, only to have a detective character misgender him halfway through the final episode, than what's the point of having him on the show at all? The character literally says "the other seven ladies" in the series episode.

These are only six points I've looked at in the six-season series, and many folks in the queer community have criticized the show to bits, but, with all its flaws, there has to be a bright side to it all.

I just hope the bright side will be revealed can be found sooner than later. Many of us in the community need to see ourselves on television, right now.

Eli Knight's picture
on September 21, 2017

GLBTQUAPI blogger, comic book enthusiast, featured in Transgender Today (NYT editorial), contributing writer for Geeks OUT and trans man. Pronouns: He/Him. Motto: Live. Laugh. Learn. Respect. Love.