“There’s no motive we are able to’t all get alongside … at separate tables.”
Shortly after listening to this remark in Season 2 of “The L Word: Generation Q,” Carrie (Rosie O’Donnell), a self-loathing caricature of a messy fats butch, stands drunk underneath an umbrella held up by her buddies Shane and Tess. Carrie, her go well with ill-fitting and face soaking moist from tears, slurs her phrases as she asks the 2 of them if she is nice sufficient.
“Folks,” she blubbers, shedding her steadiness, “have at all times thought that I’m an issue.”
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The “drawback” of the butch, or gender non-conforming members of the lesbian and trans group, has been one thing “The L Phrase” has struggled with because it first let prime-time audiences in on the way in which that lesbians lived and loved in Los Angeles again in 2004.
“The L Phrase: Technology Q,” a reboot of the unique Showtime collection, is positioned as a contemporary replace of the unique, and its numerous solid constitutes an vital step for queer illustration on tv. However this season has raised extra criticism, questions and confusion than maybe any within the franchise so far: the optics of illustration can solely accomplish that a lot when narratives are one-dimensional, fractured or guided by outdated tropes.
Let me guarantee you I’m an “L Phrase” superfan. I used to run to Blockbuster to get the DVDs on their launch date and have seen each episode a number of occasions. I had a razor-cut mullet for 10 years due to Shane — and Tegan and Sara’s “The Con” if we’re being absolutely clear. I’m not right here to cancel it, kill my idols or persuade you to not watch. Like most followers, I really like to take a seat within the uncommon area between lesbian nostalgia and emergence promised by “Technology Q.”
However I’m additionally with the discourse that has moved, during the last 10 weeks, from excited to bewildered to upset, with quite a few followers calling the present unwatchable. “To L and Back: An L Word Podcast” has described the current implosion as hitting not “like a bang, however with a deeply complicated whimper.” Lesbian Instagrammer Maddy Court docket, who retains a weekly blog about the series, has referred to as the plot traces “sudden and half-baked,” and one commenter referred to their attachment to “Technology Q” as akin to “trauma bonding.”
Certainly, most of the pitfalls of the previous collection persist, and are merely tweaked for a brand new technology. Shane’s temporary go to to a Black lesbian poker membership run by a stud named Eddie (performed by Lena Waithe) could remind viewers of Alice’s awkward and problematic stint chasing Papi via bars and golf equipment in a pre-gentrified East L.A. shot from a painfully white gaze. After Shane is ejected from Eddie’s poker membership, she appropriates the concept. Eddie and her membership seem in just one episode, serving as a quick vignette for writers to incorporate the phrase “reparations” with out a substantial nod to why this dialog is well timed and related. And although the collection is clearly tackling the unique’s biphobia by giving Alice a cisgender, heterosexual male love curiosity, framing a Black man as bumbling, smelly breathed and keen to place up with Alice’s disgrace and indifference towards him is hardly progress.
Equally, “The L Phrase” has a legacy of hostility towards butch, gender non-conforming, and transgender characters, most notably Max. Performed by trans and nonbinary actor Daniela Sea, Max is initially introduced as a working-class butch, the antithesis of the company femme-centric world of “The L Phrase.” After transitioning he’s framed as a violent cautionary story, and a caricature of every part to hate about masculinity. In an interview with Autostraddle, Sea addressed being falsely represented as a cisgender actor to mark a legible narrative of progress for “Technology Q,” and the painful journey of trying to carry humanity and intervention to their deeply flawed character. (Though there are a number of trans actors this season, together with Jamie Clayton, Isis King, Sophie Giannamore and Leo Sheng, there are at present no genderqueer or nonbinary characters — a significant shortcoming when taking a look at up to date lesbian and queer communities.)
Which makes it so disappointing that Carrie, the primary recurring fats butch character within the collection’ historical past, will not be written to be appreciated. As a substitute, we be taught to understand her as a depressed lesbian with working-class roots via her interactions with meals. She tactlessly barrels right into a buddy’s kitchen occurring about her Groupon for Vietnamese baked items; her voice is needlessly edited right into a scene interjecting “I’m so hungry” into a non-public dialog in one other room; and he or she makes use of the alibi of attending Overeaters Nameless to masks her alcoholism, which lands like a joke. And it’s not simply that these scenes are classist and fatphobic in their very own proper. Like Carrie, Finley, who stands in for butch with the youthful guard, is framed as painfully incapable, drunk, even probably harmful.
Lesbian tropes like these embodied by Finley and Carrie have a protracted custom in Hollywood movie and tv — which has typically portrayed homosexuals as unhappy, lonely, monstrous or dying — and previous publishing homes — which might solely print and distribute lesbian pulp novels in the event that they ended badly. Deviant lesbians, particularly butches, would at all times bear some calamity or consequence that will break their coronary heart, spirit and relationships. Butches and transgender folks proceed to shoulder the burden of this legacy.
The unique franchise was flawed, but it surely straight participated in, and noticed itself in dialogue with, lesbian popular culture and style, which is a part of why it felt so actual to queer viewers. Visitors from Sleater-Kinney to Snoop Dogg made appearances, and if the fandom had a love/hate relationship with the present’s home band, Betty, they no less than gave us one thing to roll our eyes at throughout the context of a inventive lesbian group that felt conscious of its campiness. Against this, “Technology Q” makes use of music, and most occasions, to punctuate its nostalgia, celebrating and seeing the now via the previous with a karaoke celebration, a e-book launch, a go to to the California Arts Middle. On this universe, lesbians and queer folks don’t go to concert events, however to marketing campaign fundraisers; they attend protests, however just for beauty causes. As one character asks, “[Is] it potential to burn issues down, however go away some issues standing?”
What precisely is “Technology Q” making an attempt to inform us about up to date queer and lesbian identification? This present feels extra like a nostalgia franchise in the vein of “Cobra Kai” than recent queer content material. On this universe, irrespective of who characters are, they’ll solely kiss, assume and dream within the footsteps and shadows of the unique.
It’s not “The L Phrase’s” fault, in fact, that lesbian illustration on TV is so low, which shifts a heavy burden onto the present. However at occasions, the attitude of “Technology Q” seems like squinting to look via the veil of Shane’s dated bangs: uneven, with massive blind spots. Within the phrases of my buddy Bree Tomás, “it’s trash, but it surely’s our trash,” and queer communities in 2021 have excessive expectations for our trash. We, and Rosie O’Donnell, deserve higher.