Listling With Minimal Commentary: How We Watched The L Word In Secret

It’s been ten years since The L Word premiered, and we’ve got lots to talk about. Welcome to The L Word week!

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The L Word was often an elusive unicorn for the young queers and those still in the discovery process. Showtime was scarce, and even if you had it, it was probably hard to find a time to watch away from the eyes of curious parents and roommates.

Turns out, though, that when you create the first ever show with a cast of almost all queer women, and do it on a cable channel that allows multiple scenes of what just barely misses qualifying as porn in every episode, we gays get resourceful. I’m not the only one who went to great lengths to watch The L Word before I threw self-consciousness to the wind and became completely shameless about what showed up on my family’s shared Netflix account. Here are the team’s sly moves for watching our friends in West Hollywood under the radar:

One eye on the screen, one eye on the door. via Shutterstock

One eye on the screen, one eye on the door. via Shutterstock

1. My cousin apparently thought my mom would enjoy it, and sent her the first season. Mom wasn’t interested, and after eyeing the box on our living room shelf for months, I stole it and watched it on the lowest volume in the dead of night.

2. I bought episodes one by one on iTunes so I could watch them on my iPod video, but I never bought a whole season at a time because it charged my mom’s credit card and I didn’t want her to see a huge purchase and ask me about it.

3. I’d watch episodes in the car on family road trips with the screen turned away from my sister, which worked great until I realized she could totally see the reflection over my shoulder in the window.

4. When I came out to my mom, she breathed a sigh of relief because apparently it showed up on our bill every time someone watched an on demand show and she thought my brothers were watching it.

5. I requested DVDs from the library but was too afraid to have them shipped to my branch of the library in case my parents saw them under my name, so I drove 45 minutes to the library that had them to take them out.

I swear, these are educational videos! But don't come look over my shoulder! via Shutterstock

I swear, these are educational videos! But don’t come look over my shoulder! via Shutterstock

6. I watched The L Word for the first time on a laptop in Kenya. We had to move around a lot or else the people who were guarding our camp from wildlife might have caught on. We muted the moan-iest scenes. It was really romantic.

7. I’d sneak the DVDs to and from Blockbuster in black plastic bags like I was smuggling contraband.  I greedily inhaled them alone in my weird lofted bedroom with headphones on the off chance my straight dude roommates might somehow develop any idea of what was going on.

8. I would watch The L Word, with headphones, just in case, on fucking Youtube, like who does that? I think I wanted to stream it illegally but didn’t know how.

9. I watched the pilot with my mom, but we both bailed during the scene where Bette tries to go down on Tina in the doctor’s office.

10. I saw the first two seasons by semi-checking out and semi-stealing the DVDs from my college library – we had every season of The L Word and Xena, which should tell you everything you need to know about my college experience.

11. I still use Project Free TV for it.

12. I would fire up my family’s sad little Compaq and travel on over to this L Word fansite that logged meticulously crafted transcripts. …And then I would clear the browser history and keep it moving.

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Maddie lives and writes in Philadelphia. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Women’s Studies and a strong friendship with the Geography department. Read her thoughts on border politics and trains, among other things, on her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

Maddie has written 50 articles for us.

67 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    I watched the whole thing on youtube. There were certain episodes that were impossible to find though, and sometimes I was forced to watch it dubbed in Spanish or Italian with English subtitles.. Don’t think they ever showed it in the UK.

  2. Thumb up 16

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    I downloaded the episodes with Limewire and then watched them at night with my headphones on in my room. I didn’t even understand English too well at that time. So thanks TLW for teaching me the English language (and a lot of other things) :D

  3. Thumb up 13

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    I would watch on my laptop with my headphones on and the screen away from my roommate. She eventually asked what was it I was so keen on watching. I said, The L Word. She asked what the L stood for. I said o you know love, life… literature? She left me alone after that.

  4. Thumb up 3

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    The L Word, The Big Gay Sketch Show, and RuPaul’s Drag Race were all streamed at 3am on my laptop, under my blankets, with headphones, on low volume to make sure my mom wouldn’t be able to walk in on me and scare me. The x button was ALWAYS highlighted just incase!

  5. Thumb up 36

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    When the L Word first came out, I was a teenager and (like every other lesbian on the face of the planet)desperate to see it. But YouTube didn’t exist and downloading even a two minute video clip could take HOURS (thanks dial-up!). So I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that it would never happen. Until someone from a message board I used to visit offered to burn the episodes to DVD for me and send them half way across the world. And she did. Just like that. And I watched them at night, full of glee, in secret, with headphones on, furtively looking over my shoulder in case anyone walked in. It was hands down the nicest thing anyone could’ve done. I can’t even remember her name now but, ten years on, I haven’t forgotten her kindness.

  6. Thumb up 8

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    I had a single dorm room sophomore year and borrowed season 1 on DVD from my friend. Busted through that in a weekend (even though I ‘wasn’t gay.’) Then I would stream the new ones on a computer at work (worked at a dorm desk) while just keeping my eyes open for people walking by when boobs were happening. Jesus that was irresponsible.

  7. Thumb up 1

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    My then girlfriend and I bought the first three seasons on DVD and watched them late at night, with one headphone each and turned away from my mother (who was always up until about 4 am). She would ask us what we were watching and we always had a planned response. The DVDs were hidden in various spots, one of which was under the sofa.

    We watched the rest of the show online.

  8. Thumb up 1

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    I’ve still never seen most of the show, but there would occasionally be free Showtime weekends on DirecTV, and I would watch it in the family room with the sound low and switch to a different channel (usually something like Nickelodeon or Food Network) when I heard my parents walking by.

  9. Thumb up 1

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    I watched most of it on youtube about a year and a half ago, mostly at night, always by myself. I got a few episodes into season 5, but it was getting really stupid and I hated all of the characters so I took a break for a couple weeks. I came back determined to push through to the end, but to my horror all of the episodes from seasons 2-6 had been removed due to copyright infringement! I still have not seen them. I even tried to read those most excellent recaps on Automatic Straddle, but I decided I needed to just see the madness for myself (sorry Riese!).

  10. Thumb up 1

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    By the time I watched The L Word I felt pretty safe watching it streaming online late at night with headphones on in my room with my laptop. Still in secret, obviously, so my parents wouldn’t find out. Queer As Folk was another story, because it was much harder to find online when I watched it and I was using a family computer in a public space of the house.

  11. Thumb up 7

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    I was watching a very heavily sexualized episode of the L word in my room when I was still living with my parents and my dad walked in right at the worst possible time ever when two of the characters, I forget which, were outside on a balcony having at it… he looked at the tv, back at me, back at the tv, then slowly backed out of the room… never said a word. haha

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      That almost happened with me while watching Lost & Delirious. Mom didn’t bother knocking and walked in during the intense sex scene, so I paused it right on Piper’s nipple. Thank god she never turned her head a few more inches to the left to see what was on the screen…

  12. Thumb up 3

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    LOL – it’s the reason I subscribed to Netflix- I thought I would watch it in private, that is until one day I received an email by Netflix, “How did you like the quality of The L Word” while I was showing my friends pictures on my mobile device. I wanted the earth to swallow me!

  13. Thumb up 5

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    I was in my last year of high school when I 1) remembered I was gay and 2) vaguely remembered hearing about that lesbian show on Showtime on VH1 or something. One night I was flipping through the channels and caught it in the middle of season 4 (I think it was the basketball episode) and turned the volume as low as I could while still being able to hear it and had my hand on the remote just in case someone knocked on my door in the middle of the night.
    I decided I HAD to see it from the beginning so I sneakily drove to Best Buy in another town 25 minutes away one day and bought the first season DVD, which I hid under my bed. I devoured that in about a week and sneakily drove back to Best Buy only to find that they only had season 3. Naturally, I went ahead and bought it for the wondrous day that I could finish season 2 and immediately start watching 3 afterward. I didn’t find season 2 until my mother took me to New York for Spring Break and we went into the Virgin megastore to buy some CD she had been looking for forever, and I got bold. I went and grabbed the set as fast as I could, hoping she wouldn’t ask why there were a bunch of entangled naked women on the cover and what it was about. She asked. I said, “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just about a bunch of lesbians.” She freaked out, was on the verge of tears, and almost hyperventilated in the middle of the store. I somehow managed to convince her that just because I watched it didn’t mean I was gay. So she went ahead and bought it and never mentioned it again.

  14. Thumb up 2

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    After hassling my parents for years but not having any success, I saved my wages from my PT job and bought a little TV for my room. Most nights I would stay up late watching all sorts of nonsense (‘call me, call me now…'; ‘only $89.95, plus a free set of steak knives!!’) and wake up bleary eyed for school the next morning.

    One night, I was flicking the channels and stumbled upon S01E01 of TLW — and was hooked! What was I watching? What was this brilliant, awesome show? Who were these SEXY ladies?! And OMG, who is SHANE?! haha.

    Watched S01, one episode per week, on low volume, cheering the whole time for Jenny to find her inner lesbian, and falling head over heels for Marina. Waited 2 years for S02 to be shown on TV, and by then, I had discovered the wonderful world of torrent, and my best friend had cable internet… and well, the rest is history!

  15. Thumb up 3

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    I marathoned the whole show in about 3 months online and even though baby gay me would end up staying up till 4am every morning watching it with headphones on my laptop /and/ it was my last year of high school with all my biggest exams, I did it anyway.

    Sidenote: I passed all of those exams and came out a few months later, so I think I really scored a home(o) run on that one.

  16. Thumb up 2

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    My mother went out of town on business for two weeks my last year of college and so I binge watched seasons 1-5 with Portuguese subtitles on Youtube. I then watched the final season in the basement of our house muted with captions. My little sister caught me on her way to the laundry room and so I bought the last few episodes on itunes and watched them at the library where I was “working on homework” for about two weeks.

  17. Thumb up 2

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    I spent the majority of my collegic career huddled close to my laptop with headphones during the wee hours of the morning streaming The L Word while my roommates slept or hiding out in my room at my parents during breaks ready to slam my screen shut if my sister were to wander in curiously wondering what I was up to.

  18. Thumb up 1

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    I never had to hide watching it. I saw the pilot episode with my sister. She only watched sporadically from then on because she was shocked by the sex scenes. I watched only two thirds of the first season; I was still kind of meh about it. I only saw the infamous end of season one sex scene between Tina and Bette a couple of years back on youtube. My mom, of the three of us, is the one who watched the show almost totally through (she was in the hospital the first half of season one). I think she was more pissed at the quality of season six than I was.

  19. Thumb up 2

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    I ordered the first season on DVD and when it came in the mail I said it was “a book for school.” I watched it at night with sound turned down really low and hid it behind my books on my bookshelf. I guess I wasn’t alone in that either!

  20. Thumb up 1

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    I discovered the L word by chance on free to air tv. I just happened to catch the pilot episode and thought ‘what is this movie? It’s awesome!!’

    I was able to watch the first season on tv (because I already lived alone.. at the ripe old age of 16), but I had to come up with an excuse every Wednesday to not hang out with my friends. I used to record it to vhs and watch it immediately again once it finished.

    The 2nd season aired at weird times and episodes were sometimes scratched, so I figured out how to download YouTube videos.. that was fun.

    By the next season I’d discovered torrents. With a dial up connection I would get top speeds of 4 or 5kbs and each episode would take almost 4 days to download. I would start the Torrent downloading on a Sunday night, go to uni on a Monday for the week and have a friend go to my house and turn off my computer on a Wednesday afternoon.

    My 115 year old wooden house could have burnt down… But it was worth it.

  21. Thumb up 4

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    I had a TV in my bedroom, so on Saturdays I would feel inexplicably tired early and get in my room before midnight. But I was paranoid that my parents in the livingroom would hear THE scenes so I kept the remote on my hand all the time, to mute it when I had to. I would sometimes stealthily call a friend at midnight to talk about the episode. And sometimes I had to lend my brother the TV when he wanted to watch a different show than my parents -I couldn’t refuse by saying that I wanted to watch something because I couldn’t say what; so If my mother went to the bathroom or something I’d quickly change the channel to at least get a glimpse.

  22. Thumb up 0

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    My first year of college, I finally decided that I would watch that lesbian show I had heard about since it was safe now because I was living on my own. I managed to download the first three seasons that had aired on peer-to-peer.
    That took ages of course. So I would let my computer on for hours while I was in class and then come back and watch the episode. Highlight of my day.
    It really made me appreciate each episode since it took so long to download. It was so worth it.

  23. Thumb up 1

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    I watched it while living in a backpackers in an extremely rural town in Australia a few years ago, sharing a room with 4 guys. Got the first 4 seasons given to me via a french backpackers hard drive. I’m pretty sure they knew i was gay but i would sit against the wall on my bottom bunk with headphones in and if they ever caught me laughing or smirking i would just say i was watching friends/ how i met your mother / anything i knew they wouldn’t question. As much as i enjoyed living there, it was a lovely escape from a small town with a 70% male population and probably about 2 openly queer people.

  24. Thumb up 1

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    I bought the DVDs, but then tried to keep them in the same place on the shelf so it looked like I never watched them. While watching at dead of night with headphones on, and one ear cocked for footsteps approaching the room – obvs. Ah, teenage life…

  25. Thumb up 5

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    I found it via the power of the internet during my final year of high school. I then proceeded to lock the door and stream episodes for most of that year. Dad knew I was watching something but I would never tell him what (in retrospect, he probably checked the internet records, to be honest).

    My sister then ordered the box set and hid it in a guitar box on top of her wardrobe.

    One time, my sister and I had just gotten a new box set and were desperate to watch it. We were, at that point, on a family trip and staying at the farm of my conservative aunt and uncle. We decided it would be a brilliant idea to sneak out at night, hide in the family car close to the house and watch a few episodes. Sure enough, my uncle ended up wandering around outside that night doing something or other, and my sister and I ended up crouched down and contorted into uncomfortable positions in the back of the car for about half an hour so he wouldn’t see us.

    Still unsure if worth it that night… but oh hell. It probably was.

  26. Thumb up 0

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    I found a box set of the first season in a DVD store in Beijing, China where I used to live as a teenager. I immediately was curious so I bought it and brought it home. After I binge-watched the first season I couldn’t stop so I kept going back to buy the next season and the next.
    Then one day I couldn’t find any of my DVDs. They were missing. I looked everywhere and I couldn’t find them. Finally one day I looked in my family’s shoe closet. Apparently my Mom found my DVDs and decided to hide them from me because she didn’t like the content of the show.
    However there’s a happy ending because for half a year I’ve been out to my mom and my whole family and they all couldn’t be more supportive! However I never let my Mom forget about hiding my L word stash in the shoe closet :)

  27. Thumb up 4

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    I watched it when I was living in a convent in Paris on youtube! It was one of the few TV shows in English I could find. I loved the show so much it was worth the fear that the nuns would find out I was the one watching the l word.

  28. Thumb up 0

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    I was a very lucky 15-year-old lesbian. I came out (to myself) right before my family got a free trial of showtime on-demand. I used to sneakily stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning watching it obsessively until the free-trial ran out. It was great.

  29. Thumb up 0

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    When the show came out I was confused/in denial about my queerness, and living at home with my parents and withOUT Showtime. I found a lady online who DVRed the show and made/sold DVDs at cost for youngins such as myself. I bought said DVDs along with the ones she made of the gay/Bianca parts of All My Children and hid them in my room. Sometime during season 2 my mom offhandedly mentioned signing up for Showtime because she was bored of HBO and I tried not to show how overjoyed I was.

  30. Thumb up 0

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    So funny that many of us have the same experiences!! When I was in high school I discovered the show late at night in the basement and put the volume on low. Thankfully when I moved to university I didn’t have to hide anymore and I got my roommate hooked on it!

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    My parents must have thought I was watching tons of porn because every time they got in my room at night, I changed the tv reaaaaaally quickly. For the last season I didn’t care and just left it on. So there it was Shane eating Jenny out and my mom talking about baking cookies in the same room. Awkward.

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    I’m pretty sure I started watching it while I was still mandated to spend summers with my father’s family, which was always an adventure in itself. He left me home alone all day with 3 younger brothers and had a bangin dihital cable package. Clearly, I closed my room’s door, ignored the boys and watched (very quietly) rerun after rerun…Ahhh, to be 14 again.

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    no. 7 and no. 10 combo: I snuck the DVDs to and from the library like contraband and binge-watched them in the dead of night. In hindsight, it was for absolutely no reason, considering that I lived alone in a new city where I knew no one. Maybe this is some sort of LGBTQ-Millennial rite of passage.

  34. Thumb up 1

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    I used to watch Queer As Folk in my room with the volume as low as possible, so I had practice when The L Word premiered. Seasoned pro at watching gay stuff in secret by the time I was 15. I waited for it every week because only rich people had tivo/dvrs . Later years of the the L Word (AKA the seasons we pretend never happened) I had already come out and I caught my mom watching it. She asked me if I knew about the show and I had to explain how I already seen in. super awkward.

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    I watched the L Word for the first time over the course of about a year and a half, one or two episodes every few weeks, with my first girlfriend. We started watching the series the latter half of 2011… and it became somewhat of a habitual thing, like if there was ever any question on what we should do that day/night, the L Word was almost always our immediate solution!

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