“I wanted to name this post whatever the female equivalent of “blue balls” is, and then I realized that there wasn’t one, except ‘lesbian bed death,’ which relates to emotion and to a couple and to a permanent situation involving metaphorical DEATH rather than a sexual state that needs immediate and obtainable relief, which pretty much sums up everything I want to say about this.”
“Why it Matters So Much That No One is Fucking on ‘The L Word'”
(I have posted this on both of my blogs, which means different comments are being posted on each blog, but maybe that’s even more fun than having them all in one place? YEAH IT IS! Two conversations is better than one. Just like two sex scenes is better than zero, and like how twenty-two sex scenes would be way better than zero)
We are four episodes in to the fourth season of “The L Word” and we haven’t seen anyone’s breasts. Marina has not followed Jenni–the engaged Midwestern writer who spends most of the first season removing and re-dressing herself in ripped up tights and “dresses”/tablecloths–into the bathroom at The Planet and pushed her up against the wall and kissed the strai right out of her. Cherie Jaffe has not told Shane she was thinking about something more than a haircut and Shane has not laughed a little, betraying her trademark cool, and then, when Cherie puts her hands under Shane’s shirt and climbs the length of her smooth scrawny torso and removes her shirt, Shane has not stripped Cherie to her Fredricks of Hollywood Skivvies and she has not leaned in like an insect sucking sex via her lover’s lips, like Shane always does when she fucks people (and it’s hot, that she does that, it’s lovely). Shane hasn’t fucked any people this season. Alice has not reached tentatively into all that space between her body and Dana’s ass and then lay her palm on it and not let go, there has been no disco music as pants are tugged off, reams of necklaces discarded like so much extra ethical nonsense, blindfolds have not been tied on and whipped cream has not been fed and naked bodies have not curled up into each other in a loveseat , happy and oversexed and sated and beautiful. Bette has not gone to a gay bar in Manhattan and taken a girl to her hotel room and undressed her with the sad desire of a woman lost and lonely, she has not made love to a stranger for the pure release of it, anonymous, safe, special. None of those things have happened.
Two nights ago I saw the movie “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” Kirby Dick’s documentary expose about the MPAA, which addressed, among other things “whether sexual content in gay-themed movies is given harsher ratings penalties than their heterosexual counterparts” and “whether keeping the raters and the rating process secret leaves the MPAA entirely unaccountable for its decisions.” He also discussed the unease by the MPAA over female pleasure, in and of itself, noting that films which show women orgasming and focus on female pleasure are far more likely to be slapped with an NC-17. You can hardly imagine a woman sticking an eclair up her vagina with the same comic glee we gifted Jason Biggs in “American Pie.”
And so, as Carrie Bradshaw (who, along with her three gal-pals, had so much on-screen sex there was hardly time for dialogue), might say…’I got to thinking about relationships…” And by “relationships” I mean my relationship to “The L Word,” and why it pisses me off so much that the show has been violently zapped of all its libido this season. Come on, Ilene. For those of us who are not dating EZ Girl, sex is still something we enjoy having.
There is probably a Debra at every middle school, and maybe more than one in schools with graduating classes exceeding 36 students (like mine, a private school for “gifted” students, most of whom would have spent public school stuffed in a locker reading X-Men comics with the flashlight from their swiss army knives). At our first 6th grade party at Mirella’s cottage on the lake, we waited til past eleven to tentatively slide open the glass door and leave our carpet of sleeping bags and our Doritos and half-drunk Clearly Canadians to dash across the wet porch to the hot tub even though her yard and our world was coated in heavy snow. Even though it was December and our parents would have never let us out of the house without at least seven layers, one of which usually had a name that sounded just like a comic book hero: Gore-Tex. Moisture-Wicking Spandex. It was just bathing suits, cold air, and the promising gurgling hot tub.
I would never even remember this party if Debra hadn’t done what she did. It was a Prelude to her Personality–that she would always be just naive and awkward enough to make us queasy by pushing boundaries we all respected with far greater reverence. Basically: we were having a normal conversation about boys and Debra took off her bathing suit. She told us “I just feel better naked. It feels really good in the water.” I could see her white skin,gelatinous in the pale blue water–a color that someone with Debra’s nearly albino-white skin would never intentionally wear, let alone dip her nude body inside. But she did, and she had. We were horrified, but because we were 12, we dealt with this by ignoring her at the time, and then later telling everyone (yes, all 30 of our classmates) and making fun of her. At the time, we just tried not to look. Everyone called Debra a lesbo but the funny thing is that of all the girls in that hot tub, Debra is one of only two who did not turn out to be bisexual or homosexual. Maybe that’s why she was comfortable being naked in front of us and we felt like we were witnessing something private and when you are 12, private is the same thing as gross. As school went on, some of us would participate in risky games of strip poker with boys but no one was ever chastised like Debra was for her transgression. Being naked made sense if there were men around.
In 8th grade Debra had her own birthday party at a hotel out by the highway which is the first time I saw two women have sex on television. Debra’s Crazy Mom was sleeping. Debra’s father was a sperm donor, rumor had it, and her crazy single Mom had once made us all dig through the garbage cans at Mongolian Barbecue because Debra had accidentally left her necklace on the table and it had been thrown out. She yelled at all these Mexican guys who didn’t speak English and I felt like I was watching a movie where Mothers acted in public how mine sometimes did in private.
It was late when Debra suggested we check out the hotel’s adult offerings. “I’ve seen lots of these,” she said, and the way she said it made me think that perhaps porn was one of those delicious and naughty things that I needed to taste before I went to high school. Maybe it would give me clues about how things worked out there. Also I thought it seemed private and I was very strict about those things then, so when two naked girls with plastic skin poured pancake batter down each other’s chests, rubbing it on their nipples, totally abandoning the pretense of making breakfast for their hunky boyfriends, who were poolside wearing, oddly enough, tuxedos, I felt nauseous and had to go outside. Later, when considering my sexuality, I would use this story as evidence that I could not possibly like women. I would tell people that I threw up. Much like a person might throw up if they ate raw pancake batter off someones nipples because that’s basically asking for salmonella poisoning, not to mention herpes. I mean, there was probably left over cum on her skin from the facial she’d likely received earlier that day. Not the cucumber kind, the sperm kind.
So this is what I knew about two women together, naked and kissing: it was gross, it was private, it was shameful, almost, and maybe I thought that because it was Debra who was so comfortable with it, just as she had been about undressing in the hot tub and making us all squirm so early in the game. It was part of a world that was not delicious. A world where the only reason a woman would need to put her mouth on another woman would be to clean up a mess they had made while cooking for their boyfriends at the pool.
Debra had dared to watch a sexy movie when there were no men around, she had dared to undress when there were no men around, and this was perverted because we thought the female body was like a body falling in the proverbial woods and did not exist unless there were men around to hear it remove, its clothing and eventually, its chastity.
I didn’t see two women having sex again for probably a decade, with a few exceptions, like “Wild Things” (Neve Cambell and Denise Richards), which featured some surprising threesomes, but the women were manipulative psycho homicidal bitches and it was clear their relationship to each other was fraught with difficulty and largely for the entertainment of their male friend.
But I saw plenty of heterosexual sex. So much, in fact, that I barely remember any of it, besides “The Basketball Diaries” because I was in love with Leonardo DiCaprio, “Disclosure” because I was with my Dad and “Georgia” because I was with my Mom. In these films, it was the combination of man and woman that set the banal on fire.
I’ve always been a girl far too influenced by what she saw on TV, and in high school, after my parents’ divorce and my father’s unexpected death, I sought refuge in hours and hours of “Beverly Hills 90210” and “The Real World.” I was captivated by Brenda and Dylan’s turbulent romance and Andrea’s crush on Brendan–“90210” showed me what my life was supposed to be like, once I grew up and became better looking and got better clothing and grew breasts. I envied Valerie the vixen, dating wholesome blonde Steve and secretly sleeping with the then-troubled David Silver. I envied Kelly, even when she was coked up and dating the sexy painter Colin. I never realized that 90210 was categorized as a nighttime soap-opera for teenagers. I honestly believed that was what life was really like, just not for me–yet. That’s what sex and dating was all about.
I am bisexual–I know this now. But for most of my life, the side of me that lusted for women was completely muted by the world around me. If I had been a 100% lesbian, maybe I would have paid more attention to that, maybe I would have had to come out and overcome the stigma and the dogma that told me my stories were unworthy and my heroes were unsexy and I was condemning myself to a gross world of bitchy masculine women who threatened the status quo simply by existing. But I’m not, and so I didn’t.
The concept of desiring women was difficult for me because so much of my concept of desire itself was based on what I saw on TV, to a damaging degree. And even moreso than television, it was my culture and my friends that dictated my desires.
There were six girls in that hot tub. Elisa came out as a lesbian at the age of 21, Mirella as a bisexual at 20, Katy as a lesbian at 25, and me sort of dodging the question since I was 16. I didn’t actually tell my Mom until about five weeks ago. This is remarkably late for girls who were raised by University professors, listening to Ani DiFranco in our mini-vans in one of the most liberal towns in the country, surrounded by feminists and always accepting of homosexuality. We had gay friends. We were down. We believed in gay rights.
And I wonder if there wasn’t something we swallowed about how to desire, how to be sexy, what to want–and then imposed upon each other–that made us take so long to reconcile that it is okay, and even hot, to be with another woman. That politics wasn’t enough to make us comfortable with Debra’s naked form in the hot tub. That a woman can want and that a woman can deserve pleasure. That sex is still relevant even when there is not a man in the room. That we should desire and not just desire to be desired by a man with testosterone and a tempest of a sex drive succumbing to his biological urge to fuck and be fucked, to touch and be touched. Men make sex acceptable and forgivable and therefore we see it all the time. But women? Make your pancakes! Put on your clothes! No one wants to see you cum. No one wants to see you leak and bleed and cry and cum and love and spill and want. Shut up, open your legs, prepare for the only kind of sex that the MPAA deems acceptable, which is the kind where a man enters you or desires you and you try your very best to give him what he needs.
The sex drive of men is something we are all comfortable with in this country. It’s funny and hormonal and slapstick (American Pie), it’s potentially uncontrollable, maniacal/homicidal (American Psycho), it is adulterous and it insatiable (American Beauty), it is fun and social (American Graffiti) and it is entrepreneurial (American Gigolo). But women? No. NC-17. XXXX. Stop it with the moaning.
I’ve always been an outsider. I’ve always been queer. I’ve always felt out of the mainstream but somehow always been in the popular crowd at school, like the funny sidekick girl. That means there has never been anything automatic about how I delegated sex and love because I was always pretty sure whatever I was doing was probably wrong, like all of my other feelings were.
So I looked to television, and movies, and my friends, and books, and managed to be simultaneously intelligent, inquisitive, independent and clever and completely at the mercy of pop culture.
What did I see about women alone with other women? Absolutely almost nothing. What I knew of lesbians were the butch soccer coaches and the overweight girls with shaved heads who held hands in the hallway of my alternative high school. I knew my Mother, who came out when I was 15. As an adolescent, clearly I saw my mother as the least sexual creature on earth. So were her girlfriends and her friends who wore (in my ruthless teenaged opinion) bad jeans and belts and had hair that was simply “short” though not in any particular style. They didn’t wear makeup and never rocked menswear quite like Shane or Ivan or even Moria/Max–who, in my opinion, are three beautiful butch masculine women. They are HOT.
I saw, eventually, Dr. Weaver on “E.R.” She is–at least to me–not hot. At 15, I saw ‘All Over Me’ (my mother and her crew of lesbian friends were in the back row, I was with my friends near the front, which was more or less an encapsulation of my worst nightmare ever), and I fantasized about that one scene so consistently that when the movie came out on DVD last year and I re-watched it, I was surprised to see that that scene I remembered was actually not a sex scene. They just kissed! But it meant so much more to me than that. I saw “But I’m a Cheerleader.” About a hundred times. But this was a campy teen movie, a plot that took place and ended, so it didn’t have the engagement that we develop with our television characters.
This is why ‘The L Word” changed my life. Here were women who owned their desire. There was no shame. There were no bad haircuts (arguably, there were nothing but bad haircuts, but please go to a dyke bar in Idaho and come back and tell me who has better hair: Shane, Season-Two-Jenny, or the girls from Idaho). There was even a girl–Shane–who fucked with abandon, who disregarded feelings and relationships in the pure pursuit of unadulterated pleasure. These women were rocking their desire.
Sex scenes, it turned out, didn’t need men to be worth 30 seconds of screen time. There was enough happening–and enough women and men in the world who wanted to watch–that women could have sex that related to storylines on screen on premium cable and it wasn’t porn. It was a story about the lives of women, and these women slept with each other, and that mattered, and that was enough.
Watching it changed everything for me, and that’s why I didn’t even care that the writing was pretty bad. I just loved seeing these pretty girls on screen who got naked and wanted each other and that it had good ratings and a big fan base and it was like for me the whole world was splitting open.
And now, we are at episode four, and although it’s been fun and funny and had some good moments, I can’t imagine how we will survive the remaining paltry portions of this show without feeling quite substantially that our desires have been rejected, deemed not worth the time or the film or the commercial dollar.
Just talk, ladies, they are saying. Talk and have friends and fights and emotions. That is what you do best, isn’t it?
It is nothing short of tragic that somehow, this year, Ilene and the girls have decided that women once again do not deserve 3 minutes of air time to pant and paw and kiss.
The opening song, which makes us all want to kill ourselves, proclaims that these women are “fucking” and that this is “the way that we live.” Where, Ilene, are these allegedly fucking girls? I haven’t seen any. Is it 1993? The dykes should make jokes and then get off screen? Sure, they have stories to tell, but why is it suddenly that sex takes place once the camera turns off? You know this is what we want and you are denying us this request. You’ve already denied us SO MUCH–good dialogue, characters we loved, logical plot-lines, developing characters–and now we don’t even get to see the girls FUCKING?!! ILENE?!!!
In her book Appetites, Caroline Knapp writes: “This is, of course a profoundly human stage—the clash between the desire to satisfy appetites and the fear that they may overwhelm us, control us, lead us astray is as old as the story of Adam and Eve—but the female journey across it can be experienced and expressed in particularly painful and confounding ways, women being the gender born and raised on the notion that the female appetite is limited and curtailed to begin with, that female hungers should be reined in, permitted satisfaction in only the most circumscribed, socially sanctioned ways.”
We love “The L Word” for embracing the female hungers that are not socially sanctioned–and for increasing the possibility that these female hungers will be socially sanctioned in our lifetime.
So Ilene, please. In the first episode of your show, Bette asks Alice “why are you so convinced that everybody is fucking everybody else?” and Alice answers: “Because they are.”
Here’s the thing: they aren’t anymore.
Give the girlies what they want. Get ’em naked, throw them in a hot tub, and see what comes. You might be, if only in retrospect, surprised by how good it all was.