Society and Culture

The First Time Lesbians Were Legal (on TV)

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Good afternoon folks! How many of you got a snow day today? Lucky bitches.

Anyway! Guess what we’re commemorating this month? Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, yes—but something else. Something a bit less, serious.

The premier of The L Word! Who here remembers that show? Please tell me some of you.

Well, for those of you who live under a rock, The L Word was a Showtime series that followed the lives and loves of a group of lesbian friends living in Los Angeles. It was the first TV show to feature more than one significant lesbian character, and to this day it’s the only show that ever depicted semi-realistic, super-hot lesbian sex.

Who were you 10 years ago? I was an angsty, almost-teenager who dated dumb boys while secretly crushing on older girls. I was goth, or punk, or something, and I was eschewing my dreams of being a writer to halfheartedly pursue my dreams of being a rock star.

It was a weird time.

But 10 years ago, I didn’t have Showtime. I had never heard of The L Word. Netflix was barely a thing. And had my parents walked in on me watching the queer, soft-core porn that is The L Word’s claim to fame, they probably would have sent me away to an all-girls Catholic boarding school. (Kind of a weird disciplinary solution for a Jewish, budding dyke — but that was their go-to threat, nonetheless.)

I didn’t meet the cast of The L Word for another few years, when my first serious girlfriend and I binge-watched most of the series while she was recovering from surgery. Despite the show’s obvious problems — it was depressingly white-washed, hopelessly femme, and wildly unrealistic — I was totally hooked. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything remotely similar to my life up on the screen. And it was hot.

So here we are, a decade later, and everything’s different. I’m a grown-ass woman, with a job and an apartment and a life that’s complicated as fuck. The L Word’s long gone, and it’s been semi-replaced with Orange is the New Black — which is way queerer and more diverse, if slightly less X-rated. Queer characters are gracing the small screen left and right, from Modern Family to The Fosters. Things are good.

But are they really? Because life imitates art. And things are still pretty rough out here.


Poverty and homelessness are still a major problem for queer folks. We’re still met with devastating violence on the streets, and rejection from our families. We’re still faced with higher rates of unemployment, depression, and addiction. We’re still getting deported. We still don’t have health insurance.

Seriously. It’s rough out here.

And we’re not the only ones who feel it. Inequality is at an all-time high, leaving more people out in the cold than ever before. Things are difficult for most of us, regardless of sexuality. But for many, queerness makes it worse.

So, when I look back at The L Word and the world it premiered into 10 years ago, I like to think about how far we’ve come. It’s awesome that dykes on screen aren’t groundbreaking anymore. It’s fabulous that somewhere, someone, somehow, got the funding to represent us — even if it was a limited and problematic representation.

But it’s important to remember how far we have left to go. Just six months before The L Word hit Showtime, the Supreme Court issued a decision on the case Lawrence v. Texas, decriminalizing homosexuality in the United States.

That’s right.

Just six months before the gayest of gay girl shows premiered, queerness was criminal.

And today, a decade later, queers are still grossly underrepresented in the media, while we’re grossly over-represented in the prison population.

How much has really changed? It’s debatable, for sure.

So this month, head on over to Netflix and binge watch The L Word. Get hooked on the melodramatic awfulness and the inhumanly hot sex scenes.

But also remember that queerness is more than a glammed out TV show. And we still have a long-ass way to go.

Hannah R. Winsten (@HannahRWinsten) is a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and blogger living in New York’s sixth borough. She hates tweeting but does it anyway. She aspires to be the next Rachel Maddow.

Featured image courtesy of [kyle rw via Flickr]

Hannah R. Winsten
Hannah R. Winsten is a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and blogger living in New York’s sixth borough. She hates tweeting but does it anyway. She aspires to be the next Rachel Maddow. Contact Hannah at



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