Blogpost #2: Revisiting The L Word: A personal perspective on the portrayal of ovulation & conception.

If you're reading this blog there's a good chance you've watched The L Word or at the very least, that you know of its existence. The L Word was a groundbreaking series on Showtime and still remains one of the primary beacons of lesbian visibility in film and television to date. 

SPOILER ALERT! Heads up! The next few paragraphs include spoilers for the rare few of you who have not yet ever watched a single episode! Be warned! 

The L Word was an absolutely revolutionary part of my young adult understanding of sexuality and lesbian identity. I would watch the shows secretly at night after my parents went to bed. I hoarded the DVDs, cut out magazine articles, and drooled over Sarah Shahi when she was introduced in Season 3 as Carmen de la Pica Morales. She was, and will forever remain one of my ultimate tv-crushes. (Long live Carmen & Shane!) 

Both Toby and I recall memories of being completely entranced by the visibility of lesbians on TV. We couldn't believe it existed! Today we'll go back and rewatch episodes together and laugh at the early 2000s fashions, the song choices (some YES! some YUCK!), and all of the ups and downs of all the characters we were so invested in. 

Today I decided to revisit The L Word again.  Sitting at my dining room table I pulled up Netflix and chose to watch the pilot episode. The very beginning, where it all began. Within the first minute we see Bette & Tina (Jennifer Beals and Laurel Holloman) laying in bed together.

Seconds later Tina is holding (what appears to be a pregnancy test) in her bathroom. She's wearing oversized, matching pin-stripe pajamas, her hair an adorable mess. She is calling for Bette. 

Bette enters in the way she always does - long limbed, sultry, and totally in control. 

Tina points the gigantic plastic pee-pee test strip towards Bette.

"I'm ovulating," She says quietly. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

"You're ovulating!" Jennifer Beals whispers back, kissing Tina. The scene goes on like this for a few more seconds, both women echoing each others statements. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved. 

Then comes the very well placed and well delivered line, "let's make a baby!" For a brief moment before they embrace Tina's eyes are filled with excitement and even perhaps fear for the uncertainty of what's ahead. As first time viewers, you have no backstory on these two women. I remember feeling fascinated by this scene. Wondering exactly how lesbian women make a baby. 

"Let's make a baby," Bette says before kissing Tina in what can only be described as the physical manifestation of the luteinizing hormone displaying itself prior to peak ovulation.

They don't mention LH or anything that specific in The L Word but oh, it's definitely there. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

As the two women make-out against their bathroom sink you hope for the best.

As the first season continues to unfold, Tina gets pregnant but then suffers a miscarriage. They try again and Tina gets pregnant. By the end of Season 2 Tina is giving birth to their beautiful daughter Angelica. The act of the insemination itself isn't documented in the series. We only see it from the vantage point of outside the bedroom. The shows producers and directors go so far as to provide the silhouetted image of their first known-donor jerking off in his artists studio. Bette and Tina just hangout, as you would, talking about the textural qualities of his paintings while he gets the job done. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Moments later Tina and Bette are driving home with a vial of sperm tucked between Tina's legs. Bette snatches it from Tina (while driving) and comments, "God! It's repugnant! I can't believe I used to swallow this stuff!" This is the moment we learn that Bette Porter has super-powers and can smell spunk through plastic. Obviously, there are no limits to her powers!!!

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Before they collect the sperm, Bette & Tina visit a couples therapist together. We see that Bette is a power lesbian, shouting on the phone about artwork from Paris, setting up for a show, and that discussing their insemination (with their new, male therapist) is, "off the table". Tina jumps in to show her support of Bette by stating, "We're both ready to start a family, right?" She looks at Bette for confirmation. "Right." Bette says firmly. 

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

Screenshot via Netflix, The L Word, Showtime Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.

In 2004, when this episode premiered, I wasn't thinking about babies or a family. I was thinking about heading off to college in New York City and the opportunity for self-discovery. I was excited about lesbians on TV!

Ten years later I was legally married, living in San Francisco and planning to start a family with my wife. Now I was the woman saying, "let's make a baby". Now it was real, not fiction on TV.

I was the woman ordering bulk packs of ovulation test strips online for my wife to use each month as we tracked her LH levels and BBT (basal body temperature). Looking back, I wish that The L Word had been able to include more of the intricacies of lesbian pregnancy and conception. It's so much more than sperm in a cup and jokes about turkey basters! 

Now when I rewatch Bette & Tina's road to motherhood I think of new questions:  

Did they have their donor tested and medically screened prior to his donation?

Do they have a fertility midwife?

What role will this man have in their life if they successfully conceive? 

Before I know it, I'm lost in a spiral of questions about parentage, legal rights, home birth, and more. I can't help but wonder if the shows producers and directors considered including any part of this when they discussed it with their writers. Probably, but then they decided against making it too "crunchy" for the sake of ratings and time (I'm assuming).

Bette & Tina's story is definitely the abridged version of what really happens when two women decide to make a baby. Aside from Queer As Folk with their own lesbian characters Melanie & Lindsay (Michelle Clunie and Thea Gill), these two sets of women are the only ones currently representing lesbian conception in film and television. Other films do touch on lesbian mothers - like The Kids Are All Right with Julianne Moore and Annette Benning from 2010 and plenty of independent films popping up all over international screens for the past several years. 

Looking forward to what may be an entirely new genre in television, our fearless, hilarious, and well styled leader, Ellen Degeneres has announced a new television show: One Big Happy. The show is slated to premiere on Tuesday, March 17th @ 9:30/8:30 CST on NBC. Ellen is the Executive Producer for One Big Happy. When asked about if she was writing a show specifically about lesbians she replied:

"It's not like I formed a production company and said, 'Bring me all your lesbian scripts.' I'm not just going to be a lesbian machine that just turns out stuff. They're just going to be people that you love and watch and don't think twice about any of it being weird. It's just friendship or family or whatever that is. I think friendship is obvious, but family is not so obvious. Family changes all the time." (People Magazine, January 2015). 

We'll have to wait and see what One Big Happy brings to the table in order to compare it to what we've already witnessed from other fictional accounts of lesbian conception in film and television. We certainly hope for the best. :) 

Thanks for reading & enjoy your weekend! 

Betsy 

Founder & Photographer, The Pride & Joy Project 

Authors Note: If anyone out there in the interwebs finds any articles or citations relating to the screenwriting behind The L Word I'd be interested to hear more about it. Feel free to share your insights & own thoughts in the comments below. :)