LGBT representation on TV…what showrunners can learn from Sense8’s J. Michael Straczynski and The Wachowski siblings

Having just finished Sense8 the first thing that came to my mind was YIPEE!!!! None of the queer characters died and they weren’t defined solely by either their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What JMS and the Wachowski siblings have done with this series is astounding in its scope, scale and message about humanity. Right from the beginning of episode one we are introduced to Nomi, a trans woman, and her girlfriend Amanita (who live in San Francisco). Not only are they a queer couple, Nomi is white and Amanita is Black and this is never commented on throughout the series.

Nomi does experience transphobia at the hand of her mother who insists on calling her by her birth name Michael and later to a lesser degree from an old friend Bug (who hasn’t seen her since she transitioned) who after being told that her name is Nomi still makes sexist jokes directed at her but makes up for it by giving Nomi and Amanita the tech gear they need. Bug shows another level of growth when he comes to their apartment in a later episode and slips and calls her Michael but corrects himself and calls her Nomi twice just to make sure that Nomi and Amanita know that he is accepting of Nomi’s gender identity.

Just over two thousand miles south of Nomi and Amanita we find Lito, a closeted gay telenova actor, and his boyfriend Hernando living in Mexico City. Now people may quibble that having a closeted gay man on a show is retrograde but we also need to remember that there are many closeted gay actors (more men than women) in Hollywood and elsewhere so this story is still relevant. Their story includes Daniela who is Lito’s beard but she isn’t a stereotype either. There is never any jealousy coming from Hernando and the three of them form an unlikely trio. What I love about their story is that by the end of the season Lito has decided that he doesn’t care what people think and will live his life openly.

The fact that all of these characters aren’t just defined by their orientation or identity is also a great development for LGBT representation. Too often LGBT characters are marginalized, used to service their straight counterparts and/or killed off. We’ve seen this happen time and time again on many shows both here in the United States and on TV shows from other countries. As far as killing off LGBT characters, just in the past five years we’ve seen this happen to lesbian and bi-women characters on Chicago Fire, Last Tango in Halifax, Los hombres de Paco from Spain, Sons of Anarchy, True Blood, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, Boardwalk Empire, Lost Girl, Lip Service, American Horror Story: Asylum, Pretty Little Liars (which killed off two lesbians of color), Skins: Fire, Orange is the New Black, Tierra de Lobos from Spain, The Walking Dead, Under the Dome, The Killing (US), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Matador and Arrow. I haven’t been able to find a list of gay or bi-men or trans characters killed off of TV shows but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. Also, this list doesn’t even count all the LGBT characters killed off of TV shows prior to 2010. With acceptance of LGBT people rising in all western countries this trope is unnecessary and so retro. This is why I appreciate the fact that JMS and the Wachowski’s didn’t fall into that trap with Sense8.

Every main character on Sense8 are fully fleshed out human beings with both personal and professional lives including both the LGBT characters and their straight counterparts. I especially liked the way that the show depicted not only Nomi and Lito but also Sun (the South Korean businesswoman who is also a star in the underground kickboxing world from Seoul), Kala (the Indian pharmacist who is also a devout Hindu from Mumbai) and Capheus (the Kenyan van driver who also has a strong sense of justice from Nairobi). I did like Wolfgang’s (the German locksmith and safe-cracker from Berlin) arc but it didn’t move me the way that the characters mentioned above did. I also wasn’t as drawn to Will (the white cop from Chicago) and Riley’s (the white DJ from Reykjavik, Iceland by way of London) stories until about half-way through the season. I also was disappointed that Will was the one who saved Riley. I wish that one of those characters would’ve been a person of color but I guess you can’t have everything you want when watching a TV show.

Revisiting The L Word- Ten Years Later and I’m Still Irritated (But I Love it Anyway)

For whatever reason that I can’t conceptualize, I started watching The L Word again and the same things still irritate me years later especially Tina’s lack of a back story. I hate that Ilene fucking Chaiken made her a cypher to Bette for six years. While most everyone else (that was in the opening credits in the first three seasons) got a back story the only thing we know about Tina is Bette was her first relationship with a woman, she had two abortions and she grew up in the suburbs. I don’t count what was revealed about Tina in the interrogation tapes that were released online following the sixth season because we never met anyone from her past like we did with Alice, Dana, Shane, Jenny, Carmen, Helena, Kit, Marina, Tasha and Max.

Other stories that got on my nerves…

Dana’s cancer although Erin Daniels knocked it out of the park. Really Ilene she was the heart of the show!!!

Jenny’s hideous tights, numerous mental breaks, constant self-absorption and that damn manatee sub-plot. I hated going through her writing process and I’m a writer so WTF?

Bette and Tina’s toxic relationship. Why did they have to cheat on each other??? It’s a wonder that they ultimately ended up with each other.

Mark videotaping everyone in Jenny and Shane’s house (so creepy).

The Lez Girls movie plot.

Dawn Denbo and her lover Cindy and that awful She Bar because no one messes with The Planet.

Kit Porter being relegated to one-liners and her cluelessness about technology.

The entire sixth season (ENOUGH SAID)

Betty and that damn song (once you hear it the song stays in your head for weeks and not in a good way)

Having said all that, The L Word (along with the Otalia story line on Guiding Light) helped me realize that I am a lesbian (I still can’t believe I didn’t see the signs before my 30’s) so I will forever be grateful to Ilene fucking Chaiken and Crystal Chappell/Jessica Leccia aka Otalia for awaking my sexuality. Also, Ilene should be applauded for giving queer women a platform for our stories, however messed up they are.

What I did love was her subtle and overt railings against the Bush administration’s anti-LGBT stand and censorship in the media with Bette’s art gallery story arc. The show tackled a lot of issues that many LGBT people still face today like lack of family acceptance with Dana and Carmen’s stories, subtle discrimination in the workplace, marriage equality since the couples on the show couldn’t legally marry, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell with the Tasha story (which thankfully got repealed though without trans protections), transphobia with the Max story and lack of acceptance for bisexuals among the gay and lesbian community.

Stuff I really liked:

Lara’s sexuality caper with the ladies trying to find out whether Lara is a lesbian so Dana could ask her out on a date

The Dinah trip

The Olivia Cruise trip

Alice’s chart and her ridiculous radio show because it is true that lesbians are incestuous with each other. I’ve seen it among the lesbians in Chicago and we see it all the time among celesbians.

The love they all had for each other no matter how many times they disappointed each other.

Helena’s transformation from an imperious woman who used money to manipulate people into a caring, warm person. Her time in jail and being cut off financially by her mom Peggy only made me love her more.

Alice and Shane’s unwavering friendship.

The fact that every actress actually kept their fingernails short because no lesbian or bisexual woman has long nails. I really appreciated that touch of authenticity even though the show was criticized for casting so many femme actresses.

The overall message that our stories are important.

Watching the show now, with all of the positive changes that we’ve seen since the show ended, was a reminder of how far we’ve come as well as how far we have to go to achieve full equality. Shows like Orange is the New Black, Orphan Black, The Fosters, Pretty Little Liars, Faking It or Modern Family or any number of other queer inclusive shows wouldn’t be on the air without The L Word and for that matter Queer as Folk but there is still a resistance to our community among many Americans. By showcasing our stories Ilene and the other amazing showrunners of queer inclusive shows should be applauded. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for creating these amazing flawed characters that we can cheer on and yell at when they make stupid mistakes.

Long live LGBT representation in the media!!!

Oh and if you haven’t read these recaps done by the talented scribegrrrl already go to this archive link and have fun. http://www.afterellen.com/tag/the_l_word_recaps/.