“The L Word: Generation Q,” the sequel to the groundbreaking queer television drama “The L Word,” just ended its first season on Showtime. There is much to praise about the new show, including more varied representation in many dimensions of identity. Here, I want to explore the parenting storylines of both series to see what they might tell us about the changing representation of LGBTQ parents.
The main parenting storyline of the original series, which ran from 2004 to 2009, centered on characters Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman). In season 1, they go through various antics while searching for a sperm donor — an overused trope among shows that depicted two-woman couples in the mid-2000s. Fast forward through some break-ups and reunions, and they have baby Angie in season 2.
We see only a few storylines related to Angie, however, notably one in which her moms try to get her into an elite preschool by showing that they’re the most diverse family vying for the spot. That same storyline was used by ABC’s “Modern Family” two years later for gay dads Mitchell and Cameron and their daughter Lily. In a later season, too, Bette and Tina try to adopt, but this falls through.
Character Helena Peabody (Rachel Shelley) also had children, but they didn’t live with her and played a minimal part in the show.
About transgender character Max’s (Daniela Sea) pregnancy, the less said, the better. While a trans man being pregnant could make a fine storyline, this one was handled clunkily and only served to underscore the character’s otherness. The original “L Word’ did not handle trans issues well.
Shane (Katherine Moennig) also acts for several episodes as guardian of her 9-year-old half-brother Shay. We see Shane struggle with that responsibility, though, and Shay eventually goes back to live with their father.
The new show has brought parenting even more fully into characters’ lives, as all of the returning cast members are now dealing with children in some fashion. (Minor spoilers for the season follow.) The new cast also includes Angie (Jordan Hull), now 16, with storylines of her own. Bette and Tina, though no longer together, are both very involved in her life. We find out, too, that Angie has a crush on her best friend Jordi — a sign that we’re moving beyond fear of perpetuating the myth that LGBTQ parents will create LGBTQ kids. Statistically, some of us will have them, though, and that’s just fine.
We also see Alice (Leisha Hailey), from the original series, now in a relationship with Nat (Stephanie Allynne, a real-life queer mom), who is sharing custody of her two kids with her ex. Alice tries to learn parenting skills like dealing with a sick child or packing snacks for a swim meet, while also figuring out how she fits into the family.
And Shane, who struggled in the original show to balance her guardianship responsibilities with the freedom she wanted in her life, is facing the same struggle again because her ex-wife Quiara, who wants to reunite, is pregnant. Shane must decide whether to help her parent.
Shane is hesitant, but after advising Angie on her relationship with Jordi, sees that there’s something rewarding about parenting. She says she’ll do it. After Quiara’s first ultrasound, however, Shane is afraid that she isn’t feeling the deep emotions a prospective parent should. Quiara wisely advises, “You’ll feel exactly what you’re supposed to feel on your own time.” That’s as good a piece of parenting advice as I’ve ever heard.
Parenting wisdom among the show’s melodrama shouldn’t surprise viewers. New showrunner and co-executive producer Marja-Lewis Ryan and her wife had a baby last year, and original showrunner and “LW:GQ” co-executive producer Ilene Chaiken is a mom as well.
While “LW:GQ” will never be focused on parenting in the same way as, say, “Modern Family” or “The Fosters,” Freeform’s 2013-18 drama about a two-mom couple and their five kids, it feels natural that several of the “LW:GQ” characters have or want kids or are trying to decide if they do. Advances in acceptance, legal protections and reproductive technologies have made it increasingly easy for queer people to become parents (even as we recognize that out LGBTQ parents have existed for decades and our full history goes back, arguably, to Sappho). And a 2019 study by Family Equality has shown that 63 percent of LGBTQ millennials — the “Generation Q” of the show’s title — are considering starting or growing their families.
The show’s writers recognize this shift. In the season finale, real-life writer and professor Roxane Gay guest stars as herself, being interviewed by Alice on her talk show. Alice asks her, “Can you be a bad queer?” referencing Gay’s book “Bad Feminist,” which calls for broadening what “feminist” means to include those who may not adhere to some perfect ideal. Gay answers, “Historically, in the queer community, we’ve tried to resist heteronormative ideas. And, so, these days, to be a bad queer is probably to want a wife and two kids and a picket fence.”
We see the tension of that in Shane, the least conformist of the three original characters, as she grapples with whether she can be a parent and still be herself. Yet Bette and Alice are also parents. Are they “bad queers”? Hardly.
But the definition of “queer” now includes parents as well as those who aren’t, by choice or circumstance. It makes sense, then, that even on a queer show that’s not “about” parenting, we’re seeing more parents and more “every day” parenting moments. Yes, some of us may want a picket fence — but we can paint it in rainbow colors.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.