How ‘The L Word: Generation Q’ Will Address Modern Day LGBTQ Issues

Full House, Will & Grace, Murphy Brown… Lots of classic TV shows have come back. Now The L Word will be back in Showtime’s revival series The L Word: Generation Q. For six seasons from 2004-2009, Showtime’s The L Word was a groundbreaking TV drama. It was one of the first to tell stories about lesbian characters on television. The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken is back, joined by new showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan. Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig are back, with new cast members Arienne Mandi, Leo Sheng, Jacqueline Toboni and Rosanny Zayas.

The L Word: Generation Q
The L Word: Generation Q cast | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Chaiken and Ryan were on a Television Critics Association panel for The L Word: Generation Q yesterday. The producers spoke about how The L Word: Generation Q addresses issues facing the LGBTQ community in 2019. The L Word: Generation Q premieres December 8 at 10 p.m. on Showtime. 

Representation still matters for ‘The L Word: Generation Q’

For the LGBTQ community to see themselves on TV in 2004 was vital, and life-saving. It still is in 2019.

“Well, the world has changed a lot in these ten years, and lesbians still belong on television,” Chaiken said. “We’re telling the stories about what’s happened in those ten years, where we are now, and where we’re headed.”

Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed are the dire conditions many LGBTQ youths still face.

“Our homeless youth population is 40 percent queer, which is extremely disproportionate to our actual population,” Ryan said. “To say that we are not marginalized still is ignorant. Suicide rates are so much higher and bullying is still real.”

Marja-Lewis Ryan
Marja-Lewis Ryan | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Ryan hopes bringing The L Word back will do as much good now as it did in its original run.

“Young people, young adults need people to look up to,” Ryan said. “Part of what this show was for me was an aspirational queer narrative where we get to see these people looking as amazing as they do, having incredible jobs and sophisticated friendships and sophisticated romantic relationships that I could then move in the world and understand how to be. I hope this show can go on forever just weaving in and out of people’s lives and really getting into the heart of who they are.”

Trans characters are a bigger part of ‘The L Word: Generation Q’

The trans community faces many forms of prejudice, one of which are Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists. The L Word: Generation Q is a chance to address those issues.

“We have had long conversations about TERF lesbians,” Ryan said. “We are very plugged in to that, the world and the conversations that are coming out of the divide. I strongly stand on the side of inclusivity and the side that we are always better together. We do not explicitly reference TERF lesbians, but my point is to say that the act of making the show is my response to TERF lesbians.”

In Hollywood there are issues of cis actors playing trans characters. Scarlett Johannson dropped out of Rub & Tug after outcry and Jeffrey Tambor said he hoped to be the last cis actor cast as a trans character when he won an Emmy for Transparent. Ryan is exploring the reverse.

The L Word: Generation Q
Jacqueline Toboni, Leo Sheng, Arienne Mandi, and Rosanny Zayas The L Word: Generation Q. | Hilary B Gayle/SHOWTIME

“We do have trans actors playing cis parts,” Ryan said. “So we are exploring trans lesbians on the show in a way that does not identify necessarily trans lesbians on the show. I’m interested in the exploration of trans actors as cis characters. I think that that is another way in which our show moves forward and will continue to move forward.”

Sophie Giannamore, who also appeared on Transparent, also has an arc on The L Word: Generation Q. “While she is a trans activist in her real life, we are playing her on the show as very much the most popular girl in high school,” Ryan said. “So we don’t need to talk about that 16-year-old’s gender identity to me. I think that her struggle is about her absentee parents. Her struggle is about her first love, but to really create an entire character rather than the gender identity of this young person is really important. So I think that that’s sort of how we are navigating the spaces.”

Where are the original ‘L Word’ characters now?

Chaiken is involved to protect her original characters, but Ryan got to run with the original gang 10 years after the L Word series finale.

“The way that I came to the story was through basically pure fan fiction,” Ryan said. “I got to imagine three characters who I love and I got to imagine what they might be like 10 years later, where they might be, where my dreams could take them. I mean, can you believe that that’s my job? Crazy.”

From Bette (Beals), Alice (Hailey) and Shane (Moenning) came the new characters.

Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey and Katherine Moennig
Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, and Katherine Moennig in The L Word: Generation Q | Hilary B Gayle/SHOWTIME

“So I started with them and then I built their world around them,” Ryan said. “I put in people who they work with, who they socialize with, who they interact with sort of naturally, people whose arcs kind of bend in the opposite direction of theirs. And that was how I came up with the other characters.”

It took seven years to bring ‘The L Word’ back

Conversations about an L Word revival began as early as 2012, only three years after the show ended. 

“We’ve been having these conversations for some time, and we all felt that there was a reason to bring the show back and that it would be exciting and meaningful,” Chaiken said. “I was kind of waiting for what felt like the right time, and it was just about intuition.”

That right time presented itself after the 2016 election.

“I think that that really provoked me to make the move and to approach Showtime,” Chaiken said. “It was soon after that after Jennifer and I were desperately contemplating, ‘What can we do to respond to this moment in time?’ that I finally worked up the nerve to call my dear friend [Showtime Executive] Gary [Levine] and say ‘What do you think? Should we bring The L Word back?’ And then what made it really happen was finding someone, Marja, who had something really fresh to say and who knew how to carry it forward.”

Ryan added, “I think, from a writing perspective, I was desperate to have a character who could speak from the queer experience. What would it be like to have somebody in the political space that speaks openly and authentically from the queer perspective? Again, it’s a dream, really, to be able to tell these stories and to put into the world what I wish were already there.”