I have a confession to make: Bette Porter of The L Word (and it suffices to say, Jennifer Beals) is a huge part of my queer origin story. When the original series first aired, I was still only dating men and streaming the show piecemeal on my shitty Macbook, letting the 50-minute episodes buffer for two hours or more and watching them at extremely low quality. When I divulged this to a friend recently, she said to me, “Your queer awakening was extremely lo-res, and a little illegal.” But who among us?
The original series was a beacon. When it aired, it stood alone — there was nothing else like it for lesbians, other queer-identified women, and the many nonbinary people who saw themselves represented in characters on the show, as well. That said, it wasn’t without its problems. Bisexual people were often treated as second-tier to lesbians, especially “gold star” lesbians. All representation of sex workers seemed to indicate that the only reason someone would take that career path is if they had trauma in their past or desperately needed the money. And then...Max.
But taken in the context of the time (the show originally aired between 2004 and 2009) when representation was minimal and in mainstream LGBTQIA+ discourse, the words "marriage equality" were synonymous to equality itself, the show still took on a lot. Beals recognizes that while the show did a lot of good, some mistakes were made along the way. “You can’t get it 100 percent right, you just can’t" she admits in an interview with Allure. "But you can try your best. With the original, I’d tell Ilene [Chaiken], ‘I hope we just reach one girl, just one girl, maybe in the midwest, who feels alone,’ and she was like, ‘Let’s just make a good show.’”
And it's safe to say that the show did, indeed, reach much more than just one viewer. In fact, the number one comment Beals says she hears from fans is “Thank you" — that is, before they tell her their coming out story. (I was guilty on both counts during our interview.)
Now, with The L Word: Generation Q set to debut on Showtime on December 8 (with three of the original cast members reprising their roles: Jennifer Beals as Bette Porter, Leisha Hailey as Alice Pieszecki, and Katherine Moennig as Shane McCutcheon), fans of the original are excited, if not a little trepidatious. After all, though reboots are huge these days, they can either breathe new life into an old favorite or create some sort of zombified, Frankenstein-like monster of something you once loved. However, with Beals herself executive-producing this particular sequel, my hopes are high.
"Chosen family can be, perhaps, even more loving and accepting than your biological family, and that's OK."
Rather than attempt to recreate the original series, Generation Q welcomes a slew of new LGBTQIA+ characters from a new, well, generation. Beals acknowledges that the queer community is not a monolith and that representation in media is far more diverse than when the original aired, which both takes a bit of the pressure off of the reboot and offers a little more room to play around. The original L Word was big on the queer theme of chosen family, and it’s clear from just the pilot episode (of which I’ve watched a screener) that Generation Q will be rife with opportunities to not only continue exploring this theme but queer mentorship, too.
“I think the theme of chosen family plays out almost in all of the storylines, truly. It definitely plays out in the Dani storyline, and it continues to play out with Bette’s, as well. Especially with the newer characters, I think — when you're younger, and perhaps newer to your community, it becomes really crucial to understand that there's your biological family and then there's your chosen family and chosen family can be, perhaps, even more loving and accepting than your biological family, and that's OK,” she says.
In the new series, Bette is running for office, and one of her platforms is taking a stance on the opioid crisis. And, slight spoiler alert, from the pilot episode it's clear she's opposed to big pharma not only on a moral basis but a personal one, as well. “I wish I could tell you exactly what’s going on with her right now, but you’ll see it soon. But these are issues that are affecting people right now, and in our current climate, it felt like something we had to address," she says.
Though she can't tell me exactly what Bette has been through, we talk a little about how she's evolved since we last saw her 10 years ago. For those who don’t remember, she and Tina were back together, raising baby Angie, and considering a move to New York. She was passionate as ever, and — elephant in the room — a suspect in Jenny’s murder (no, I did not ask Beals who killed the writer-turned-filmmaker we all loved to hate). “She was a very passionate person in the first series. Very quick to anger, but also very vulnerable, and coming back after 10 years... Well, some challenging things have happened in her life, and it seems like right now she's much more grounded, but that may be just a facade,” Beals teases.
“I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you got to try. You've got to start somewhere.”
Beals has also done some evolving over the past 10 years. Between working on the original L Word and the sequel, she’s garnered two NAACP Image Award nominations, a Satellite Award nomination, and was presented with the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award for her support of the LGBTQIA+ community in 2012. I ask what the word "ally" means to her.
“It means knowing I hold immense privilege, being a straight woman playing a lesbian character. It means being there for the LGBTQIA+ community when and how I can, and it means listening,” Beals explains. “I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but you got to try. You've got to start somewhere.”
Part of being an ally includes working to create a better future, something Beals is doing in her work as a C40 Goodwill Ambassador. After receiving an invitation to a C40 event in Paris and learning more about how she could get involved with the organization, the idea of helping impact climate change on a local level appealed to her. “What C40 is, essentially, is a group of mayors across the globe who are dedicated to upholding the Paris Agreement, regardless of what their federal governments may say,” she explains. As far as what she’s doing? Lots of things, but one example, in particular, is asking Showtime to make their set is as green as possible. “Fortunately for me, I'm in a position to go to my employer and talk to them about changes that we can make.”
Engaging in climate change activism can feel overwhelming, but making small changes and thinking locally is a great way to start. “I understand the anxiety, but I know that we can do it. Somehow, I find a way to just put my hands in the ground to understand what it is I’m fighting for so that it's not just a conceptual idea, it's a real thing,” she says. And that’s when we get back to the idea of family, chosen or otherwise. Because in the end, that’s really what it’s all about — whether you're fighting against climate change or fighting for better representation in media, you're likely doing it to make a better world for those you love.
This is when I thank her for her work, however imperfect (because as we’ve already both acknowledged, we all are) and tell her my own story, though her response to that is just for me. However, she does leave me with one important word of advice, which I will share. “Hold your chosen family dear. Hold your chosen family dear and take care of them.”
Catch Beals reprising her role as Bette Porter on The L Word: Generation Q on Showtime on December 8.
Read more stories about identity:
- The Complicated Benefits of Coming Out
- Why It's So Hard for Queer Women and Nonbinary People to Find Casual Sex
- Learn How to Be a Good Ally to LGBTQIA+ Friends
Now, watch Liza Koshy try nine things she's never done before:
Originally Appeared on Allure