And maybe in a year, I will not feel like a bad queer
About 6 months ago, I was listening to my favorite queer podcast (Buffering the Vampire Slayer, which I’ve written about here), when Kristin Russo announced she would be co-hosting season one of my soon-to-be other favorite queer podcast, To L and Back, in which Riese Bernard (co-founder of the site for and by queer women, Autostraddle) and Russo discuss every episode of the infamous lesbian Showtime series everyone loves to hate— The L Word.
As I cued up the first episode, I was unprepared for how swiftly I was yanked back to the blossoming of my own queer sexuality at 19 years old, over a decade ago.
I first started watching The L Word when I was still living at home. No one recommended it to me. I had no openly queer friends. I had no cable. But I did have a video store within walking distance of my house. I have no idea what moved me to rent the first season on DVD, but I’m lucky I did.
At the beginning of my To L and Back binging, I had very little memory of The L Word’s specific characters, story arcs, episodes, or seasons. I only watched it once. I remember feeling that, lesbians aside, the show wasn’t very good.
But I do remember watching the pilot, watching two women have sex for the first time, and thinking…this is hot! I really like this. I really want this.
It was such a subtle switch for me. I’d gone through my adolescence and early sexual experiences assuming I was straight, because I really didn’t think there was any other option. (Thank you, compulsory heterosexuality) Despite growing up in the Bay Area, I lived in a small island-town attending high school in the early 2000’s. Not long ago, but it could have been eons compared to the growth in LGBTQIA+ cultural visibility that has taken place in the past 20 years. (Never enough) I had no role models, and no community.
sokly543 on Youtube
I had TV. I had a lesbian-softcore-porn-soap-opera. Without which it may have taken me much much longer to begin my conscious queer journey.
Since then, I haven’t thought much about the little show that first raised my pulse and made my blood rush into a host of unexpected crevasses. To L and Back returned me to the inciting incident of my queerness and made me ask myself, why haven’t I been back to visit this beat until now?
The answer is the same as it is for most things I don’t dwell on— pain.
When I came out, I wasn’t rejected by my blood family (although soon after I rejected many of them for a host of reasons). I didn’t lose my friends, or my home, or my job. I didn’t suffer violence. I was vastly more privileged than many of the LGBTQIA+ siblings I’ve never met.
But I harbor a wound that is very real, that has never had the chance to scab over, heal, and become a scar I live with.
I identify as bisexual, and I’m here to attest, bi-erasure is real.
The word ERASE, perfectly captures what most people do to me. They make assumptions, they invalidate, they interrogate, they calculate, and then they decree that I am not real.
In cis-hetero spaces, my interactions with people are pretty predictable. Mostly they don’t know what they don’t know. And sometimes I feel a fire inside to proclaim my queerness as loudly as I can. To stir, to stop, to slap them into or out of whatever bullshit they’re thinking. I bristle when I hear uninformed assumptions about LGBTQIA+ people, and I get my weapons of knowledge ready for battle. Mostly, they don’t engage. Mostly, they don’t even believe I exist. The community I’m fighting for I’m not even gay enough to fight for.
But it’s my erasure within this community that hurts the most.
I’m not here to place blame. It’s not like I’ve worked hard to find a queer community to call home. Or rather, after my first attempt failed, I stopped trying.
I dated a woman in my early 20’s, was welcomed into her group of lesbian friends, and got to have a few iconic gay communal experiences with them. We formed a crew one summer afternoon and went to an A’s baseball game and made out with each other and took up space. We went to the last lesbian bar in San Francisco, The Lex, before it tragically closed in 2015. We went out clubbing in the Castro District on ladies night. I was, for a brief time, part of a clan.
The problem was, I didn’t like this clan. I didn’t even really like my girlfriend. I liked that she was a girl. I liked that we had good sex. I wore her like a badge to say fuck you to all my insecurities. I used her.
But she also used me. I perpetually felt when she brought me on queer escapades with her friends that I was a trophy, an object to be consumed by them.
One evening I was watching a movie with her and her friend. My dog lost his ball under a couch (one of his favorite games) and I bent down, ass up, to retrieve it for him. I felt a slap, and turned around to lightly chastise my girlfriend. But when I sat up, her friend was grinning widely at me. She turned to my girlfriend, winked, and said proudly “Don’t worry dude, I got you.” My girlfriend returned the conspiratorial smile.
Many other little and big moments like this stacked up. Someone in their group started dating a man— they excommunicated her. After a night on ecstasy with my girlfriend, her roommate entered our room and tried to touch my naked body with my girlfriend’s enthusiastic support until my objections, thankfully, were heard. I sat and listened to endless comments from these women about body parts they wanted to fuck, chopping them neatly up into consumable pieces completely disconnected from their human hosts.
I was so confused. I’d been around men all my life who controlled me, objectified me, abused me, and raped me. Who whittled me down to nothing. Weren’t women supposed to be better? In this little world without men, how could misogyny and sexism run so rampant?
Because no one is immune to the pervasive, constant, deep conditioning of our cis-hetero-white supremacist-capitalist-settler colonialist-patriarchal culture. Because women are told they have no sexual autonomy or desires of their own. And when women start owning their desires and expressing them towards other women, what models do we have?
I’d like to say I broke up with my girlfriend for something as lofty as feminism. But I didn’t. I broke up with her as soon as the sex stopped filling the void inside of me.
And after that, I dated a man for 6 years. And I lost a community I’d never really even found. I told myself it was OK. I could hold the torch by myself, for myself.
But I was fucking lonely. This man was cis-gender and heterosexual. For the most part an ally, but still unable to meet me in the kinds of places I needed in order to grow intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. The years I was with him were a constant battle with his family and friends to recognize my queerness. I was a woman, he was a man. Case closed. After a while I grew tired and stopped fighting. I felt myself fade into invisibility.
And then I went back to college. And I majored in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. And all of the amazing queer people I had the honor of sharing spaces with throughout my time in the program still felt out of reach. I didn’t deserve them. I hadn’t suffered enough for my queerness. I didn’t have enough queer romantic experiences under my belt. I was scared of their rejection, so I didn’t get close enough for anyone to reject me in the first place.
But 6 months ago, I found To L and Back. Like most podcasts I listen to, I found friends that I’ll never meet, talking about a show that not only meant and means something to them, but is also inextricably woven through their developments as queer people. I am not alone.
The more I listened to the podcast, the more I wanted to re-watch the show. And I did. It was just as addictive, and offensive, and nonsensical, and inadequate, and PERFECT as it ever had been. My soulful, compassionate, clever, queerific partner began (and finished!) watching with me! My luminous, talented, wise, queerondrous sibling called me and revealed they had just finished their first watch! I was given the priceless and unexpected gift of getting to relive a queer media experience originally rooted in loneliness with my current queer chosen family, 10 years later. It was a fucking gay miracle.
In December 2019, the much anticipated reboot, The L Word: Generation Q premiered, and we all got to lose our fucking minds together. Me, Riese and Carly Usdin of To L and Back, Drew Gregory and Analyssa Lopez of To L and Back: Generation Q, my sibling, and my partner, got to watch and re-watch as episodes of Gen Q released every Sunday for eight weeks and scream and laugh and cry together in a communal queer experience that didn’t leave me wanting.
Like The L Word, my queer journey has been imperfect at best. I’ve often felt like an imposter. But I realize now that I have more than I had before. I cannot hold a torch by myself, for myself. My queer loved ones are precious. They see me, and accept me, and make me real.
Hannah Noël (she/her/hers) is a performer, writer, fan girl, dog mom, and anti-violence activist from the Bay Area, California, currently residing in New York. She believes in the power of stories to change the world.