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Lesbians get real on TV’s ‘Real L Word’

The show is a spin-off of the groundbreaking 2004-2009 Showtime drama "The L Word" that portrayed the love lives of a group of lesbians in an explicit manner never before seen on U.S. television.
/ Source: Reuters

Jill is a "nice Jewish girl" who is planning her wedding. Rose is a long-haired Latina who has a problem with commitment, and tattooed Mikey is a domineering fashion show producer with a heart of gold.

They also are lesbians and are among the stars of the first lesbian-themed TV reality show on a mainstream U.S. cable channel.

Making its highly-anticipated debut on Sunday, "The Real L Word" is a spin-off of the groundbreaking 2004-2009 Showtime drama series "The L Word" that portrayed the love lives of a group of lesbians in an explicit manner never before seen on U.S. television.

But that was fiction — albeit rooted in the experiences of "L Word" creator Ilene Chaikin — and the six Los Angeles women featured in the new show, also on Showtime, are real.

"One of the things I was asked constantly (about 'The L Word') was 'is that true? Are there really lesbians like that?'," Chaikin told Reuters.

"To some extent this show answers that question in the affirmative...Just like all women, lesbians come in many different packages and these women may tell you something that you wouldn't have thought before about who a lesbian is."

Promoted as a show sizzling with sex and lovely ladies, "The Real L Word" arrives at a time when lesbians have been making headlines but are still more under-represented in U.S. pop culture even than gay men.

In the past two months, country singer Chely Wright and Christian singer Jennifer Knapp came out after years of hiding their sexuality in careers seen as hostile to gay culture.

A U.S. study in June found that being raised by two mothers does not hinder the healthy psychological development of kids.

This July, "The Kids Are All Right" — a comedy movie starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple — hits theaters as one of the most widely-anticipated U.S. independent films of the summer film season.

Still strugglingYet five years after the love story of gay cowboys won three Oscars for "Brokeback Mountain", there were just four lesbian characters on U.S. network TV shows this season, none of which were leads, according to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"I had hoped and maybe expected that we would be a little bit more present in the pop culture than we are right now. But I am confident that it is changing," Chaikin said, noting that most minorities are under-represented in Hollywood.

However Chaiken says she has always been more interested in storytelling than using her shows to promote sexual politics.

"I set out to tell stories, not to change stereotypes. But if one effect is to challenge stereotypes, that is a lovely thing," she said.

As for the sex in "The Real L Word" — and there is plenty — Chaikin noted that sexual preference is part of what differentiates lesbians.

"It's not 'I am going to be sexy and explicit and push the envelope'", she said. "It's 'I'm in a world telling stories and for a network that allows me to go places...and that makes the stories that much richer."

She said producers worked hard to weed out mere attention seekers in the casting process. "It was truly challenging to find six aspirational women who were comfortable enough in front of the cameras to share their lives with us, but who weren't simply looking to promote themselves in a vulgar way."

Veteran Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, who guided Chely Wright during her coming out in May, said anticipation was high in the wider gay community for "The Real L Word" and for the future portrayal of gay characters.

"I hope we can have interesting gay and lesbian and transgender characters without them being stereotypes. We watch too many gay pride parades, and we think it's either gay guys in gold lame' thongs, or dykes on bikes.

"So I hope this show will send the message that we are a lot more diverse than that. People are going to start to realize that we have the same problems and challenges as anyone else — money, family and in-laws," he said.