Everything The L Word: Generation Q Got Wrong About Polyamory

I just finished my rewatch of The L Word: Generation Q. This follow-up from the hit series from the early-mid 2000s catches up with fan faves Bette (Jennifer Beals), Alice (Leisha Hailey), and Shane (Katherine Moennig) 10 years later as well as bringing in a host of new gay, queer and trans characters.

From here on out there will be spoilers for all three seasons of the series, so stop reading now if you want to avoid those!

It’s safe to say that, in many ways, Generation Q tries to fix some of the things that The L Word got wrong. Notably, there is significantly improved representation of Alice’s bisexuality (and bisexuality in general), much better trans representation (Shane’s apology to Max for “the way we were back then” reads to me as an apology from the producers to the entire trans community), and the addition of non-binary characters as well as butch women characters.

One thing it still manages to get horrendously wrong, though, is its representation of consensual non-monogamy and polyamory. The most notable polyamory storyline features Alice, her girlfriend of two years Nat, and Nat’s ex-wife Gigi, but I also have things to say about Shane and non-monogamy.

Back in 2018, I wrote about all the things You Me Her got wrong about polyamory (spoiler: a lot.) Let’s give The L Word: Generation Q the same treatment, shall we?

Most polyamory isn’t triads…

This is the eternal problem of polyamory in fiction: most writers seem to think that the default configuration for polyamory is a triad (or, to use a cringeworthily terrible word I wish would die already, “throuple.”) That is, three people in a relationship all together. In the vast majority of cases, this is the only representation we get.

The reality is that triads are fairly rare. Stable, healthy, functional triads are even rarer. It’s a really difficult dynamic to both find and sustain, with a very high failure rate, and is just not representative of how most people do polyamory.

The only slight saving grace here is that it’s three women rather than the “one man, two women” configuration we usually see.

…and even when it is, they don’t typically start from drunk threesomes…

I wouldn’t have had a problem with the threesome story if it had been handled differently. The show could have done something interesting with Alice, Nat and Gigi having the threesome and then having to deal with the resulting awkwardness and emotional fallout. Things happen, particularly when unresolved feelings and a lot of tequila are involved. And frankly it’s a fucking hot scene.

But for an alcohol-fuelled spontaneous threesome to transition to a full-on triad in the space of, seemingly, about two days is flat-out ridiculous.

…and even when they do, they don’t typically involve two ex-wives

Look, I understand that the point of this storyline was to show that Nat and Gigi aren’t over each other and that Nat genuinely loves Alice while also genuinely loving Gigi. But the bungled triad storyline was the worst possible way to do it. Anyone with a modicum of polyamory experience would have been screaming watching this.

Poor Alice never stood a chance in this situation. Pro tip: if you’re going to try polyamory, a triad is hard mode. If you’re going to try a triad anyway, doing it with your (or your partner’s) ex is the worst possible way to go about it.

Why does Nat give Alice false hope with a promise of monogamy?

After the triad falls apart, Nat turns up at Alice’s show recording to win her back and promises that she wants to love and be with “just her.” But they’ve barely reconciled when she’s coming out as polyamorous, and has apparently been thinking she might be polyam for a long time.

So why, then, did she make a promise she knew she might not be able to keep? This just seems exceptionally and needlessly cruel to Alice.

Does Alice have to be so judgy?

Alice has been subjected to a fair amount of bigotry and prejudice on the show, not least a lot of biphobia (including from her friends.) She’s also a fan favourite, and perhaps the character I personally relate to the most. So it was really, really disappointing to see this exchange:

Nat: “Monogamy isn’t for everyone.”
Alice: “It’s for most people. Except the bad ones.”

I can accept that Alice can’t handle polyamory in her own relationship. That’s fair – like monogamy, it’s not for everyone. But it makes me really sad to see her being so harsh and judgemental about it. When Nat goes and cries in the bathroom after this exchange, my heart broke for her.

When did Nat and Alice discuss… literally anything?

In a pretty tender and emotional scene, Nat comes out as polyamorous to a horrified Alice. Next thing we know, she’s coming back from her first overnight sex date. I hate that the show totally skipped over everything that comes in between these two points – the hours of talking, negotiating, processing, discussing agreements and boundaries and more.

Obviously we couldn’t see all of this, because the show only has so much time. But one or two scenes is, surely, not too much to ask for. Instead, it gives the impression that the opening up journey is a quick hop, skip and jump from “I think I’m polyamorous” to “overnight dates.”

How the fuck has Shane never heard of ENM?

After Shane inevitably cheats on her girlfriend Tess (played by the gorgeous and fabulous Jamie Clayton of Sense8 fame) and they’re trying to work things out, Tess asks Shane if she wants to do ethical non-monogamy (ENM.) Shane, the player and womanizer extraordinaire who also lives in a huge liberal city and has been part of the LGBTQ community for decades, has apparently… never heard of this concept.

It’s even implied at one point that Shane and her ex-wife Quiara had some kind of non-monogamous relationship when Quiara says something like “you and I have never done things the conventional way.” Yet later on, Shane’s somehow never even considered this possibility. It makes absolutely no sense.

And one thing the show got right: the heartbreak of incompatibility

I hate how it got there, but I actually think having Alice and Nat break up over their incompatible views on monogamy was a good and powerful storyline. Because in those situations, where one of you wants monogamy and the other doesn’t, breaking up is often inevitable and usually the best choice (even though it utterly sucks.)

Credit where credit is due, this was a far better choice than either Alice reluctantly going along with polyamory or Nat reluctantly going along with monogamy.

But seriously, when are we going to get better polyamorous representation on TV? When are writers and producers going to start actually, you know, talking to polyamorous people?

Is there anything that The L Word: Generation Q got wrong about polyamory that I’ve missed? Anything you think it got right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.