Carmen and Shane Showed Me How Hot It Is to Be Gay
"The L Word" defined a generation of queer women's sexual awakenings, including mine.
Image from The L Word
"You Make Me Wanna" is a column celebrating pop culture-fueled sexual awakenings—from crushing on cartoon characters to humping pillows while watching boyband videos.
I guess I’ll always be searching for her. "Her" is a conflation of two women, and those two women mostly appear in my mind’s eye wearing lingerie while chain-smoking. Shane and Carmen: a relationship that had queer women all over the country ablaze with desire in the mid 2000s.
The L Word was a trailblazing American-Canadian show that ran from 2004 until 2009 (there’s currently a reboot in the works, slated to air on Showtime later this year) that followed the lives of nine queer and lesbian people living in Los Angeles, California. Over six seasons, viewers watched this group of friends living lasciviously, and often hectically, as they fell in and out of love, had affairs, and had babies, all while maintaining close-knit friendships with one another.
In 2004, I was 14 years old and living in the South, surrounded by a conservative family who didn’t know (or maybe just ignored) my late-night television habits. While my family was preoccupied, I watched The L Word on Showtime. Here, I could see my queer fantasies played out on the small screen in the house that I grew up in.
Imagine it: a pitch-black room, the blare of the light from the television, my small hand gripping the power button on the remote control just in case my parents walked into my sexy, private, queer world. I was stuck in North Carolina, where people were closeted and my family was religious. Homophobia was, and still is, rampant there. My society revolved around the concept of southern hospitality, but that hospitality was reserved for straight, white people. I was terrified of how my religious, anti-LGBTQ household would react should they discover me watching Carmen and Shane in action.
Watch: The History of the Vibrator
As a young person living in that environment, The L Word was groundbreaking. It depicted biracial and LGBTQ couples and tackled complicated issues like class representation, and mental health. The L Word did a lot of things wrong as well. The world has changed since the show ended in 2009, and our understandings of gender and sexuality have evolved.
Leaving that aside, The L Word defined my adolescent sexual awakening. Most young girls have a Leonardo DiCaprio, an Usher, or a Bieber. I had Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig) and Carmen de la Pica Morales (Sarah Shahi). Shane is a wild, free spirit who stays up late, parties frequently, and struggles with monogamy. She’s androgynous, cool, and collected. Shane is the girl we hope we never fall in love with, because she’s a seductive philanderer, but we do anyway. Then there’s Carmen: a hyper-feminine, charismatic Mexican-American beauty. Although she wasn’t initially meant to be a recurring character, audiences liked her so much that the producers wrote her into the show. You can’t not adore Carmen, who dances, DJs, and makes Shane fall in love with her. Carmen pursues Shane after a one-time hookup, and the two play games for a few episodes before Shane finally tells Carmen she loves her.
Their love affair lasts from seasons two to three, and we watch them argue, mutually cheat on each other, have sex, and eventually get engaged. After Shane finds her biological father and becomes involved in his life, she catches him cheating on his wife. Believing that she's ultimately doomed to repeat this same behavior, Shane leaves Carmen heartbroken at the altar because she is unable to commit, and they eventually part ways for good. For years, I was desperately sad over how their love affair ended—in addition to feeling jealous of their equally excellent hair.
A particular scene is still burned into my mind: In "Lost Weekend," an episode in season three, Carmen—who is not open about her sexuality with her family and friends—has just introduced Shane to her family, who loved her. Shane wears a white tank top and is smoking a cigarette. Shane looks so cool, leaning on the countertop with a relaxed posture and disheveled hair. "I love them, too," Shane tells Carmen, kissing her shoulder. Seeing such intimacy as a 15-year-old girl from a conservative, small town was both uplifting and a huge turn-on.
The scene turns sexual. Carmen presses her back into Shane as Shane asks, "I wonder how much they [Carmen's family] would love me if they knew I was fucking their daughter?" I wanted someone to look at me the way Shane looked at Carmen, with ferocity and lust. With ease and precision, Carmen leans backwards to grab a remote and flips on a D'Angelo tune.
Carmen’s fluid and slow hip swivels begin and she lifts up her dress to reveal a garter belt to Shane, who's leaning against a table in her underwear blowing cigarette smoke. Shane smoothly unzips Carmen’s dress.
You would think this scene ends with fucking, but alas, it does not—Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner), an unpopular and narcissistic character, calls and interrupts their love-making. Regardless, it’s still Carmen and Shane’s sexiest scene. I want to jump into the screen and nestle between them both, giggling and licking and moaning along.
Later, I got older and moved to Chicago, where I felt able to explore my bisexuality and create my own queer utopia, away from stereotypes and bigotry. The L Word played a huge part in my move. Witnessing women kiss on television, in front of my baby queer eyes was radical for me in terms of re-interpreting my sexuality. A kiss—something so simple—gave me a sort of frenzy for the future. With my nose practically smashed up against the TV and volume low, my sexual awakening happened on television at 10PM in plaid pajamas. I was hot, horny, and hella gay. At 28, re-watching the scene, I still don’t know who I’m imagining myself as in the situation: Carmen, or Shane. But I do know that tank tops and garter belts are still the fastest way to my heart.