Anyone who watched The L Word for more than five seconds would probably agree that Jenny Schecter (played by Mia Kirshner) was the series’ most undeniably hateable character. The inconsistency in the writing didn’t help. As a viewer, you were constantly left guessing what personality Jenny might have from season to season. She was basically like an overly precious brunette lesbian Barbie doll with a constantly fluctuating relationship to the world—and a different outfit for each new emotional effort.
In Season 1, Jenny was the shy Midwestern “straight” girlfriend to Tim Haspel (Eric Marius). Her life turned upside down after a sordid affair with the ridiculously va-va-va-voom, out of this world, Vitruvian beauty that was Marina Ferrer (Karina Lombard). Though it’s hard to believe that any lesbian cafe owner in the history of “The Planet” (wink) might even vaguely resemble Karina, the idea of Jenny being a Midwestern girl so deep in the closet that she’s not even sure of her own name seemed plausible. I’m from the Midwest, too, so I know all too well how repressive it can make a person. And I, like Jenny, happen to lack a fully developed set of social skills.
Seasons 2 and 3 were still written in the realm of possibility. Jenny had become a young grad student engaged in the work of discovering her voice as a writer. She had an intense, narcissistic bore as a professor/mentor and was having some wild and harrowing forays into the world of sex work—all very much on the pulse of the queer agenda and the general “grad school for creatives” paradigm. I mean, who among us hasn’t semi-intentionally triggered our own childhood trauma as a latent form of navel-gazing? (They basically teach you to do that in most creative writing classes worth their snuff.) Jenny also spent some time in a psychiatric facility while juggling grad school, which is an unfortunate and ever-increasing trend apropos to the times, even 10 years ago. As a sexual assault survivor and a human being experiencing mental illness (Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Type and PTSD) who has been hospitalized before, I found that Jenny’s experience throughout the show—albeit fabricated and inaccurate—was one of the only queer representations of mental illness that I had access to.
Then there were Seasons 4 through 6 where, with little warning, Jenny suddenly became an über manipulative pseudo-intellectual hack with the ego of 10 cis-straight-white-male Wall Street executives. It was as if the small taste of success she received from Lez Girls and Some of Her Parts literally pulled her character apart at the seams and reorganized her entirely into another individual. We were basically made to believe that outside of any realized model of success in end-game capitalism (in a RECESSION), she managed to turn a single article in The New Yorker (PRINT MEDIA!) and a single book deal (for a CREATIVE MEMOIR) into a feature film that went from independent to major studio release in the span of a second. The kicker is that the picture deal was supposed to be based on the article, not the book! And all of this before meme-culture and the concept of internet fame exacerbated the rates of overnight success stories. To put it in perspective, Jenny would have had to be J.K. Rowling to pull this off in our current dimension.
Then there was, of course, her downright diabolically contrived fall from grace, which included getting Fatal Attraction-ed by her weird assistant, who ended up only wanting to direct the movie and not to kill her, as any person with a single brain at their disposal might have thought. But she was actually killed, after all, except not necessarily by anyone, which is so embarrassing and dumb that it’s not even worth unpacking.
There are myriad reasons to despise the concept of Jenny, whose character development was a classic bait and switch. Her character initially appeared as a totally hot (especially boob-wise) and basically lukewarm person—and then seemed to present the faintest possibility of being a chill idea that one could get moderately excited about. Certainly, with all her trials and tribulations, you could at least feel for Jenny. But then she was turned into an annoying girlfriend robot made to curate drama and general confusion.
I understand that what I’m about to articulate next is controversial, especially given all that I’ve written so far in this article. Hold onto your Tevas, lesbians. Jenny is my favorite character on The L Word. She’s an incredible bundle of dysfunction. She also spits gum on her own floor from time to time, which is so weird and so cool.
Jenny has been extremely influential to me and played a pivotal role in helping me to become the person I am today. She, more than any other L Word character led me on a journey of self-discovery and personal acceptance. As a young queer baby person watching her character during Seasons 4 – 6, I began to find self-awareness and to identify my deepest and most labyrinthian personal fears about what it means to be gay. Growing up in rural Ohio, I was always taught that homosexuals are, among many things, the devil’s most devoted tricksters. Gay people can lead one astray from God’s embrace and down seedy back alleys promising pleasure over faith. They are the arbiters of drugs and unnatural types of fornication, not only before marriage but also outside of marriage entirely. They are manipulative. They are deceptive. They are vampiric and soul-sucking. They make self-destructive decisions and hurt the people they love. That’s what I was taught.
When I went to college, I met my first adult lesbian. She was over 40, a public intellectual, and an artist. She was in a life partnership with another lesbian. They had a child together who also seemed eerily like a lesbian. They even had a lesbian dog and, of course, a lesbian cat. (The dog and the cat were just friends.) All my mentor’s human friends were also lesbians who mostly lived in Hadley, Massachusetts (a lesbian town). As I slowly pieced together the cognitive reality of my professor’s out and proud life, I became every bit as titillated and obsessed as Jenny had been with Mariana. In my case, I wanted to become a part of her world—not as a lover but as a member of what seemed to me to be an alternate race of human beings. I had read so tirelessly and secretly about the concept of the “queer chosen family” on old websites on the old internet and older self-help books and books about queerness that talked about places like San Francisco and NYC as “gay enclaves”. Finding my gay tribe was the reason why I moved to New York and went to art school—and there I was, finding it.
What followed the encounter with my first lesbian was a very manic/depressive and intense period of years where all I did was engage in the kind of mood swings, sexual manipulation, and intensely paranoid revenge plots for which Jenny became infamous. In my group of friends, I was the Jenny. And I, eventually, became infamous too. I didn’t float off on a life raft like Jenny and meet a handsome billionaire. But I did go to therapy and start taking antipsychotics. I also joined Love Addicts Anonymous and began traveling the world to pursue my dreams as a musician.
My point is, Jenny may be a complete whack-a-doodle who is inconsistent, intense, and totally unhinged. But in real life, one can’t simply turn the channel on the things about ourselves that we’d rather overlook. We’re all a work in progress. Though Jenny may have tortured at least a million lesbian viewers (and one very old dog), she was a character whose neurosis, though painful to endure, wasn’t without its value as a case for self-awareness and personal recovery. As Gertrude Lawrence, the famed bisexual singer/actress of the 1920s, sang in her song “Jenny” from the album On the Sunny Side of the Street:
Jenny points a moral with which we shouldn’t quarrel / Makes a lot of common sense
And it does. It’s exactly why Jenny got so upset at her editor for Some of Her Parts (played by Eve Ensler) for implying that she had to present a lovely positive story of her trauma in order to create something uplifting for readers. The thing is, Jenny didn’t take her own logic further than the page. No, things don’t have to be positive to be uplifting. In fact, some of the most amazing things in life come from the most abject experiences. Some of us have had totally messed-up things happen to us and have become entangled in those experiences, and we are valid for feeling that way. But fleeing accountability in order to maintain a sense of ownership of trauma is counterintuitive. Because accountability is also validating and doesn’t take anything away from what you experience—nor does it ask you to be perfect or even better from here on out. Being able to accept ourselves for all that we are and to acknowledge the differences in processing that makes our brains unique. That includes saying sorry to the people you might have hurt when you’re sick. Doing that work is taking care of yourself and being fully OK with yourself, OK enough to know and accept that you make mistakes like any other person on earth. For queer people, in particular, acknowledging all of that can be incredibly powerful.
In a way, my younger self identified with Jenny. But as I discover more about myself, I learn to be accountable for my own experiences. I still like Jenny. But I don’t like her because I hate myself anymore. I like her because she’s Jenny f*cking Schecter.