“The L Word,” even since its original inception, has never shied away from the darkness, the deepness, the weirdness (i.e.: Jenny‘s manatees, Jenny‘s circus fever dreams, Jenny‘s paper puppets, Jenny‘s dog murder…), social issues, grief, sex, drugs, lust, heartbreak — literally everything. These stories were imperfectly and artfully weaved, unapologetic and unforced. When I first laid eyes on Bette, Shane, Alice, and the rest of the fabulous gang, it was the first time that I saw exactly who I wanted to be portrayed on screen: wealthy, hot, lit, beautiful, and gay gay gay gay. Though conversations about representation weren’t on my horny 13-year-old radar, I somehow intrinsically knew that what was unfolding on the TV screen in front of my lit-up eyes was more than just a show. Not only did “The L Word” put steamy, nuanced, iconic lesbian drama at the forefront, it also featured a disabled character, deaf artist, Jodi Lerner. If representation wasn’t on my Juicy Fruit and Abercrombie-encrusted mind, then intersectionality certainly wasn’t, but somehow, especially being disabled myself, I knew that what I was witnessing was…radical.
I re-watched “The L Word” again and again throughout high school, and then again in college. Junior year, I completed an independent study on disability where I wrote a thesis paper on disability and fetish. Having been born missing my left arm, and also having been born utterly obsessed with being hot, I was desperate to explore any topics I could find on disabled sexuality. I knew of Jillian Mercado through the downtown club party circuit, and was delighted when she agreed to an interview for my thesis. The glittery, gorgeous beauty I’d seen at parties and on billboards candidly opened up to me about disability and was by far the most interesting part of my research process. My thesis ended up being pretty shitty in hindsight, but what I sought to grasp remains in my work and heart and mission: disabled people can be sexy. Luckily, Jillian and I kept in touch as her fame and my media career grew, and I’ve had the privilege of speaking with her about many different topics throughout different periods of her journey.
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Our most recent intersection has been in lesbian media land (or as Alice Pieszecki would say, lesboland). In “The L Word: Generation Q,” Jillian Mercado plays Maribel Suarez, an immigration attorney and the little sister of Rosanny Zayas’ character Sophie. In Season 2, sexual tension has been building between Maribel and Micah and in episode 5, we finally get to see them kiss, and … more. Purr. While watching “The L Word: Generation Q” 205, I nearly spit out my trashy wine spritzer when it came to Mirabel’s sex scene. First, I screamed “YAAASSS!!!!” Second, I watched and enjoyed. Last, I burst out sobbing. It was the first time that I had ever seen a visibly disabled person getting down and dirty on TV in a hot AF sex scene. Think about it. Have you ever seen that? Have you even ever considered it? My 13-year-old brain was onto something when I was feeling words I couldn’t yet articulate when watching the first iteration of “The L Word.” Now, in “Generation Q,” representation and intersectionality take center stage without being annoying or forced. In fact, they are just plain sexy. Mirabel’s sex scene put disability front and center — but not for the reasons we normally see, like inspiration or death.
Last week, Jillian and I chatted about why her character Mirabel, and that scene in particular, are so significant in “The L Word” universe and the television world at large.
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GO Magazine: The original “L Word” did feature a disabled character but “Gen Q” episode 205 — to my knowledge — was the first queer sex scene with a character with a visible disability. How did it feel to be a part of that scene? What were the conversations like with Marja Lewis Ryan and Leo Sheng when creating the scene?
Jillian Mercado: Um, yes, yes, yes, yes. The last time we talked, I said how important it is for me to be authentic and have representation, especially because we have a history of lacking that. Marja came to me with this idea when we wrapped the first season, so I’ve had this secret for a whole year. I kid you not, it was probably like, three seconds when she told me that I said, YES! She was like, “everyone has had an intimate scene on “The L Word” and why doesn’t Mirabel have some kind of relationship?” And I’m like, “Oh, my god, yes, yes, yes!” I had to calm myself down because I’m such a fan of the show — I know I’m in the show, but I’m such a fan I sometimes forget.
When I sat down by myself in my apartment and thought about what I just said yes to, I got really emotional, because when I was younger, television, magazines, or any sort of media is where you get a preview of what could be. I never saw someone who looked exactly like me in an intimate scene, having a relationship where it was not, like, the person who has a disability was dying. There was usually only a storyline of love because there was an end result, which was death. It was never just like, this person fell in love. It sounds so simple and basic to say it but that’s how low the bar is for people who have physical disabilities and having a relationship on screen. I actually searched “disabled sex scene” on Google and the only thing that showed up was amateur porn. I mean, yeah, porn, I’m all for it, like, yes, yes, yes. But the fact that there isn’t anything that I can go to that I can see myself in, in media, it really made me mad and sad at the same time, and I knew that this was such an opportunity. And I had to do it right by not only myself, but for younger me, and so many people that also have never seen this representation on television. So that conversation, I brought it to Marja, and I had hours and hours-long talks with Leo, to sit, to tell them how important this was and how I wanted it to be not only super relatable, but also really hot, because that’s what “The L Word” knows how to do best, is really steamy sex. And I wanted to be in that same category with everybody else.
GO: I love it. It was super, super sexy. I was literally screaming at the TV, my fiancé ran in and was like, is someone on fire? And I was like, oh I’m just watching “The L Word.”
JM: The TV is on fire!
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GO: It was so radical. And I mean that in the most genuine sense of the word — not even like political correctness — just radical to see someone I’ve looked up to — I literally interviewed you for my college thesis when I was a dumb 18-year-old… And it was not in the context of anything other than a just a disabled person having sex. It’s just, it was really incredible to see you. So thank you so much for giving us an insider view of how that went down.
JM: For me, it was all about humanizing that experience for people like myself. Because I think, as you know, it’s so taboo, even today — and I understand why you say radical, because it is very radical to put ourselves on the line, to touch on something that nobody has really put their foot down to do, even though they’ve had the power and opportunity to do so. There’s so many people who are fearful of that reality, whether they have a disability or not. It’s such a fear to see that kind of vulnerability because we’re already, you know, I already live my life in a very vulnerable position … to put myself in even further it’s, like, out of this world. Also, this was not any other TV show where I was the only one having a sex scene. Every episode, someone is having sex. So it just made me feel more comfortable that they’re not, you’re not being tokenized — you’re just being humanized. And I think the most important way to humanize people is to let them know that someone like myself can have a relationship that is messy. All relationships are messy. There’s also a moment where there’s a lot of love, and there’s a lot of intimacy and compassion. You know, no matter what, no matter what you look like, no matter your religion, your background, whatever, when there’s a connection with that person, it’s so genuine and so beautiful to see on the screen.
GO: When I interviewed Marja before the show came out, she was saying what a pleasure you were to work with and that when you were filming scenes, you would be like ‘okay, but do I look hot?’ Sometimes a disabled person just wants to look hot. What does it mean to put the spotlight on disabled sexuality rather than disabled inspiration?
JM: I love that she remembered that. Because literally every opportunity, I could say I’m like, “Yeah, I get what you’re trying to tell me and direction, but … do I look hot?” That’s really important because I want people to just be in that moment with me and forget about everything. And then when it’s over being like, “oh my gosh, she has a disability. Right.” So to answer your question, I think that we’re so used to the word inspiration, and I roll my eyes because I’m so done with it. I want to inspire in a way where I make people want to be better people. I want the kind of inspiration where somebody sees my work and says, “You know what? That’s really cool. And I think that I would like to contribute to that coolness.” It’s so important for the community to feel like they’re a part of this planet and this society. We do fall in love, and we do have basic things that everyone else goes through. And so that’s why it was really important to have those conversations with Marja and Leo. The openness that they gave me was so rare in the industry. I hope that this is a guidebook for other people in positions of being directors and showrunners to show that it’s not that hard. It just brings a whole other level of storytelling.
GO: How has your relationship to the cast and the show changed since the first season?
JM: Oh my god. We’re stuck at the hip. I’m honestly really good friends with everybody on the show. I’m so lucky. Rosanny is coming over in three hours. Even with the OGs, Jennifer and Leisha and Kate always check up on us. I love Kate so much — she’s like my homegirl. Her and her wife are the most amazing people on this planet. I’ve had so many great conversations with Jennifer about her lived experience in the industry and how it could be difficult sometimes but when you know your worth, and you put your head up high, you can make it. We have so many strong people on the show, behind the scenes and in front of the scenes, so it just makes working feel like it’s not even working. It’s just like playing. The guest stars this season — Rosie O’Donnell and Lena Waithe — like what? It’s amazing.
GO: Can we expect to see Mirabel and Micah together again?
JM: As fans of “The L Word,” we already know that there is no telling how things start and things end. They’re really good at keeping us in suspense. I can’t give spoilers [about Micah and Mirabel’s relationship] but it’s one that’s similar to my personal life. So people can get a hint of my life. I think that a lot of people relate to what the storyline of Micah and Maribel go through, and their ups and downs. It’s a very authentic and relatable relationship. And if anything, if I can say anything, I’m Dominican, Maribel is Dominican. So you know, there’s going to be some spice.
GO: What is your favorite part about Mirabel’s character? What part of her are you most excited to further explore?
JM: It’s funny because her character and I are very similar. My favorite part of her is that she just tells it as it is. She’s literally just like, “I really don’t care. Not that I don’t care what you think, but I’m going to tell you how it is because I love you.” Whether it’s her sister, or Micah, or even Finley. I need to do more of that. She’s an immigration attorney and I want the world to see that side of her a little bit more. I imagine her to be the most kick-ass attorney there is in Los Angeles. I always go back to representation, to tell the world we could be attorneys, we can have kick ass careers as well. I think that growing up, a lot of people were honestly, and sadly still, are shocked that I graduated college. I think that a lot of misconceptions are that people who have disabilities are not intelligent, which is really disheartening. I would love for the world to see Maribel’s work life.
GO: I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with GO again. I’m always in awe of you.
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