The L Word: Generation Q finale delivered a wedding that will go down in television history as a rare WLW happily ever after. There’s just one problem: it shouldn’t.
I’m sorry to say iconic couple, Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman) and Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals) – introduced in the original L Word – is not good together. For some reason, fans agree on Shane and Jenny being problematic, but so many fans conversely place Tibette (the Tina-Bette ship name) on a pedestal, and Tibette is unequivocally as bad or worse. Tibette is immensely toxic and it’s time the queer community unanimously recognizes that and reassesses what we want in representation.
Tibette’s toxicity shows immediately. Their first scene involves fighting, and it’s all red flags from there. Every Tibette interaction is laced with vitriol and disfunction. Bette condescends Tina and takes out stress on her. Tina makes major decisions alone – e.g., inseminating a second time, hiding the pregnancy. Babies become a relationship pawn – e.g., Bette copes with her cheating guilt by ramping up baby interest. Moreover, with cheating and lies, Tibette callously hurts several people along its journey – e.g., Candace, Helena, Henry, Jodi, Pippa – and slow-walks into every cheating instance – Bette hires Candace despite feeling attraction, Tina seduces Bette while she’s with Jodi.
Then there’s individual issues. Bette wants someone submissive and meek – like Tina was initially – but doesn’t respect that person, so mistreats them. She respects alphas, so she looks healthier with Jodi and Pippa (she showed truest love to Pippa!), but Bette can’t play equal for long. She is bored by basic, annoyed by challenge. Meanwhile, Tina enjoys playing victim and craves drama – she’s bored in comfort. You can see that in how she leaves every relationship when it gets settled (Helena, Henry, Bette, Carrie), and how she says she loves Bette’s intensity but is actually often bothered by it when it emerges. The list of toxic behavior goes on, and if all that doesn’t prove Tibette’s toxicity, consider that they broke up three times. How is that not a sign of incompatibility? History does not equal destiny, and yes, relationships are work, but they shouldn’t be that hard.
More than the visible bad, there’s also little visible good. I estimate about five scenes ever of Tibette tenderness/laughter. So, why do people think they’re heartwarming, rather than textbook-level toxic? Well, in criticizing beloved straight fictional couples for toxicity – e.g., Sex and the City’s Carrie and Big, Twilight’s Bella and Edward – psychologists say viewers mistake intensity for intimacy. That tracks with Tibette love, but the queer community has a unique additional reason for mischaracterization: “Representation Goggles.”
We’re so desperate for queer women love on screen, we can be blind to problems, accepting anything we get unflinchingly. After all, Tibette was many queer women’s first self-reflective TV couple. I appreciate the beauty of Tibette for that. But we can be happy Tibette existed as representation without commending the relationship. This goes for other worshipped toxic queer couples, too – e.g., Grey’s Anatomy’s Arizona and Callie. Our idolization bar should be higher – and in fact, there are worthier couples to alternatively channel our adoration into.
L word’s Tasha and Alice, for example. They were far healthier than Tibette’s ever been. Their fights were never as venomous. They laughed together constantly, even while fighting. They tried therapy as soon as problems arose, and discussed issues intently and calmly. Wynonna Earp’s Nicole and Waverly fought and had a cheating incident but got past everything tenderly and never wielded past indiscretions like weapons. I’ve heard Stef Foster and Lena Adams in The Fosters were consistently loving, even through strife. These are the kinds of couples we can all root for. But we don’t have to root for every queer couple.
Depictions of toxic relationships have real-life harmful impacts, according to psychologists, so we should denounce them and demand healthy representation. Let the Tibette wedding be the end of an L Word era and of our toxicity-ignoring era. Let’s finally remove our Representation Goggles, set higher bars for couples who reach happy ever after, and be willing to acknowledge when one pairing, like Tibette, would really be, unhappily ever after. We must divorce toxicity from representation, now and always.