Earlier this month, Tara Belmont posted an ad on the queer dating app Lex: “Give me an original Bette Porter type of Dyke.” Belmont, an art director—just like The L Word character to which her ad refers—tells ELLE.com she identifies with Bette on many levels, even though this declaration can be polarizing.
Bette (Jennifer Beals), is the definition of a “power lesbian.” In The L Word, she had a high-powered career in the arts, and in the new Generation Q reboot, she’s running for mayor of Los Angeles. She’s open about her opposition to big pharma and her mission to fix opioid addiction in Los Angeles after her sister, Kit (Pam Grier), died of a heroin overdose. As we’ve seen in the first seven episodes of Gen Q, she’s still in love with her ex-wife and daughter’s mother, Tina Kennard (Laurel Holloman), but she’s also wrapped up in a controversial affair she took part in during her campaign. Bette has a tendency to lead with her heart even when her head says no, but her faults have a positive flip side: She’s loyal and a fierce protector. She never backs down from what she believes. When it looks like her ex-girlfriend’s angry husband is about to take a swing at her daughter, she lays him out flat until he sees every star in the cis-man galaxy.
Even Bette knows she’s a bit of an asshole, but many L Word fans—this writer included—wear their identification with her as a badge of honor. “I knew I always wanted to be an artist and Bette stood there telling me I could be a boss bitch, gay, and create a world of wealth and comfort within the arts as my career,” Belmont says. “If being a Bette is a bad thing, then I’m prepared to be hated.”
Riese Bernard, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com and co-host of the “To L and Back” podcast says she doesn’t think of Bette as a polarizing character. Though Bernard and her co-hosts are critical of Bette and her often-questionable choices, there’s no denying she’s a force. “Bette Porter is an icon who represents a very unapologetic and powerful type of person who isn’t ashamed of her sexuality or her feelings or her ambition,” Bernard tells ELLE.com. “Before The L Word, I’d never seen anybody like Shane or Bette, who saw their prowess with women to be a source of strength and confidence rather than evidence of shame or an inability to ‘get a man.’”
Jennifer Beals, who reprises her role in The L Word: Generation Q, talked to ELLE.com about the character she’s played since 2004, the power of the pantsuit, and her personal take on Bette’s zodiac makeup.
Saying that you identify with Bette can be a polarizing thing. People love her, they want to be her, and they want to be with her—or they’re intimidated by her. Why do you think people have such differing opinions about her?
The polarity is so acute. She’s a wonderful leader in many ways; she’s a great crusader in many ways. She is both a very loving partner and maybe not the partner that you want. And by the way, she hasn’t completely learned from her mistakes when we find her [in this new series]…It’s like that friend who keeps making the same mistakes and dating the wrong person or doing that thing they know they shouldn’t do. Hopefully the people who love them are going to love them through it and support them through to [that friend’s] change.
What was so attractive about revisiting this character after a decade?
Kate [Moennig], Leisha [Hailey], and I are EPs on the new series, because we were all very active in getting the new show back. We wanted to work together again and have that time and revisit the characters but also, we were aware that online, people were still engaged by The L Word. There were these new conversations about this new generation that refuses to let anybody define them. They are adamant about defining themselves and their sexual orientation. It might not look like their mother’s generation—as progressive as that might have been [then]. And we thought how fascinating it would have been to take those original stories of The L Word, that original gestalt of The L Word, with these new stories and these new energies.
Which new Generation Q character is the most Bette-like?
I share probably the most in common with Dani [played by Arienne Mandi]. At the end of the pilot when she looks at her, she looks like she’s looking at part of herself. There’s a mirror being put in front of her.
What I love most about the new series is seeing how the original characters have grown over the past 10 years. In what ways has Bette grown?
Having a child has made her practice more patience. [She’s trying] to balance giving her daughter independence and putting down boundaries and doing that without being controlling, as we know Bette can be.
I love the scene when Angie gets in trouble and Bette comes to the school and says “You’re going to have to go through the world differently.” I assume she tells her that because she’s a woman of color.
Oh, I loved it. That’s a Regina Hicks [written] episode. I was really excited to have that conversation with [Angie]. Bette understands that, and as someone who is light-skinned, she dodged that bullet. She’s had to experience it sometimes, but she would not have had to experience it in the same way that Angie has to experience it.
How does Bette inform your other characters?
She carries such authority. Once I was able to expand into that authority, [that was] the beginning of a series of roles playing women who inhabited that space. Whether it’s the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department in The Chicago Code or Margo Taft in The Last Tycoon. It allows me to occupy a different kind of space.
That’s why people love Bette, because she just takes such an authoritative lease on life.
We all want to feel that! There are moments in my life where I’m like, ‘Where is Ilene [Chaiken, the series creator] with my witty Bette comeback?” I know what it feels like to do it, but I don’t have the language on the tip of my tongue. One of my favorite scenes [in the original series], actually, is when I’m so upset with what’s going on with Tina that I get in a car accident, and I push the guy against the car in just pure Bette rage. It doesn’t have anything to do with him; it has to do with the thing that’s come before, which is why it’s a satisfying scene.
Outside of Tina, what was your favorite friendship or relationship for Bette?
Oh, I loved Peggy Peabody so much. To me, working with Holland Taylor was like going to a master class, and she created such an amazing character. I had pitched that she be one of my main donors for the [mayoral] campaign.
What other romantic partner did you like for Bette?
Well, the fact is, there’s only Tina. I loved working with Marlee Matlin, and I think that Bette learns so much from Jodi. But the fact is, the love of her life is Tina, and she’s just too foolish to figure out how to handle that.
What was something Bette’s done where you just want to go, “Why did you do that?”
Everything would have been OK if there had been no Candace. Sometimes a carpenter is not just a carpenter.
I think my moment is while she drives away with her baby in the car while Joni Mitchell is playing.
It’s so funny. I was talking to Jordan Hull, who plays Angie in this second series. I was like, “Are you aware that at one point I drove away with you? I guess maybe legally kidnapped you?” She started laughing and said, “Yes, I’m aware of that.”
When my friend and I were watching this for the first time together, she texted me and said, “What? She takes her baby? And this Joni song is playing?
[Laughs] What would you have preferred had been playing?
I think that was perfect; I just think it was a lot of emotion.
Yeah. Sometimes you do desperate things in life.
What is something that Bette’s done that’s made you proud of her?
When she testifies to Congress. I think whenever she stands up for her principles—that’s one of her better characteristics for sure.
Astrology is a very big deal in the queer community. I know a lot of Fire signs really identify with Bette. What do you think her sign is, if you could guess?
I’m sure there’s some Scorpio in that chart, without a doubt. Some Leo. Maybe Aquarian a little bit. I don’t know if it’s the dominant sign, but it’s definitely…because she’s an iconoclast.
What is it about that power suit that’s just so right for Bette? It’s like, “That is Bette Porter.”
It transforms the thing that is traditionally masculine and turns it on its head and makes it a feminine symbol, feminine masculinity. It’s almost like having a female warrior, like when you see those images of Joan of Arc. You take a masculine signifier and you match it with the power and what we know is true feminine energy—it’s potentially quite fierce—and you have both things at once. Any time the alchemist can bring the yin and the yang together, I think it’s a very powerful combination. I guess when you sit in meditation, when you go deep into yin, it’s not what is so often characterized as being flaccid or weak or passive. It’s not that at all. It’s the power of absolute darkness…You make me want to write an essay about it right now.
When I go to Dyke March every year, I see “I Killed Jenny Schecter” shirts, and I’ve seen at least one “Bette killed Jenny” shirt. What do you think about the theories that Bette had a hand in it?
Oh, I think that’s hilarious and obviously untrue. There’s no way. It’s not possible—she would never, ever kill anybody. I mean, somebody would have to literally have a gun to her child’s head…that’s where we are with that. I mean, never say never, but it’s not gonna be over that.