So...why am I “Joony Schecter”?
(The following is a "Jenny Schecter" promo clip from Showtime--open in new window--sorry i don't know how to embed this yet!)
Those of you out there who know me don’t need an explanation...didn’t that promo clip look like a compilation of my best (ok or worst) moments? ("I don't like that"; "Oh my God, I'm so excited!...Careful of the dress!!")
But those of you who don’t know me: Jenny Schecter is a character in the Showtime soap opera about upper-middle class L.A. lesbians (in a weird programming choice, immediately following last night’s episode, they showed the great 1983 John Sayles film Lianna, about the socio-economic consequences of coming out as a lesbian and refusing the patriarchal wrap that is your husband). And yes, I am obsessed with Jenny Schecter as embodied by the great Mia Kirshner.
Here is a season-by-season summary of the character that viewers love to hate:
-season 1: Aspiring writer Jenny moves to West Hollywood from the Midwest with her big muscled boyfriend and discovers—angstily—that she prefers women.
-season 2: Jenny’s boyfriend moves back to the heartland, Jenny stays behind and becomes part of the dyke community. She reveals all of her childhood trauma, cuts her hair, becomes a cutter.
-season 3: Jenny spends some time in a mental instiution, and comes back to LA with a butch dyke girlfriend, who then decides to transition into becoming a man. (The underlying narrative: Jenny would turn any dyke into a man)
-season 4: Jenny finally writes a book—about her experiences in self-mutilation entitled Some of Her Parts—and works on another book, Lez Girls, a thinly-veiled novel about...the first season of The L Word. The book alienates everyone around her. In the season finale, Jenny is seen floating out to sea by herself, wrapped in a chic long cardigan, in a raft...
-season 5—the current season: Jenny returns, and muscles her way into becoming the director of the film version of Lez Girls. Unbeknownst to her, she is starring in a real-life remake of All About Eve, and she’s playing Bette Davis: a fan becomes her assistant, jockeying for her director job.
Why do I love Jenny Schecter? It’s not because she’s the most “femme” lesbian on the show (with a show with no real butches, that is not a title hard-won). It does, however, have something to do with her hair...as “Jenny” she weirdly resembles the “Jenny” dolls (a Japanese version of Barbie) that I loved as a kid and try to hunt down on e-bay as an adult.
So it does have something to do with her femininity. (And now—don’t I look like Jenny—the doll and Schecter—with my year-old long bangs?) While all the lesbians of The L Word are fairly feminine (even the “butch” newcomer, Rose Rollins, an officer and a gentleman, is not “butch” by any means) Jenny’s femininity, while perhaps co-concocted by the show’s stylists, seems to be operating on a completely different realm of desire and self-expression.
The first clue-display of her weird feminist femininity (f-f) came in the second season, when Jenny shows up at a party wearing...a DOILY.
That is not a metaphor: the dress is literally made up of tiers of white doilies. So crazy is this outfit that a season later, a character even refers to it as a sign of Jenny’s unreliability as a person. What the fudge? I love it that a doily-dress becomes a sign of personal and dykey dis-integrity. Wearing the doily, Jenny is citing a history of traditionally, stationary femininity: both as a creative process (ladies crocheting “useless” doodads) and its final product. Because ultimately, what is a doily for? Edge valentines? To put things on top of. And yet, Jenny’s wearing them on her body displaces their traditional non-function (she wears it as a dykey-coming out, thus as a barrier against men who’d want to get “on top” of her) and appropriates the passivity of its process for a decidedly un-passive dyke femininity. Jenny’s femininity is much like a doily: kinda whiny, her gaze in a perpetual, dreamy glaze, as if she wants to occupy a different timespace; kinda like a doll. But a doll made out of titanium. A few years ago, after seeing the doily episode, I went out to meet my then-boyfriend at a fag bar in SF wearing my approximation of a doily dress: this eyelet-apron over my tee and jeans.
Ooh I wanted to be Jenny!
I think most viewers hate Jenny because her weird tin-doll femininity spins off into two main hate-justifications: 1) she seems like a fakey-kind of dyke; 2) she seems a fakey-kind of human. But I think those are precisely the reasons that Jenny is the best dyke on the show. I suspect that much of this has to do with Mia Kirshner herself.
It might be easy to say that Jenny is “not really” a lesbian: that she’s somehow a “fag in a woman’s body.” But this would be a boring misdiagnosis. With all of her doll-doily femininity, Jenny has emerged, weirdly, as the voice of lesbian separatism, making fun of other dykes’ efforts to become, to use that infamous and heinous phrase of the 90s, “virtually normal”: she bitchily denounces a character’s whining about her childcare responsibilities, puts down an FTM ex for wanting to get a sex change, etc. The truth is, I identify with Jenny because Jenny is more like a straight girl in a lesbian’s body.
In the first season and a half, Jenny is so...earnest. She cries a lot, she’s very angst-ridden. Her wardrobe reflects this: the first season especially is filled with prairie/ boho smocks and, in one particularly sadistic episode, a sweatshirt with kitties on it. (of course, I have one just like it) But beginning with the doily episode, it feels like the costumes for Jenny merge with what I imagine to be Mia Kirshner’s wardrobe. So, lots of goth-doll dresses and leggings, odd trenchcoats, and a Luella carry-all. If you’ve seen Kirshner’s film work—most notably her vampy-entrepreneur-bitch in Party Monster and her torn-stocking’d Betty Short in The Black Dahlia—you know that there is a certain continuity of style that runs through: her acting style—the high, possessed Jenny-voice, the broken-doll movements—all seem totally harmonized with the costumes of each film.
So it is with Jenny; it feels like the writers have caught up with Mia Kirshner rather than Kirshner’s being “disciplined” by the writers. In the last season and the current one especially, Kirshner runs wild with Jenny: she seems to be acting in a totally different show. While her co-stars are busy trying to enact “genuine” emotion (of being rich lesbians in Los Angeles) Kirshner’s Jenny breezes through each scene, chomping on nicotine-gum, limbs akimbo, very much like Bette Davis were Bette Davis cute.
I find it strange (and fun) that the major plot of the show now is itself: in the scenes depicting the filming of Jenny’s movie we’re seeing season 1 enacted by actresses employed by Jenny to play the cast. Not only that, we have Jenny, while she’s directing the film, making fun of precisely the angst-ridden moments that made up the dramatic bulk of the show’s first season. The L Word has become a burlesque of itself! The fact that as the show prepares to wrap itself up (the next season will be its last...sob...) it’s turning into burlesque is to me a sign of Jenny’s co-opting of not only the show’s plot but its aesthetic.
In last night’s episode, Jenny’s Bette Davis plot came to a head as her assistant finally overtook her as the director of her film. But more than that, the episode was an episode about PMS, and more than that, about bleeding. As the women sit around accusing each other of cranky PMS-induced behavior, Jenny pipes up as the doll-feminist: “Ladies, please don’t fight. I can’t stand it when sisters do that.” To which another crabbily retorts, “This is not your film, Jenny, you don’t have to direct.” But this is Jenny’s film. The militancy of Jenny’s female homosocialism combined with her utterly twinkly, het-norm-derived and deformed femininity is the essence of Jenny's doll-feminism.
Later on in the episode, while Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” plays in the background, Jenny and Shane, her roommate/ best friend, and resident lothario, bond over Jenny’s career over the last four years: all the shit/ hardships of her past. Jenny then references her phase as a self-mutilator (massive feminine bleeding) by burlesquing slicing motions on her wrists while making a mock-grimace/ horror face. This is a new kind of dykey femininity: not entrenched or enbalmed in “melancholia” or “abjection” or “shame,” but turning the trauma that causes all those seemingly “queer” feelings into a burlesque that can be integrated into a weird aesthetic of feminine survivalism. I loved watching this scene, remembering myself in high school, when I used to walk around wearing a meat skewer on a string around my neck. (I wanted to wear an icepick as an homage to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct but that seemed a tad too dangerous) I was totally depressed then—and wearing a necklace that could possibly accidentally impale me (or another) at any moment was a symbol of all the bad things in, and I was doing to myself in, my life. But looking back, I feel all warm and fuzzy at my proto-Jenny self: even before I was over it, I was turning my pain-sadness into a doily-dress.