'The L Word' Exec Producer Ilene Chaiken Talks Lesbian Icons, Motherhood
The mother of 15-year-old twin girls, Chaiken, 57, lives in Los Angeles. She is no longer with the twins' other mother and is currently engaged to LouAnne Brickhouse.
Chaiken recently spoke to ParentDish about the lesbian community, raising her kids and whether Peppermint Patty was a lesbian.
ParentDish: When you were growing up there were no gay women who were out.
Ilene Chaiken: Lesbians didn't really exist. They couldn't have been more invisible.
PD: I always thought Doris Day in "Calamity Jane" may have been.
IC: (Laughs.) It didn't even cross my mind. I knew I had crushes and little moments that tweaked my unidentified gaydar, but I knew nothing consciously.
PD: Kate Jackson is a big lesbian icon.
IC: A huge icon. In fact, we did a send-up of "Charlie's Angels" on "The L Word." Kate Jackson was, by some definitions, kind of butch.
PD: Who else were gay icons?
IC: Kristy McNichol, Jodie Foster always.
PD: Has Jodie Foster ever officially come out?
IC: I don't know. I know I've read things in the last several years that vaguely seem to acknowledge her relationships, such as they are, but I don't know if she's ever officially come out.
PD: What's your take on celebrities coming out?
IC: I think that it always makes a huge difference when people come out, especially people who are role models. I think that's a good thing and it's always positive, and I also think it's an entirely personal decision and I leave it to everyone to make for him or herself.
PD: You have kids.
IC: I have 15-year-old twin girls. I'm remarkably lucky because I have amazing kids. Without going into too much detail, they're great kids, sweet and bright and very teenage. I haven't had to deal with that awful thing that so many of my friends go through with their teenage daughters. My daughters don't seem to hate their mothers and they're not vile to us.
We are also helped in that because they are in boarding school in England. Their other mother is English and grew up in boarding school and it's very much a part of her life and whole ethos. My girls chose it, they felt like it sounded like a cool thing to do and it's proving to be a great thing. And I think when your kids are away at boarding school they kind of love the time with you more.
PD: What do you say to critics who say gay people shouldn't raise children?
IC: It's nonsense. What is there to say? It's so clearly nonsense. We are all living our lives. Our lives are widely diverse, in no way monolithic. Who are we to judge, other than to hope everyone is leading his or her best life, finding companionship and love, if possible, and not hurting anybody else.
PD: Is it important for your girls to have a male influence in their lives?
IC: It's never something we had to think about or strive for. There are men in our lives, there are men in their world and I never feared they were not going to know what a man was or anything like that. My children don't have a father but I don't think they lack for men or a male influence.
PD: Don't you think the lesbian community is very hard on itself?
IC: It's a tough community and I think it would take a serious sociologist to analyze the dynamics. I've thought about it a lot because I love our community. I love the audience for my shows, which, by the way extends beyond the lesbian community, but sometimes they are the toughest on us and I'm sure there are many reasons. I think once you start getting into it, you can walk into a lot of traps. It absolutely exists. It can be really brutal. For the most part, I'm intrigued and entertained by it and every once in a while I feel slammed by it.
PD: Was Peppermint Patty a lesbian?
IC: Peppermint Patty was a total dyke! I'm sure I've met women in my life who reminded me of Peppermint Patty more than anybody else.
PD: Do you find that men are titillated by lesbians?
PD: I think a lot. I think Howard Stern really brought it into the mainstream.
IC: Most definitely, and he's been one of my favorite commentators on both my shows. I love that he's a fan of the shows.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.