So far in the second season of Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q, one couple has stolen our hearts more than any other: Micah and Maribel, dubbed “Micabel” by fans. Played by Leo Sheng and Jillian Mercado, they are not just hot as hell. As an Asian-American trans man and a Latinx woman with a disability in a healthy relationship, they are bringing groundbreaking representation to the TV landscape.
Micah, a therapist who works with queer youth, makes mistakes, but he’s good at working on them, and he’s adept at listening. He’s sweet, fashionable, and a great friend. Maribel is smart as a whip, always the funniest person in every scene she’s in, and drop-dead gorgeous. Mercado, who plays her, is a model, after all, and The L Word gives her some great chances to shine.
In episode 3, Maribel reminds Micah of all the privileges he has and pumps him up at the same time. “People are dumb — they can’t read your mind,” she tells him, “so use your damn voice if you want something different.”
It’s a perfect example of the chemistry shared by the two actors, who are good friends off-screen as well. Micah needs someone to tell it like it is, to give him that last push, and Maribel is always there to do that. In return, Micah hangs on her every word and tries to impress her like an adorable golden retriever. They challenge each other and make each other better.
Sheng says that this season, Micah “learned in a really painful way what it’s like to be vulnerable. And I think, with Maribel, he’s learning that vulnerability doesn’t have to end in pain, necessarily. And I think that he’s learning to trust his instincts with her and to trust what makes him feel good and makes him feel happy.”
Micah also has to check his privileges in his relationship with Maribel. “That’s something I’m going to be exploring,” he says about this season, “particularly around the ability status. I mean, it’s not the crux of our relationship, which is important, but it is a part of it. It’s not something to be ignored or glossed over.”
Like many fans, Mercado and Sheng remember watching the show when they were young and feeling like they were discovering some forbidden knowledge. The original L Word acted as a sexual and cultural education for many lesbians and queer women. But as groundbreaking as the original show was, it didn’t actually have anyone who looked or acted like either one of them.
“I’m a four-dimensional creature — I have layers of myself, one of them being Latina and another having a physical disability. And having one of them, already there’s not much representation, but having both of them is even less,” Mercado says. “There was no representation for me when I was younger. I had to go into a dreamland and make up a person in my head.”
Now she is that person. And she thinks about going back in time and telling her younger self, “Girl, if you only knew the future. There is going to be somebody to represent you. And guess what? It’s you.”
For Mercado, it was especially important to make Maribel desirable and even sexy. And she especially got to show that off in episode 5, where the two characters have a romantic sex scene, one that’s both revolutionary and steamy.
“Unfortunately, the disability community is always seen as ‘not’: not sexy, not attractive, no one you would ever get married to or you have a relationship with,” she says. In the past, when she’s searched for even one example of representation for people with disabilities in these types of scenes, nothing came up except for amateur porn. She hopes that now, when the next generation tries to find this reflection, they’ll find Micah and Maribel. And they’ll be better prepared than she was, and maybe they’ll feel better about themselves as well.
“Getting this opportunity to be this kind of person on the show was hitting all sorts of layers of myself but also the community that really doesn’t have a grip on that onscreen,” she says. “So it was really, really, really important to me that, every time an episode or a script came out, I was just like, ‘OK. How can we make Maribel hotter?’” Whatever she did, it sure worked.
This story is part of Out's 2021 Design issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.