“Faking It” and queer identities

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On April 22, 2014, a new high school-based comedy series premiered on MTV, centered around two girls who were looking to join the popular crowd in a school where social consciousness is key.

Their chosen approach: they decided to pretend to be a lesbian couple.

Because their school is more liberal, they thought the idea should be a surefire key to climbing the social ladder. This is the premise that MTV series Faking It started out with.

One member of the fake couple, Amy, comes to realize over time that her feelings for pretend girlfriend Karma aren’t as platonic as she thought they might be. She starts questioning her sexuality as she realizes that actually, she really is attracted to someone who’s been her friend since childhood. Karma, on the other hand, is as straight as an arrow—but while she knows she’s not really gay, she uses it as a way to get into her crush Liam’s pants.

Shane, the lone openly (and truly) gay main character, is a good friend of Liam’s, and actually helps Karma hook up with him. For Liam’s part, he only starts to notice her after she “comes out” as being in a relationship with Amy. In turn, Karma is understandably ecstatic about the whole thing.

The main “villain” for the first season is Amy’s step-sister, Lauren. The typical popular mean girl, she treats anyone she deems to be beneath her poorly, and frequently bullies both Amy and Karma. Her reasoning for doing so, however, is linked to her deepest secret. Like most teenage girls in high school, she’s trying to find her own identity—but unlike most, her journey is complicated by the fact that she has an intersex condition.

By the end of the first season, Amy and Karma have been exposed as faking the whole relationship. In the aftermath, Karma finally manages to hook up with, and then promptly lose her crush… after Liam has a night of drunken sex with Amy.

For her part, Amy is exploring her desires towards other girls and even manages to find a girlfriend that she’s pretty happy with. This seems to solidify her drunken dalliance as a likely one-time-only event.

In season two, the show starts to explore bisexuality more, with Amy admitting she’s not sure if she likes women exclusively or if she also might have a thing for men as well. Karma still largely snubs Liam, even if she also wants to get back together with him.

Shane re-gains, then loses his MMA boyfriend, who was very much in the closet until Shane secretly outed him. Lauren has become less of a bully, and more accepting of the fact that she is intersexed. Liam is still pining over Karma, but also finds a new interest in Shane’s older sister.

In this mish-mash of character and plot arcs, the writers introduce two new characters: Felix and Wade. Felix happens to be the son of the new principal at the high school, and develops a crush on Amy while he and his father are renting out Karma’s old house. Wade meets Shane while at a PFLAG hoedown, and they both spend their first meeting commiserating over their exes. Wade also lets it be known from the start that he is bisexual.

Sounds a bit convoluted and overly convenient, doesn’t it?

Of course; this is television after all. The most interesting aspect of the show isn’t the plot, but how it handles queer identities. So far, there are four main characters that are known to be something other than straight and cis-gendered: Amy, Wade, Shane, and Lauren. While Shane can occasionally fall into being a gay stereotype, much of his motivation is unrelated.

Lauren, I feel, is probably the queer identity that’s handled the best in the series. She lives in Texas, so being different in high school is a bigger deal than it might be elsewhere, and the way her father reacted to her being intersex taught her that it’s wrong. Her character, while initially painted almost solely as a bully, becomes that of a vulnerable girl who is trying to come to grips with who she is, and that being intersex is okay. She goes through the biggest transformation of the cast, and becomes more likeable as the series progresses.

Meanwhile, Amy is finding she isn’t sure about her sexuality. If there’s a time where you’re supposed be ambivalent about sexuality, it’s during high school and college, as you start really figuring out who you are. In contrast, Wade is done figuring things out: he knows that he prefers people of all genders.

What’s the issue here?

It’s how bisexual characters are treated. In the first season, any notion of someone being bisexual is typically erased or glossed over. Amy is basically told she can’t be bisexual, and even Karma says some fairly biphobic things to her. When Shane talks about Wade, he entirely discounts Wade’s sexuality, calling it a phase. Karma only sticks up for his orientation when it looks like she might benefit from it as well.

So, while the treatment of characters that are bisexual is problematic (as in sexuality is treated as largely binary), it is representation. It’s a step forward, even if that step isn’t exactly uplifting for bisexual teens. It’s a slow path to recognition in the media, and a step forward is a step forward.

I hope that in future episodes, the writers do finally start to look at bisexuality as more of a real thing and not “experimenting” because up until this point, that’s all it’s seen as. It’s hard enough to have to handle being told your sexuality isn’t legitimate in real life; don’t bisexual teenagers deserve a safe haven in media as well?

The season two finale of Faking It premieres on Monday, November 2 at 10:30 PM, and the series has been signed on for a season three.

Those interested in watching season one and two can check out the show’s Hulu page.

About The Author

I started out as a blogger and still maintain my personal blog, Which Way to Hollywood where I unabashedly talk about many things geeky like video games, anime, comics, conventions, movies and more.

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