Ashly Perez and Brittany Ashley talk queerness and coming out in “You Do You”

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BuzzFeed has been an LGBT-inclusive space for much of its existence, thanks in part to resident lesbian video creator and star (and AfterEllen friend/contributor) Brittany Ashley. But while most of the things she’s written up until now have been made into short videos, BuzzFeed Violet is now home to Brittany’s web series, You Do You. Although fans might be sad to see Brittany isn’t in front of the camera this time around, she penned the script for the 12-part series starring the channel’s characters (based loosely on the real women themselves) Ashly, Quinta, Sara and Ella. 

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“I was given the task of, ‘Okay, we know how all these characters exist with each other and in their workplace, so take them somewhere else and make it long!'” Brittany said. “Thematically, I was most interested in seeing how each of the characters would react to being face-to-face with their worst fear. Fear is fun.”

Brittany, who wrote the series in two weeks over the summer, first sat down with each of the women and presented them with ideas on how she saw their characters.

“But I was more interested in where their characters haven’t been yet: ‘Where do you want to see your character go?’ ‘What’s your characters biggest fear?’ ‘What do you think made your character this way?’ ‘What is your character afraid to accept?'” Brittany said. “I got really weird and writery, jotting down everything they said in my little moleskin like a creep. You don’t really have to do that with other writing projects because they’re generally characters you’ve created so you make up those answers. Their characters are like one aspect of their real-life personalities expanded into a whole character.”

Up until now, dedicated fans have known these four women as straight, but You Do You reveals for the first time that Ashly Perez is bisexual. Brittany and Ashly are friends “in real human life,” Brittany said, so she had seen Ashly’s coming out in her personal life first hand.

“I was interested to see what that would mean for the character,” Brittany said. The two got together to talk about Ashly the character and how to write her coming out in a way that “didn’t make it a huge deal.”

Because as we know as queer writers, there’s so much queer content that only focuses on the struggles of coming out when really that’s a small amount of time compared to how much time we spend living our lives and enjoying lives after we come out,” Brittany said. “Coming out stories have become such contrived storylines in LGBT media. It was really important to both of us to show an organic progression of her becoming conscious of her sexuality rather than boiling it down into one dramatic declaration of ‘I’m gay!'”

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“The decision to ‘come out’ in this way was an evolution,” Ashly said. “The characters on BuzzFeed Violet are loosely-based on us as real people so the more I discovered about my queerness in my real life, the weirder it felt to hide this part of me from our audience. We created BuzzFeed Violet to be a portrayal of the complicated, confusing women we all knew in real life, and it just felt like it was time to share my own life a little more honestly.”

Ashly, who is also Filipino, Cuban and Korean, admitted the experience was a little nerve-wrecking, but mostly because “as an actor to have that much of a story dependent on such a big change for my character. But as far as focusing on my sexual identity, that was something I had already come to terms with in my real life,” she said. “I guess the most challenging part was reconciling my real life and my character’s life, at least concerning sexuality. It felt cathartic in many ways. “

Brittany said writing Ashly’s storyline was one of the easiest parts for her. (“I wish I could write all of my friends’ coming out stories!”) She’s excited for the BuzzFeed audience to see the honesty and reliability they have come to know Ashly for. “And now she is going to come out as queer but it doesn’t define her whole self,” Brittany said. “It’s a part of who she is, no doubt, but she’s still that relatable, human character. And for LGBT representation, every single person who watches this, now knows a queer person. I tricked them. I’d love to make another long series with these women. More emotion! More depth! More falling cakes!” 

Brittany is also proud that Ashly has two out women (Brittani Nichols and Lindsay Hicks) playing Ashly’s love interests in the series.

“Accurate representation for queer roles is something I feel really strongly about because there are so many brilliant and talented queer actors out there,” she said.

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Ashly praised her friend for being an incredible writer, and said they have similar “views on love and awkwardness.”

“We collaborated a lot about what the characters should be going through, since they were pre-established characters we had been developing for a year,” Ashly said, “but the great thing about Britt is you can give her a basic outline and she can 100% fill in the rest.”

Ashly the character is “much more awkward and shy” than real life Ashly, and “much more naive about life,” Ashly said. “Recklessly optimistic, I guess you could say. But I don’t know really, I want to say that I’m much cooler than my character, but I’m probably 100% as dorky.”

Even if you aren’t familiar with the women of BuzzFeed Violet, you can enjoy You Do You. The four very different women at the series’ center have such distinct quirks and identities but all share the want for self-discovery. Having Brittany write to their strengths with her typical brand of pop-culture-laden humor and whip-smart wit solidifies that the series is a less-privileged millennial version of the four-women-led TV shows we’ve come to know (see:  The Golden GirlsSex and the City, Girls, etc.) Are you a Quinta? An Ashly? An Ella? Sara? Do you find parts of yourself in all four?

“I think the thing we wanted most to achieve with BuzzFeed Violet and this series is simply to show an honest portrayal of young women going through a change, and I hope we did that,” Ashly said. “I hope that we showed what it’s like to have a crush, go through a breakup, and feel a little lost in your 20s, if we did that then I’ll be more than satisfied.”

The first two episodes of You Do You are available on BuzzFeed Violet now, or you can find the entire series on iTunes. Follow Brittany and Ashly on Twitter.

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