Autistic and experiencing bouts of rage, JJ bumped into Emily at a counseling center where she was trying to learn to be more honest with people about her sexuality.
The two quickly bonded over feeling abnormal at times and JJ said if he were normal, his friends would listen to him and he wouldn’t be a virgin. After a day of trying to get through to his friends failed, Emily offered to sleep with him — but as a “once-only charity event,” because she’s gay.
While the scene used one of the oldest and most offensive TV clichés about lesbians — that they are willing to sleep with men — the writers seemed to go out of their way to make sure viewers knew Emily was a lesbian and not sexually interested in JJ.
Some say this is par for the course on Skins — saying the sex on the show is casual would be an understatement.
Sex is used in all kinds of ways, from telling a friend you’re mad at him to thanking someone for teaching you how to play Twister (don’t ask). With sex as a central theme and form of expression among the characters, Emily sleeping with JJ as a gesture of kindness may seem believable on Skins.
Some viewers also noted that young characters are prone to making poor decisions, and such actions are not unheard of in real life.
But in a media environment where representations of lesbians are so poor and lesbians who aren’t lured into romantic situations with men are the exception rather than the rule, Skins’ transgression is harder to brush off. By choosing to defend such portrayals of lesbians, some viewers worry writers will never be forced to take depictions of lesbians and bisexual women seriously.
Other viewers have pointed out one glaring behind-the-scenes difference: Naomi’s episode was co-written by a 19-year-old female, Atiha Sen Gupta, while JJ’s was written by series co-creator Bryan Elsley, a 47-year-old man.
Of course, rather than deliberately attempting to undermine Emily’s sexuality (although certainly a byproduct) or catering to a male fantasy, this storyline could simply be the result of lazy writing. Any bets on whether some drama will be squeezed out in the future by having Naomi find out about Emily’s good deed?
Though promotional materials reveal a commitment to Emily and Naomi as a couple, the show has already given us both the best and the worst of lesbian representation. With three episodes left in the season and one more season with Emily and Naomi in the cast, how the rest of the pair’s story plays out may ultimately decide just how lesbians perceive Skins.
Skins has already successfully shocked audiences with its raunchy depictions of teen sex and heavy drug use — we’re just hoping it can shock us in a good way and finish Emily and Naomi’s stories without drudging up more ways to undermine what it means to be a lesbian.
Read more about Emily and Noami’s relationship here.