“Skins” Retro Recap (3.07): “JJ”

Yesterday JJ gave Emily something no one had ever given her in her life: the chance to say out loud who she is. That she’s gay. Even Naomi hasn’t allowed Emily to do that yet. Even in the deepest haze of their most intimate moment, Emily had to say, "I’m all about experiments, me." Because she knew then, like she knows right now, that Naomi isn’t ready to bear the implication of that confession, the fullness of Emily’s love.

JJ let her say it. He embraced her for saying it and begged her to help him say the things he’d been needing to say for so long too. So she did. And then, when there was no safe place left for Emily to go — no place where she could be the new thing and the old thing at once — he brought her into his home and tucked her into his bed and let her rest. He kept her safe. He let her be. 

Emily wakes up and sees JJ writing on his board, trying to work out who she is to him now. Trying to work out who he can be now. One of the first things JJ ever said was that the integrity of his unit had been preserved when he and Cook and Freddie were sorted into the same form. They are the only friends he’s ever had. And now he has Emily. It’s brand new, the whole world. She sees herself in him, I think, and she knows the one thing he wants more than anything is to lose his virginity. He defines himself as a hopeless virgin because Freddie and Cook define him as a hopeless virgin. And so Emily offers JJ the same thing he offered her: The chance to start writing his own story.

She says it’s a one time thing, a pity shag, and he says, "Because you’re gay?" She nods and pulls back the covers. He gets into bed with her. And then she says my favorite line ever uttered by any character in any book or movie or television show ever. She says, "I’m a lot of things, JJ."

There are people — I know so many, and you know so many, and maybe you are one of these people — whose chosen default definition is "gay." Being gay is the most important thing in your life; it’s the lens through which you view the entire world. You feel most comfortable around other gay people. You enjoy music best when it’s performed by lesbian musicians. Your favorite TV storylines involve queer characters. Gay rights are the most important thing on your agenda. You would never sleep with a boy and none of your friends who define themselves as queer would ever sleep with a boy. And that’s fine. That is a lot of people’s reality.

But it’s not everyone’s reality.

It’s not my reality.

I like girls. I like sex with girls. I like their rosey lips, their hard nipples, bums, soft thighs. I like tits and fanny, you know? That’s who I am. But it’s only one piece of fabric on the ever-growing quilt of who I am, stitched and patched together with sweat and tears and love and more fuck-ups than stars in the sky. I’m a lot of things.

The very core of human nature is self-preservation. We, as individuals, want to survive more than we want anything, and something deep inside us tells us we will be safest around people with whom who share language and customs and religion. People with whom we share a common history and a common destiny. And so we go looking for a label or a lunch table where we can sit and stay with people who are just like us, and shut out people who aren’t.

But there are also people who refuse to be locked-in to one definition. People who buy into the very Whitman-esque idea that we are large, that we contain multitudes, and therefore contradicting ourselves is the essence of life. It’s a brave way to live. And Emily Fitch is always going to choose the brave way to live.

It’s not wrong to live the other way. It’s not wrong to label yourself as one thing and cling to that definition with every fiber of your person. But Emily’s been defined by one thing since she was born, and she’s not going to start being defined by another one thing just because she likes boobs.

This is not the story of a gay girl who cheats on her girlfriend with a dude. This is the story of a girl who is lit up like fire by another girl. This is the story of a girl who comforts someone else while her burns are healing.

JJ introduces Emily to his mum. She is surprised, pleased, terrified. They share toast, and she watches him. They share an inside joke, and she watches him. They share a friendship, and she watches him. Her little boy. He can be quite cute. She taught him that.

And so did Emily.

All my attempts to make a friend had failed. I was a failure. I began to cry. Alone in the corner of the playground, I sobbed and smashed the toy truck into the ground again and again, until my hands hurt too much to do it anymore.

At the end of recess, I was still there, sitting by myself. Staring into the dirt. Too humiliated to face the other kids. Why don’t they like me? What’s wrong with me? That was where Miss Laird found me. She grabbed my little paw and towed me in.

Look me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison

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