I am beginning to wonder if maybe there is a slice of humble pie in my future. Or more than a slice. Or more than a pie. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there is a bus-sized cake in my future that I am going to have to pop out of and shimmy and apologize to every lesbian I convinced to watch this show. I hope not. I mean, not that I mind being wrong in public. I’m better at being wrong than anything else on earth; what I hope is that Skins doesn’t force me to bake a humble cake.
Recapping for AfterEllen.com has been a dream of mine since I first read a Bad Girls recap by Scribegrrrl, and most days it’s the very best job on this earth. But it’s walking a tightrope while juggling flaming chainsaws, too, because there are a lot of interests I’m trying to service. More than anything, I just love great narrative, and sometimes it puts me at odds with the most vocal gay contingent. Easy stories are fun sometimes. I mean, look at Pretty Little Liars: It’s the easiest thing on TV right now and it’s about as fun as it gets. But I crave narrative that challenges my preconceptions and makes me uncomfortable and causes me to realign the stars to form entirely new constellations.
So here comes US Skins and never in my life have I had more implicit trust in a group of storytellers. The hate was hard from every corner of the internet from the genesis of the entire project. I was vocally optimistic. And then I saw the first few episodes and felt confident in my optimism. (“Faith is being sure of what you hope for,” that ol’ nutty Apostle Paul was known to say.) It wasn’t perfect, of course, but I’ve watched some really rough pilot seasons turn into the best stuff on television, and I believe in the Skins model and the Skins creative team.
Then Tea’s episode happened and a storm broke while I was on vacation, and I didn’t really even know about it until I got back home. And by “got back home” I mean “opened my email to the tune of 16 — no, I’m not kidding — assaults on me, personally, for my Tea recap.”
Now I’ve been around the lesbian internet long enough to know that nothing evokes more, um, passion than a lesbian character who hooks up with a man. In fact, in my whole life, I have only seen one thread in which there was any kind of mature dialogue happening on the subject. It always starts off breezy enough, but then someone starts questioning motives and someone else starts questioning labels and then everyone starts projecting their own leanings and experiences all over the place like all characters are blank slates, just imprinting like werewolves onto newborn babies. And then someone throws some mud, and then someone brandishes a knife, and then it’s just a giant brawl with hair-pulling and name-calling and clear-eyed people sneaking away and hoping not to get bludgeoned to death on their way out the door.
If you’ll sheath your machete for a second, I’ll tell you than I’m not really susceptible to gold star fever. I mean, I get it. I absolutely get it. The oldest trope in the book is a lesbian character finally finding true love in the male embrace, and that kind of story only reinforces the age-old, lame-ass belief that real life lesbians just haven’t found the right man yet. It’s infuriating, in large part because it’s 2011 and some of us are still hearing that nonsense from all kinds of angles. But sometimes I think it makes sense within a certain narrative framework to have a queer female character hook up with a man. (I said put your knife away!) I know I’m in the minority of the minority here, but it works for me on a storytelling level ocassionally. It worked for me in The Kids Are All Right (and probably you’re going to kill me now for sure), and it worked for me in Skins gen two with Emily and JJ, and Naomi and Cook.
So here’s what happened: I got home from vacation last week to the most brutal personal attacks that have ever been leveled at me, and then the preview for “Cadie” aired and people just redoubled their efforts. My posture was already defensive because of the hate, and I learned not to get hysterical about previews back when The West Wing was still on the air, and I kind of just thought folks were overreacting because obviously Tea is legitimately gay, right? We’re talking about the team of writers who brought us Naomi and Emily? The ones who weathered the rage over JJ and Cook? We’re talking about a character who has been presented as a confident, self-assured, sex-positive lesbian from the moment she was conceived, aren’t we?
That was my reasoning, and I truly felt the conviction of it — right up until Tony and Tea had their little conversation about how she “felt something” for him last night.
The first time I saw Kissing Jessica Stein, I was just coming to terms with my own sexuality and I was crushed when Jessica ended up with a man. But as I’ve watched that movie again over the years — with a little distance from the closet — I’ve come to realize what a masterpiece it is in terms of dialogue about sexual fluidity. For many women, that is their reality. But not for all women. Sexuality simply is not fluid for everyone, and I think Tea was packaged and sold as a character who is sure she is not into men.
This is a lot of words to say one thing, and that is that I am still hopeful that Tea isn’t going to find herself in love with Tony. But after last night’s episode I am prepared for the eventuality that it might happen. If it does, I will be more deeply disappointed than I can even say. Because of the way Tea was presented, because of the way her episode played, because of the writers’ experience with queer female characters who hook up with guys, and mostly because it doesn’t make narrative sense. I’m not imprinting my own stuff onto Tea. I’ve got zero problems with sexual fluidity and if Colin Firth comes a-knockin’, I’m a-gonna be Darcy-rockin’. I’ve got zero heterophobia, also. Nearly all of my best friends are straight. I like to be challenged with narrative, but I also like to be shown the truth. And for Tea, Tony simply does not feel like the truth.
I think Sofia Black D’Elia is fantastic. I think Bryan Elsley is a genius. There are things about Tea that are marvelous. There were things about Tea’s episode that nearly slayed me with perfection. I hope the trajectory continues in that direction. Skins is so much better than hackneyed tropes and reinforced misleading stereotypes.
I hope you don’t think I was blowing off your valid concern last week. I had my back up for all the reasons I said, but I always want to give you the best of me, because that’s what you deserve. I want you to know I hear you and I see you and I care very much about our collective story.
But we should talk about Cadie, huh?