A year ago, when the fourth series of UK Skins was coming to an end, series co-creator Bryan Elsley wrote a scene that would endear him to his lesbian viewers forever — or at least until he made the trip across the Atlantic to roll out an American version of his show.
Naomi and Emily are one of the most beloved lesbian couples of all-time, and Elsley gave us all a happy ending when he wrote Naomi’s series-ending speech in which she confessed that she’d loved Emily from first moment she saw her. Elsley’s reign atop the Honorary Lesbian throne didn’t last, though; when he unleashed Tea Marvelli on US Skins last month, he found himself in hot water. Halfway through the show’s first season, the self-proclaimed lesbian character is having feelings for — and sex with — a guy.
Skins is always in tune with the buzz, and when he found out about his lesbian fanbase’s growing rage, Elsley agreed to chat with me about Tea. Of course, I also managed to sneak in some questions about Naomily and that mythical Skins movie.
AfterEllen.com: I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but a lot of lesbians are not happy with you.
AE: Did you have ever have this kind of response about a character in UK Skins? I can’t think of any, but I wasn’t actively involved in the conversation during the first generation.
AE: Can you talk a little bit about your process for developing Tea? I know you talked to young lesbian women as she began to take shape.
I do regret that maybe I didn’t hear as many stories as I could have. I don’t enjoy giving offense to anyone, especially when you’re talking about a minority group, like the gay community, that has had to fight for equality. When I was younger, gay people had to fight to be heard. I don’t enjoy offending that sensibility. I am respectful of it. I’ve had a lot of gay friends who have had to struggle to be taken seriously.
AE: It’s not always the case, but often times women who view themselves as sexually fluid label themselves as bisexual. Do you look back and wonder if maybe you should have given Tea that label instead of lesbian?
AE: I wrote about that a little yesterday. I wondered if possibly some adult lesbians, who are secure in their sexuality and have settled on a label, might be projecting that secure sense of self onto Tea. But I heard back from a lot of our readers who said, “No. I am a teenager and I am a lesbian and I would never consider having a sexual relationship with a guy.” Tea doesn’t resonate with them.
AE: My sense with Tea, and I hope I’m right, is that she lives in an insular high school world. She knows she is attracted to women. She identifies as a lesbian. But like she said in her episode, she doesn’t feel like there are any girls in her world who match up to her. Tony challenges her because his arrogance appeals to her, and it confuses her because she’s never met anyone who shares her confidence.
I have a personal belief in this, and Skins does in some way reflect my personal belief. My belief is that, in matters of sex, as long as what you engage in is not illegal or abusive, no one should have an opinion about it. It’s something I believe rather profoundly. This story, in so many ways, is about how Tea finds her feet, and how Tea remembers who she is. I feel that the story lands in the correct way.