7:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
MTV's 'Faking It' to Tell Intersex Story in Season 2
Intersex is a physical condition that occurs when a person is born with both male and female chromosomes but their bodies typically develop as female. About one in every 2,000 people are born with intersex traits and the condition is as common as people with red hair.
On Faking It, Bailey De Young portrays Lauren, a hyper-feminine bitchy teen who is the sister (by marriage) to Rita Volk's Amy, who in season one, faked a lesbian relationship with her best friend Karma (Katie Stevens), to move up the social ladder at an Austin high school.
Season one ended with a cliffhanger for Lauren, who flipped out after rumors started flying about mysterious pills she was taking regularly. The season two premiere will reveal that Lauren regularly takes hormones and was born with Androgen Insensitive Syndrome, a type of intersex condition that means she was born with male chromosomes but develops as a female.
Here, showrunner Carter Covington talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the series-long storyline, why the time is right to address it and how it fits in with the show's central themes.
What inspired you to tell this story?
Part of the overall theme of Faking It is how hard it is to be your authentic self and how important it is to strive to do that. At the beginning of last season, we were discussing in the writers room what that could be and we stumbled on, “What if she were born intersex?” We all had the reaction that the other characters had on show: "What exactly is that?" We weren’t really sure and started to do some research and connected with Advocates for Informed Choice's Kimberly Zieselman. She's our consultant on the show (AIC is the parent group of advocacy group Inter/Act) and gave us a wonderful education on what it is like to be born intersex. We felt like it was a no brainer because it really frames who Lauren is and why she has walls up, why she is hyper-feminine and why she is who she is. It's a story I've never heard told before, and our show is all about showing the diversity of experiences that young people are faced with today.
How did you pitch the story to MTV? Did the executives have any feedback? Concerns?
I pitched it last year when I was pitching the first eight episodes of season one. We folded in a couple of hints throughout the first eight episodes about what's coming. They knew about the storyline early on, but it wasn’t until I pitched these 10 episodes that I went in nervous. MTV's Susanne Daniels was very excited about it. I was expecting a battle with the network, but she 100 percent embraced it. People want to create TV that touches people and that shows a different subset. I'm always excited as a writer when there is an experience I can relate to, and MTV wanted programming that touches people and moves people.
How did Bailey De Young respond when learning of the story?
I told her earlier this year, when we were doing first eight. I wanted her to know. She was excited and loved what that meant for Lauren. She talked to young women who were born with the condition that Lauren has on the show and she really embraced that. She wanted to find out what their experiences have been like so she can accurately portray that on the show.
What makes the timing right to tell this story?
What I love about Lauren’s journey is that it's so relatable. When it comes down to it she wonders: Will people know the real her or will they reject her? That's something that everybody feels at some point. We all have worries that if we show someone else what's going on inside that we'll get rejected.
Is this a season-long storyline?
It's a series-long story line. When I'm writing any character, if they're gay or allergic to peanuts, those are things that affect your whole life in various degrees. For Lauren, being born intersex is going to be something she's going to struggle to accept and then struggle to defend in her life. That journey of self-acceptance, at least for me, never stops. I'm still trying to accept things about myself that I don't love or that I wish were different or that makes me feel like I’m not normal. Lauren is going to go on a series-long journey to get to a point where she's proud of who she is.
In the season two premiere, Shane (Michael J. Willett) has a very supportive response to Lauren and tells her that she needs to love herself and not feel humiliated about who she is. How else will we see the group support her?
In a couple ways, since so many people know her secret and they could tell at any moment. Even though they say they won't tell — and I genuinely believe our characters would not do that — there is that panic over Lauren and it forces her to be more vulnerable with this group of people. It also brings her into the show a bit more; when you find out a secret about someone, you're closer to them. Whether or not anything else has changed, they know something about Lauren that she didn't want them to know and they are accepting of her. It creates deeper intimacy because Lauren is still Lauren. We're also going to explore Lauren’s relationship with her dad and how her being born intersex has affected that. That’s a little later down the road this season.
Who won't have a good reaction?
Without giving anything away, that is definitely coming. What I wanted to explore in these 10 episodes is showing that the real person keeping Lauren from accepting this part of herself is herself. A lot of her journey is expecting people to be offended or disgusted, and reject her.
What's your goal in telling this story?
I really want the show’s message to be, even though the show is called Faking It, the goal should be for all of us to love ourselves.
In the episode, Lauren turns to an online support group after her friends learn she was born intersex. Talk about your decision to include that.
Inter/Act is the first intersex youth advocacy organization. Our consultant is part of that and a lot of the young people we spoke to on the show are part of that. We're trying to give people tools to build and connect with that community. People born with these conditions are often told they will never meet anyone else like them, and they all found that not to be true. That feeling that you're the only one, you’re the biggest freak, is one of the biggest misconceptions about being born intersex. We are really hoping to dispel that. We’ve partnered with GLAAD, who has been very active in helping us and making sure that we're portraying everything in a positive light. We also continue to be big supporters of The Trevor Project.
Same-sex storylines, teen pregnancy and abortion have all become commonplace on TV as society continues to evolve. What other storylines haven't we seen on TV?
I do think that in terms of shows that challenge the binary straight-gay sexual spectrum, we're one of the few shows that is willing to explore the gray in-between. That constantly feels groundbreaking to me. Seeing characters go on journeys of sexual discovery is something new to TV and I'm enjoying portraying that. I think it's something a lot of people go through.
Are you expecting any negative feedback from more conservative groups?
I'm constantly waiting for us to be boycotted or criticized. I do feel our show takes a very low tolerance stance that could get a lot of pushback from more conservative groups, but it has never materialized. I don’t know why, maybe I’m not pushing the envelope enough (laughs).
Faking It explores a lot about sexuality. What's the overall message you'd like viewers to take away from the show?
What I hope the show does is show it's OK to be gay, straight, to not know where you are on the spectrum and explore. It's OK to make mistakes, but it’s a part of growing up and figuring out who you are. I don’t think that’s a process that ends when you’re 18 or 21, it goes on your whole life.
Faking It returns for its second season on Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 10:30 p.m. on MTV. Watch the trailer, below.