According to This New MTV Rom-Com, Faking a Lesbian Relationship Is the Secret to Social Success

Outward
Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
April 22 2014 10:08 AM

In Faking It, Lying About a Lesbian Relationship Is the Secret to Social Success

karma_and_amy
When did this become a popularity ploy?

Courtesy of MTV.

When I came out, back in the last century, one of the trickiest parts of being gay was remembering the precise distinctions between the various terms of art we used in public to identify lovers, exes, friends who were gay or lesbian, acquaintances who were probably gay or lesbian, strangers we thought might be gay or lesbian, and that insistently heterosexual co-worker who must surely be a closet case. Years later, all I can summon of that coded language is the vague recollection that I once told a housemate’s mother, “No, I’m her friend, not her roommate. Her roommate lives in Ohio.”

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

I’m not quite sure why this came into my head while watching Faking It, which premieres on MTV tonight, but I daresay it was the shock of realizing that a couple of decades after that ridiculous conversation, a mainstream television show could proceed from the notion that two high-school girls might lie about being a lesbian couple … in order to boost their popularity.

Advertisement

Despite being gorgeous, height-weight-proportionate, and fluent in Amy Sherman-Palladino-style banter, best friends Amy (Rita Volk) and Karma (Katie Stevens) belong, we are told, to the tragic tribe of high-school nonentities. Amy seems to be just fine with that, but Karma is the kind of girl who fakes sudden-onset blindness in the desperate hope that her fellow students will finally notice her. To her great relief, Karma is rescued from social obscurity when Shane—the wittiest, most confident, best dressed, and, yes, the gayest guy in the school—mistakes her and Amy for a lesbian couple and takes them under his wing. And since Hester High is in Austin, “a blue oasis in the red sea of Texas,” and prides itself on being tolerant and accepting, they’re soon hanging with the cool kids, being profiled in the school newspaper, and running for homecoming queens.

The only thing that stands in the way of hers-and-hers crowns is Lauren, a Blair Waldorf wannabe (played by former Bunhead Bailey Buntain) who is enraged to find herself in Austin. “Any other place in Texas, and I would own you bitches,” she yells at Amy and Karma, and anyone familiar with high schools, real or fictional, knows she’s right.

In this case at least, Karma isn’t a bitch, but neither is Lauren. That is, she has all the trappings of mean-girl bitchdom—the cold heart, the dysfunctional relationship with her minions, the scheming ways—but unlike the pseudo Sapphists, she’s telling the truth. When she learns (by eavesdropping on a locker room conversation, naturally) that the supposed lesbians are only pretending to be a couple, she tries to tell the whole school. “They’re mocking the gay rights movement,” Lauren yells at the homecoming campaign assembly, which is, unfortunately, the truth.

Amy and Karma are privileged white girls assuming other people’s problems—and benefiting from the good will it generates in this bizarro world. The deception works, because even the right-on students at Hester High know that straight women would never, ever kiss with tongue—so when Amy pulls Karma in to a long, lingering clinch, the doubters are quieted. (Spookily enough, in the premiere of Playing House, a new comedy coming to USA on April 29, two straight women find themselves surrounded by a crowd of people yelling for them to kiss. Apparently, a good portion of the population wants to see best friends smooching.)

In a world where gay high-schoolers—or kids who are simply thought to be gay—are bullied, persecuted, and shut out of their senior proms, this fictional paradise where homosexuality is the path to popularity could easily turn offensive. The show is saved by a twist that uncorks in the very first episode: One of the girls may not be faking it after all. It’s too early to tell if this is enough to turn a potentially damaging whitewash into a fantasy of what high school could be like if homophobia were dead and buried. Until that becomes clear, I’m left wondering what you call the fake girlfriend you’re secretly in love with. Even back in the ‘80s we didn’t have a word for that. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.