MTV’s Faking It, which premiered in April of 2014, seemed like a show crafted entirely on a flimsy gimmick: Two teen girls, tired of their status as high school nobodies, pretend to be lesbians to become popular and get elected homecoming queens…
…Where Faking It has indisputably broken new ground is with the character of Lauren Cooper (Bailey De Young). The show is set in Austin, TX, at the very progressive Hester High School. Lauren is forever pointing out that in the rest of the state, a diminutive blonde conservative like her would be the homecoming queen. At Hester, she’s seen as an intolerant outcast. Lauren remains steadfast in her identity and beliefs, not only because she believes Hester and Austin are anomalies that she’ll one day leave behind. She’s also resistant to the open and tolerant people who populate them because she’s afraid they’ll learn her secret: She has Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a genetic intersex condition.
“We came up with Lauren’s intersex storyline at the beginning of the first season, because in a show called Faking It, we felt that everybody had something they were faking, except for Lauren,” Covington says. “GLAAD connected us with Advocates For Informed Choice, which is an advocacy group for intersex individuals. They shared stories with us. We met intersex individuals — a couple became consultants on the show — and we heard their stories and what it’s been like for them. Many of them had been told by doctors that they would never meet anyone else like them, even though it’s a very common occurrence. Intersex individuals are as common as meeting a redhead, so it was proof that this was shrouded in secrecy and given a lot of shame by the medical community. I think that really resonated with us with why Lauren could be so defensive.”
The intersex community hasn’t been reflected much in popular culture, especially on television, and the reaction to Lauren’s character has been positive. The show’s creative team and De Young also worked with Inter/Act, which calls itself “a youth group for young people with intersex conditions or DSD” (difference of sex development) to produce content, including videos and FAQs that further explain what it means to be intersex.
De Young accepted an award for her portrayal of Lauren from the AIS DSD Support Group, with whom AIC works very closely as partners in intersex advocacy, at their annual conference this summer. “AIC is grateful to Carter, his writers, actress Bailey De Young, and staff at MTV for listening to the voices of our Inter/Act youth and making every effort to portray TV’s first intersex main character in an authentic and respectful way,” Kimberly Zieselman, a board member of AIS DSD Support Group and executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice says in an email.
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