Queer Representation on TV: Carter Covington

Photo courtesy MTV and Carter Covington
Photo courtesy MTV and Carter Covington

MTV’s Faking It follows high school student Amy Raudenfeld (Rita Volk) as she discovers that she’s not exactly straight when she falls for her best friend Karma (Katie Stevens). As a series about various teenagers who are discovering who they are, Faking It does not shy away from discussing the trials and tribulations of what it means to be young in America. Whether that be LGBTQ students or kids just trying to figure out what it means to be their true self, Faking It tries to explore it all. From openly gay Shane Harvey (Michael J. Willet) to the first intersex main character on TV, Lauren (Bailey De Young), every season seems to have even more inclusion as we follow the lives of the students at Hester High. 

Yet, nothing is explored by accident. Showrunner Carter Covington takes his past as someone who came out as gay at a young age, and his history with writing for television, and applies it to Faking It. Covington recently joined our Queer Representation on TV series to discuss why it’s important to show storylines like this to a younger audience and where we are when it comes to representation on television. He also talks about how we have grown in the subject area, but still have some work to do — and why it’s not all black and white when it comes to signing pledges.

The TV Junkies: How has representation on television affected you personally? What characters did you look toward when you were growing up?

Carter Covington: Well, growing up there really weren’t many characters that were openly gay so it wasn’t really until Melrose Place with Matt (Doug Savant), who was never allowed to fully kiss his boyfriend on screen. They cut away from it, but it was the first time I actually saw a gay character that was being respected and included and not judged for being gay. Then Dawson’s Creek was the first time I’d seen a gay kiss on TV. I was also a big fan of The Real World and Pedro was probably the first gay person I saw whose life was presented in reality and was struggling with HIV. Those were the three influential shows when I was growing up. It’s crazy to think that so much of those representations were about overcoming shame and coming out. Now I feel like we’re moving into a different era of LGBT stories. We’re moving beyond the coming out stories.

TTVJ: What sort of responsibility do you feel as a queer writer to bring these stories forward?
CC: I have felt a huge responsibility both because I understand how important it is to have representation in media and what it does, especially for youth out there who are growing up and really craving some positive role models as they struggle with their own sexuality. I worked at The Trevor Project and we would hear first hand from young people in really challenging situations who really got by on the images they saw in the media because it gave them hope outside of the small world that they — I don’t want to say condensed to — but that’s how many of them felt. Many of these shows gave people hope around the country to keep people going through tough times. I’ve always had that very much in my head as I work on Faking It, but I’ve also tried to include it on the other shows that I worked on because being gay — it’s not all of who I am, but it’s an important part of who I am. It’s hard for me to work on material without bringing that into it.

TTVJ: You’ve dealt with gay characters on several of your television shows. Did you ever receive any opposition about wanting to have LGBTQ characters or stories on any of the series you’ve been a part of?
CC: I never got opposition. I think what’s different is that I used to have to make a case of why a character should be gay and express how it would be handled through the eyes of the other straight characters on the show. I think now the dialogue is much different. It’s expected to have gay characters. I think it’s also expected that these characters should have their own perspective. They shouldn’t be there to service straight characters.

I feel lucky to be passing on what has come before me. I think it’s inspiring. We were included in an evening at the Paley Center highlighting the history of LGBT representation in media. Just seeing it go from Norman Lear, who first tackled gay issues in All in the Family, to Will & Grace to where we are now. It’s these wonderful steps where the gay community has been vulnerable and has said this is who we are and we’ve been embraced. It’s really, I think, accelerated the acceptance for gay rights in the country. It’s really an exciting time.

MTV
MTV

TTVJ: You work on shows that are aimed at young audiences. Does that give you an even greater sense of responsibility on how LGBTQ characters are portrayed?

CC: Definitely. My shows are often targeted at people who are at that crucial stage of coming to terms with who they are and starting to express it to the world. I think from 12 to 24, which is really the target market that I’ve been trying to hit — those 12 years are so important for figuring out who you are, what you enjoy, what your sense of humor is, who you’re attracted to. I definitely want my shows to have an optimistic and hopeful message because I think it’s hard not to go through that process, gay or straight. When you’re LGBT it’s even more challenging because we have all this societal pressure. We’re coming out and admitting that we’re not in the mainstream and that’s hard to do. It’s challenging. I always want my shows to encourage people to be their true, authentic selves — even if my show is called Faking It [laughs].

TTVJ: What concerns regarding representation did you have in adding the character of Noah, a trans guy, on Faking It this year?
CC: I felt like we were not including the trans community in our storylines and for a show that is about being your true authentic self, it really bugged me. I’ve been wanting from the beginning of Season 1 to incorporate a trans perspective in our show because I think there are so many of our fans out there who are trans. Our show is all about inclusion and tolerance and I know it attracts people that are across the LGBT spectrum. We told Lauren’s story, which I’m so proud of because she’s the first intersex main character on TV. It just felt like we should be including the trans perspective on the show. So finally this season I felt like we found a way that contributed to all the amazing work that’s going on in television and that’s so special and unique to Faking It.

TTVJ: Nobody is dying on Faking It and there’s not usually life or death stakes, but how do you stay mindful of tropes and avoiding them?
CC: There will be no deaths! I will say I feel slightly removed because I’m not a fan of the shows that this has been happening on. I just haven’t been tuning into them. Faking It fans have been very vocal to me telling me not to kill anyone off. I’ve seen the emotion and hurt that is being generated. I can’t speak for the story specifics because I’m not fully aware of them, but I will say that I am aware that LGBT fans become more invested than normal fans with shows that feature LGBT characters and specifically to those characters. Even today there’s so few LGBT characters on TV that it’s hard for us to not become incredibly invested.

As a showrunner, it’s important to be able to tell the story you want to tell and to tell it in a complete way. I’m always a little wary when people are saying, “Promise you’re never going to do this,” or “Promise you’re going to get these two together!” I understand the desire for it because there’s such a hunger for LGBT representation that we want a happy ending. So often the story lines are touching things in us that are painful or that are hard and I think that’s totally normal.

Twitter and all these opportunities to give feedback to these showrunners has created this feeling among fans that they deserve input of where the story is going. That’s where I find it challenging. I know the story I want to tell and I want fans to watch it, but I don’t want to be told by the fans that I have to tell a different story. I empathize, but as a showrunner I get a little anxious when I hear people say “This can never happen again! Sign these pledges!” When we are telling stories there have so many aspects to it and it’s not as black and white, but I definitely heard how much fans are hurting for what’s happened on other shows out there. I take it into consideration as we work on Faking It.

MTV
MTV

TTVJ: What are some of the big hurdles that still exist in getting proper LGBTQ representation on television?
CC: I think that there are many many fewer obstacles to LGBT inclusion. Personally I haven’t experienced any serious ones. I think the one place that I feel like we still need to break ground, and I’ve been trying to do that with Faking It – I think Transparent does this and Orange is the New Black – is letting shows that have strong LGBT characters and major LGBT storylines not be put into an LGBT show box. I think that we’re seeing a lot of shows break out of that and be crossover hits with groups of people and not just LGBT fans. That’s really important. I think we’re a part of the fabric of society and we should be a part of the fabric of the stories we tell. We shouldn’t be put off in a ghetto where LGBT shows are created and then put aside for LGBT fans. I think it’s really important that we maintain our presence in mainstream culture.

TTVJ: Faking It is a show about labels and how they don’t define us–but they can be very comforting. How do you tackle Amy confused about the label of her sexuality versus Lauren being intersex and learning not to be afraid to show it?
CC: Labels are a running theme of our series and I think it parallels the kind of conflicting world of labels that we have in life. Labels can be very comforting and they are important for political power and creating change. If we weren’t all labeling ourselves as LGBT then we couldn’t ban together to get equal rights. I understand that there’s a balance there, but from where Amy is as a 16 year old girl, I felt like it was important for her to express that. To me the most important label that she has taken is that she’s not straight. After that, really no other label matters right now. She’s trying to negotiate this on her own and she shouldn’t feel pressured to put on one because people want to put her in a box or define her. That’s always been my goal because I felt like one of the true gifts of where the LGBT movement is now is that we have come so far that people should have the right to explore and determine where they fall on the LGBT spectrum. We have all these new labels that didn’t even exist 10 years ago when I started writing for television. No one knew what an asexual was or someone demisexual or pansexual.  We have created so many more labels so people can be expressive of how they feel inside, but I think equally valid is someone who says, “Hey I’m figuring it out and I don’t want to pick a label.”

It took a little while for me to admit that I was gay in a completely different time period and that label didn’t feel right for a very long time. And then it did. I think everyone needs their freedom to get comfortable with what label they want to choose because once you pick one, it’s really hard to change it. It can almost put you in a new closet where all of the sudden you have taken a label and it doesn’t 100% match who you are. You feel trapped. We’re trying to show that spectrum in Faking It and just like Amy says in the episode, if you’re happy with your label great, sing it from the rooftops, but you don’t have to force everyone else to pick one.

TTVJ: Queer representation has made some significant strides in recent years, but how can we get what’s on screen even closer to the reality of the world we live in?
CC: That’s an interesting question because I feel like there are so many realities out there. On one hand there are people that are still struggling really hard in some places in the deep south where attitudes are still 20 years past. Then we have this bubble that I’m lucky to live in in Los Angeles or New York or the coast where sexuality is so accepted that people don’t really factor it before sharing it with people. It’s not a part of their life that causes them stress and anxiety, so it’s hard to know what to reflect. Do we continue to reflect on how hard it is for people in certain parts of the country or do we celebrate where we are in other parts of the country? I think because the country is so polarized with LGBT experiences it’s hard to know where to line up and who to service when creating LGBT characters.

The most important thing is that we make them real and true and that they feel real and true to someone watching it so that our experiences as LGBT people move people who aren’t LGBT. That’s how we create more acceptance. I think the more we show people that the trials we go through, the struggles, and the good times and the bad times are just like those of straight people because we’re all human, the more we will continue down this path of acceptance and embracing our civil rights.

 

Thoughts or comments? Share them below! Read more from our Queer Representation on TV series here.

Faking It airs at 10:30 pm ET on Tuesdays on MTV.