Genderqueer Outlaw: Meet Franky, Skins Season Five’s Glorious Headf*ck Thing

We weren’t going to write about Skins‘ Season Five because we’d heard that the show was homo-free and we only have room in our budget/calendars to recap programs chock-full of homosexual glory. Skins usually IS that program, and it’s been consistently popular with queers like us for its frank, unsparing and realistic portrayal of the homogay lifestyle. Both UK Generations and the current US incarnation feature at least one gay character — Maxxie, Naomi, Emily, Tea.

This season, eager fans saw the cast photo and assumed one of these humans was a lesbian:

– and were disappointed when Dakota Blue Richards (the girl in the black in the middle, obviously), who plays the not-lesbian, told the press that her character was, you know, not a lesbian.

However! Show creators did hint that “one of the characters in the next generation is very much in the tradition of Skins portrayal of sexuality, but you won’t quite know what or who she is for quite a while.”

So. Two weeks ago last Monday I accidentally downloaded G3-s1 (Skins UK) instead of s1-e3 (Skins MTV) and accidentally started watching it and before I knew it I was typing stuff on my keyboard, deciding to forego the US Skins recap altogether!

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Meet Franky

Skins dedicates each episode to one character or two (premieres and finales occasionally are attributed to “everyone”) and Season Five’s premiere episode featured Franky Fitzgerald.

Franky’s profile on the Skins website cites “Joan of Arc” as Franky’s “Religious View” and names The Little Prince and The Clockwork Orange, among others, as her favorite books. Franky sometimes communicates with a tiny wooden doll who stars in videos Franky films in her room. Franky is very precise about things. She’s the adopted daughter of the cherub/cheery Jeff and Geoff, her “Dads” who met in the army and married in camouflage. She has really nice skin.

Oh yeah and also, she’s genderqueer.

Genderqueer: A difficult/contentious term to define, or a catch-all term for gender identities falling outside the gender binary or transcending traditional meanings of “man” and “woman.” Reflective of the understanding that sex and gender are separable aspects of a human person. Many genderqueers do not define their identity by referencing the binary gender system, some consider themselves to be a third gender, others identify as genderless or androgynous or simply transgressive or otherwise misgendered within the dominant binary system.

In the weeks leading up to Season Five’s premiere, some readers were harassing Crystal and I about our refusal to recap the show, insisting that Franky’s genderqueerness and homosexual fathers were enough gay to warrant a recap.

“What, she has short hair and wears ties or something but the producers aren’t gutsy enough to make her masculine-of-center AND gay?” I thought, imagining that this alleged genderqueerdom would ring about as true as Ashley’s goth phase on Degrassi.

But I’d forgotten that Skins doesn’t play us like that. More recently, a reader wrote me personally:

Unless I am way off base (I don’t believe I am), this character is genderqueer. Frankie may not understand it yet. I had no clue for 26 years. I appreciate the feelings of emptiness and utter loneliness. I’ve seen those looks on people’s faces for years. I know what it’s like to be called a ‘thing.’ People can’t place you and their confusion turns to anger.

Skins always goes for the jugular, steering its narrative into the deepest cesspools of teenage desire and fear, the murky hideaways where adolescence is at its most wretched and hard-fought.

Skins never aims to glamorize anything or anyone, which is the real reason The Parents Television Council’s warnings fall on deaf ears. Skins characters aren’t the impossibly clear-skinned, perfectly-haired, ingeniously-dressed, stick-thin, perfect-jawed plastics on 90210 — they look more like people we know. (Except Effy. Nobody knows anyone who looks like Effy.)

More importantly, the kids in Skins are usually fucked, alienated and often quite sad, though occasionally gifted with transcendent moments of reckless, often drug/sex-induced happiness.

But we don’t want to be the kids on Skins. Why would we pattern our behavior after a group of kids who — in addition to sporting an alarmingly high mortality rate — overdose, go to jail, get beaten up, fail out of school, get sick, get institutionalized, wreck cars, become homeless, get robbed, get hit by cars/paralyzed and repeatedly screw up relationships, friendships and families?

That’s not glamour – that’s hard knocks, and if there’s one thing all the Skins kids have in common it’s this sense that they are HARDENED, that things have not been, in one way or another, handed to them on a silver platter.

Viewers want to be like the characters on 90210 or Gossip Girl; they want those shimmery, easy lives of effortless beauty and impossible, free-floating wealth where dysfunction is always more foreplay than disaster. Viewers envy Gossip Girls’s consequence-free world of framed college degrees and dark, sexy furniture.

We want to be Kelly Taylor or Blair Waldorf.

But we’re already Emily Fitch.

We’re already Franky Fitzgerald.

It’s just that nobody cared enough to talk about us before now.

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Episode 1: Franky

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The fifth season of Skins begins with that strikingly intimate shot of a kid who’s already awake, but still in bed — you know the one —

… while the loose janky chords of The Strange Boy’s “Be Brave” start thumping from the corners of Franky’s lucid, determined consciousness as she wakes and begins her morning routine in the room she’s just moved into. Her sartorial game is determinedly dapper, like a Newsie getting dressed for dinner.

Franky is very little, with small bones and dark, nervous eyes, impeccably clear skin and hair slicked back to reveal her adorkably earnest ears and the wide, clear slope of her face. She’s the kind of kid that adults realize is going to be really fucking badass one day and therefore approach as though she’s a tiny, endangered bird in need of temporary supervision. Franky seems to prefer that everyone just speak their minds, rather than keeping all the ugly stuff to themselves.

Franky, face already defensively perturbed, is advised by her Dads to “try and fit in” but it’s clear, from her outfit, that she’s never gonna fit in. She’s heading out into the cruel cruel world where rascally schoolboys call her a lezzer and try to beat her up, which leads to Franky hijacking a motorized wheelchair and ultimately crashing directly into her first day of school, at which point Mini, the Queen Bee, gaffs, “Wow. Has the circus come to town or what?”


For Franky it kinda has, however — insofar as her first day of school is like a twisted Horror Funhouse of nightmarish Worst First Day Fears, beginning with being thrust immediately into gym class and, sans gym clothes, given dirty white shorts and a Frankie Says Relax t-shirt from the Lost & Found, and proceeding gamely forward into her first awkward locker room scene.

As Franky weaves through the rows of caustic-looking clones in safe, pastel bra-and-panties sets, I felt my own stomach tighten and twist, remembering how terrifying it was to undress in front of other girls when I was 15 or 16 — and how I’d therefore beeline for the handicapped stall when nobody was looking, where I could change without anyone asking why I wore boxer shorts or noticing how severely I did not need a bra. Like I’d accidentally put my clothes on while peeing or something, I couldn’t help it, I was like Superman.

The girls laugh at Franky, especially when they spot what seems to me to be a perfect pair of boyshorts with “Oh my god what the hell are those?” Mini takes it a step further, seizing an opportunity to exercise her social power — “Are you like in fancy dress, or is that like an actual like, choice?”

Here’s the thing about Franky — I don’t think it’s an actual like, choice. This is just who she is.

Later in the episode when she attempts wearing makeup and more feminine clothing to please her new friends, she ultimately breaks down during an English presentation – “I tried today and now I feel kind of less like me, and I’m not exactly over the moon about being me in the first place, but now I think I kinda like it less when I’m trying NOT to be me. Because I just wanna like, be.”

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Franky Meets Other People

The three girls who ‘befriend’ Franky in the first episode are nothing like Franky — or at least it seems that way at first.

Mini and Liv have that look of suburban high school girls who have been popular for so long that their souls have become just another accessory. Grace tags along airily, saying absent/sweet/silly things while remaining inexorably bound to Mini’s haughty hip; a partnership perhaps maintained by the unstoppable inertia of adolescence. Perhaps Mini feels Grace’s child-like goodness could go either way, perhaps she and Liv feel almost generous for allowing Grace to be a teammate rather than a target.

The girls wear bright, trendy clothing and flash obnoxious gummy smiles. Mini’s jewelry clanks with each of her loose strides and Mini is senselessly, compulsively mean, and threatened – clearly – by Franky. There is no room in Mini’s head for a girl like Franky, so it’s easier to call her a dyke and keep Franky’s stubborn subscription to non-conformity far away from Mini’s world of fast-handed boyfriends and magazines about how teenagers should do their hair.

They are the anti-Franky, but something about her appeals to them. Do they want to change her or look at her? And is it relevant that Franky refuses to engage in being submissive, and that even though she is almost constantly fighting weakness, she meets them eye-to-eye?


Because when Franky’s gender non-conformity is challenged, Franky, despite emotional tugs from all corners of the room, maintains an inspiring certainty about who she is and what she feels comfortable wearing.

For example…

In the grand tradition of gender transgressors past, Franky’s new friends submit her to The Makeover. You know The Makeover, right? Yes. It begins in a flurry of Shiloh Panic and usually ends with a mall montage and a happy customer.

We’re in the mall dressing room and they’ve already gotten Franky to try eyeliner and lipstick. Mini’s found a dress Grace describes as a “punky butterfly” and they’ve got Franky in it. You can almost feel Franky’s itchy discomfort over being given clothes truly meant for an entirely different human; like when you feel, trying clothes on, that it’d be more efficient just to put them on another person’s skin, but you can’t, and so you squeeze your self-conception into them and feel itchy, even if nothing itches.

This is what Franky must wear, though, says Mini. This is what you need to wear to be in my world, where we carry condoms in our hot pink purses and say shocking mean things to each other for sport and we’re all on drugs so what the fuck ever, you know?

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The morning after their shopping trip, Franky dips her toes in the water of semi-conformity, applying eye makeup and wearing something a bit more flirty. It’s unclear if she’s compromising with Mini/herself here or if she regularly switches up her style. But the compromise doesn’t fly either: “You can’t come to my soiree like that,” Mini tells her. “It looks like she’s been gang-raped by clowns! What about that gorge dress I got you?” Frankie says it’s not right. Mini wants to know why not.

Although Franky’s pain isn’t even slightly obfuscated by her anger, she’s a feisty little firecracker of a girl and that’s something — it’s like confidence without being confident.

We’re meant to understand that Franky’s been bullied a lot at her old school, but Skins skips the “thank god I got a makeover and can be popular now” trope in favor of something slightly more inspiring: despite everything, despite Mini humiliating Franky in front of the school by pulling up photos from from the facebook-esque site started by Franky’s ex-classmates to shit all over her, despite a lifetime of moments like that one, Franky decides, ultimately, to attend the party, and to do so in the clothes that make her feel comfortable.

But first she stops in a field to smoke a joint in a trenchcoat and shoot a pistol into the prairie, where a mysterious boy finds her and tells her she’s beautiful. I don’t know, it’s Skins. He might just be a figment of her imagination, we’re not sure yet.

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Of course Mini is furious at Franky for arriving, especially dressed like THAT. Mini is the Queen of the party and doesn’t appreciate this deviant crasher. “Look at you just standing there like –” Mini begins, but Franky interrupts:

Yeah, nice try. She’s heard all that before. When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose after all, and Mini’s response is fear, mostly. I mean, Mini is vulnerable too, but she covers it up by being mean. Franky is vulnerable but she’s sure-footed in her vulnerability. That’s scary.

Although lesbian slurs are thrust constantly at Franky, she doesn’t confirm or deny anything; when she meets the mystery boy in the field, however, there is a heightened romantic energy not felt in her other scenes. In later episodes, there’s some tension with [SPOILER ALERT] (Mini), but it’s really hard to say and regardless, doesn’t seem pressing thus far.

When Rich and Alo turn to Franky for advice on how to talk to girls (because she’s “like a girl, but not like a girl”) in the second episode, Franky tells them: “I don’t know anything about girls either. I don’t have a Mum or a sister; my experience of girls is mostly being beaten up by them.”

Ultimately one of the most fascinating and progressive aspects of the term “genderqueer” is that it provides a whole swath of previously “undefined” people with a word they can use to describe themselves, which they must do because it makes other people feel safe. Perhaps the labeled person wants also to feel like a Thing, everybody wants to be a Thing.

But at the same time, the word itself evades any definitively consequential definition. It’s kinda rad, really — it’s like a loophole and also a big room for people to run around in. It’s a word for what some people are, but that word offers a lot of room for said people to figure out exactly who they are (or aren’t).  I can’t imagine a better thing for a teenager to see than this on their television.

Franky’s episode ends when, after being rejected by Mini; Franky, Rich, Alo and Grace ditch the party in favor of a much better time — some random abandoned swimming pool. It made me think of this song I really like by a band my high school friends were in, called White Flowers.

Flashpapr – white flowers
Found at white flowers on KOhit.net

It’s all about being young and in your underpants, I think, going “over the fence of the senior’s complex to their swimming pool, the perfect view of the night shining bright,” which is maybe a place to start when you’re still small and splashing around, trying to find a place to float.

Skins finds new stories to tell, and the fact that they thought of this one before any angry human demanded representation is perhaps one of the most admirable things this show has ever attempted to do. The space has been queered, ladies and genetleman and otherwise-identified human persons; the water’s warm, dive in.

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Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1762 articles for us.

85 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    I’m not going to lie – that first episode of UK Skins made me cry. like. a. small. child. It was very hard to watch for me because it so closely mirrored my experiences in junior high. (Thank god that all changed when I switched schools!)

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    I’m happy about this too. I was a bit disappointed that you didn’t recap Skins because after watching the first episode i was so excited to see what you would write about it. But yeah, i’m happy you changed your mind.

    Also, i don’t really know where to say that but i can’t see Autostraddle correctly with google chrome. Is it me or what?

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      same! i feel like i’m stuck in the 90s.

      franky is my television hero. just last night i had a terrible conversation where i tried to explain my genderqueerness to a math/logic major. needless to say, that went poorly. i should have said dyke-alike.

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        As a genderqueer computer science (so basically math and logic lulz) major, I wanna say that being super logical-mathy person doesn’t make it harder for understand genderqueerness. I’ve come out to people with all types of majors and everyone accepts it, but quite honestly, unless they’re trans* in some form or another, no one *really* gets it. Even one of my best friends who’s a sociology major specializing on gender just does not understand my genderfluidity and instead takes it as if I was unsure about myself or that I’m still figuring myself out. Dammit, it’s comments like those that make me unsure! As a friend said, I’m stable state because I’m in *constant* change rather than a random change in fairly fixed state. ANYWAYS, /endrant.

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    This was a perfect hour of television storytelling.
    My love for Skins grows exponentially with each new episode.
    I am not genderqueer, just old school queer, and I heart Frankie with all my heart.

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    Yay for gen 3 reviews!

    I’m completely fine with Franky not being a lesbian (my G3 heart belongs to Gracie anyway). But, she’s still awesome. While I’m not genderqueer – at least not in an obvious way – I can relate to Franky’s weirdness and inability to fit in to traditional high school cliques. And each time she comes on screen you just want to go “awww!” She’s like my cuter/alternative/British/edgier/less annoying version of Justin Bieber.

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    THANK YOU!

    Totally relate to the changing room scene. And I’m so thankful I didn’t have gym class after 6th grade, though I don’t think it could’ve been much worse than middle school.

    And if you were to “accidentally” recap the next two episodes, I wouldn’t cry. They’re pretty great.

    On a side note, the MTV e04 was actually…not bad? I think I might have even liked it, which was surprising considering I couldn’t even make it through e03. I think they do better when they’re not recreating the UK episodes.

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      oh god, i hated e04! i got no real grasp on cadie’s problem, her parents were a rare example of when skins gets so ridiculous that it just stops feeling even remotely authentic, i couldn’t understand why the fuck she liked stanley (sid was far more charismatic — stanley is a waste of space, we only put up w/him b/c he is supposed to be sid), there seemed to be no depth behind cadie — like i felt like her character didn’t have a history, it just had scenes. i’m glad they didn’t try to re-create what Cassie was, but they failed again.

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          my #1 problem with skins right now though is Abbud. What the fuck have they done to that character? He’s a terrible actor, all he ever does is make gross sexual jokes CONSTANTLY and is totally inappropriate and has no feelings seemingly besides GIRLZ R HOT and he’s like an NC-17 version of a Nickelodean teen show character from the 90s, like straight out of Salute Your Shorts or something. If they give that kid an entire episode, I won’t be able to sit through it.

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          I also think Stanley is a waste of air. He just dumbly fumbles around. During the masturbation scene, I was just disgusted and appalled at his audacity.

          And my friend and I lol’d at Tony’s monotone voice during his speech to Tea. I don’t know a thing about acting but I knew he wasn’t delivering those words properly… they were words meant for stronger emotion.

          As for Abbud, I can’t with him. He’s relevant a bit because there really are guys like that. But I know we would fight.

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    Thank goodness this is getting reviewed. I’ve watched all the S5 episodes so far, and it feels weird to come here and not get everyone else’s opinions.

    *SORT OF SPOILERS AHEAD*

    That being said, after Mini’s episode on Thursday, I’m pegging a Franky/Mini fucked up romance, complete with unrequited love and a secret kiss that someone tells all of Roundview about.

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      I was absolutely getting that vibe. I hope that Franky makes Mini’s life very confusing very soon. *crosses fingers* When she asked her for a light I was feeling such a damsel-in-distress/gentleman-confidante thing, I only wish that they had danced.

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          Argh, I couldn’t even watch Mini sleeping with Nick, it was so disturbing! I think it was at that point when I started to get a feel for her character, and I’m now way more interested in her character development.

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          yeah she has this weird mystery behind her that is obviously covered by a 10ft wall of bitchiness and superficiality. i sense FEELINGS

  7. Thumb up 0

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    “But first she stops in a field to smoke a joint in a trenchcoat and shoot a pistol into the prairie, where a mysterious boy finds her and tells her she’s beautiful. I don’t know, it’s Skins.”

    Laughed out loud at this :)

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    Thank you sosososo much for doing this recap!
    Franky is…the best.
    The changing room scene struck a giant chord with me. (And also, I want her underwear. And like half her style but that’s irrelevant.)

    Franky: fucking awesome headfuck thing.

    I really (reallyreallyreally) want her to be gay but I’d still love her anyway if she ended up with Mysterious Boy.

    Please recap more Skins s5! The other episodes are really good so far, too. And I’m always interested in what Alo is wearing- at one point it looked like he was wearing shorts + tights, but I’m not 100% on that, maybe they were just jodhpurs or something but either way.

    Fuck US skins, s5 UK just brought it.

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    I’m loving series 5 of Skins UK. Every episode that’s been on so far is amazing. But Franky’s was definitely my favourite out of the 3 that have aired. Plus Franky’s my favourite character, everytime she appears on screen I can’t help but make a :D face lol.

    Not sure if this is a spoiler or not considering it was said on the radio, but Dakota Blue Richards (Franky) said that she had to kiss a couple of girls, but whether they’re just peck kisses or passionate/meaningful kisses, I’m not sure. But can’t wait to find out ;)

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    nice article. and finally! all of the frankys we know can become a real life tv hero character! i predict, and let’s hope, that Skins producers will find it hard to keep franky strictly dependent on heterosexuality to affirm her gender expression.

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    I really can’t get into skins. I know, I know, but I don’t agree at all that they’re normal kids. I always found them to be pretty opposite; sure they’ve got their problems but they’re still all drop dead gorgeous, just with a grunge edge.

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    “I don’t think it’s an actual like, choice. This is just who she is.” I like this. And the recap. And Franky. Love skins. Happy V-day all! except maybe google chrome.

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    Ok, you guyz. I really wanted Franky to be gay, because a) lesbians on tv pretty much = my favorite thing ever, and b) omg she is so cute. But I think it is actually good and important that she’s straight.
    All lesbians on tv are femme, or at least conform pretty comfortably to female gender expectations. I think the people making those characters feel good about themselves, like, see women can be thin and attractive and wear make-up and have glamorous hair and also gay! I defy stereotypes, fuckyeah! But in reality it is just resistance to portraying any kind of gender variance. So nothing would please me more than a little butch/boi/andro visibility.
    Franky’s experience is like what the world tells gender outlaws everywhere irl

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      Except as lesbians, we have each other. Mainstream culture tell people like Franky that they…are ugly, are unattractive, would be so much prettier in some girl clothes. But do I even need to tell you how pussy Franky could get if she wasn’t jailbait? Straight girls who deviate from the gender script aren’t celebrated. Ever. There’s something really powerful about a straight male character telling Franky she’s beautiful.

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    “What, she has short hair and wears ties or something but the producers aren’t gutsy enough to make her masculine-of-center AND gay?”

    See, I think making her straight is even more gutsy. Gender-bending straight people are almost invisible in mainstram media, and depictions of them help to break down popular, essentialist notions of gender. A butch straight girl or a femme straight guy hits a lot closer to home for straight people than a gay character who doesn’t fit into conventional stereotypes, too.

    It would be nice to live in a world where people don’t automatically assume I’m straight, especially a world where they don’t make an obliviously offensive comment like, “you don’t act gay at all!” It would be nice to live in a world where society doesn’t dictate which toys are for girls and which toys are for boys. I think characters like Franky are an important step to breaking down outdated, repressive gender norms.

    I agree with you, the emerging, ambiguous “genderqueer” category is a great thing.

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    Franky is just one more great example of genderqueer identity and the genderconfused responses that many of us face in our daily lives. If you have a similar story, please share it: Turns Out He’s A Lady, hesalady.blogspot.com, is a new blog dedicated to personal stories of gender, when it works, and when it doesn’t.

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    I just watch the conclusion of season 5, and I quote,”I am not anything. I’m into people” thus not slapping Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual on herself. I just adore her and wish they had divulged into her charachter more.

    Can someone tell me if they thought her mannerisms were a bit odd? Like, when she recoils from any intimate situation. Classic signs of sexual abuse, be it rape or molestation. I swear they were going to have her tell Matty. And the way she panniced when he was on top of her…Strange that they didn’t touch on that. Maybe it was implied? WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME!!!!!! :X

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