What’s gay on reality TV?
Here at Aftershocks, we’ve been watching a range of recent shows and scratching our heads while trying to offer preliminary answers to that question. It seems that ever since the pioneering Lance Loud came out on PBS’ 1973 epic An American Family, gays have been an important flavor profile on reality television. What progress, if any, have nearly four decades of visibility brought?
The Housewives' pocket gays
We’ve spent plenty of time watching Bravo’s The Real Housewives franchise. With those hapless housewives, Bravo has successfully cultivated perhaps the largest gay following of all the cable networks. (Sorry, Logo! In spite of our deep love for Ru Paul’s Drag Race and Drag U, endless reruns of Reno 911, Absolutely Fabulous, and the blandest gay film of the month just aren’t cutting it for us.)
For the most part, however, The Real Housewives features mostly what we like to call “pocket gays.” So many of the women featured have their own private gay pets that we think they might as well just pop them in one of their Chanel clutches.
A more extreme version of this phenomenon would be The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Lisa VanderPump’s gay “adoptee,” Cedric (it was never clear if he was legally adopted by Lisa). After Bravo shot a first season full of hilarious gay footage with Cedric, Lisa finally had enough of his mooching and fabricated personal history, and she threw him out of her house.
Watch Cedric talk about life before Lisa:
Cedric has returned to the show, however, as this season’s latest episode featured yet another awkward encounter when Cedric wasn’t invited to one of her parties and Lisa wondered why he was there. It made us realize how much we miss his low-brow outfits and improbable bathing suits, not to mention his weak attempts at creating a hard-knocks childhood in the streets of Paris.
You know, the kind with a rough street life that requires your mother to have been a prostitute. Does Cedric think he’s Jean Genet? Well, a boy can dream.
We wonder if there isn’t a larger point here, though, about how Bravo wants the highly marketable buzz of these accessorized gays and the occasional lesbian (who usually conducts a brief affair with one of the housewives), but won’t invite them to a prominent place at the table. Remember Fernanda Rocha from Orange County? We liked her better than any of the Housewives!
Flipping Out on Jeff Lewis
But let's be clear. We are not looking to reality television for gay role models. We loathe the idea that anyone should demonstrate to others how to live and behave. And even if we were, we certainly wouldn’t look up to the über-neurotic Jeff Lewis and his dull new boyfriend, Gage Edwards, on Flipping Out.
If a gay couple exists with less romantic chemistry than these two, we are unaware. Gage is little more than a neatly coiffed office manager. The mostly silent intern, Trace Lehnhoff, who spent most episodes quietly lurking behind a computer monitor or not really talking at client meetings, interested us much more, but we knew he wouldn’t stay for long.
He was just too cute, upstaging Lewis without having to do anything else but show up. No wonder he got fired in a blaze of neurotic rage!
No eligible gays in Dallas
Meanwhile, there’s 29-year-old Drew Ginsburg, whom one of our colleagues referred to as “the gay one with the Herman Munster head,” on Bravo’s Most Eligible Dallas. Often sad and/or resentful, we’d call him “poor Drew,” though that label wouldn’t apply materially in light of his family’s 10 car dealerships in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Francisco.
Drew prefers Ferraris and Lamborghinis to haute couture, recently lost 200 pounds, and seems like the communal pocket gay to his thirtysomething straight Dallas friends. We were intrigued when he recently “bought” muscle-boy Glenn Pakulak at a charity auction, but disappointed when Drew nervously gave him away to Courtney Kerr, who didn’t seem to appreciate the gift at all.
Watch Drew Ginsburg discuss being gay in Dallas:
Duds on The A-List
Of course, Logo has attempted its own answer to the Housewives phenomenon. Most weeks we can barely endure the whining, sing-song speech of the boys on The A-List (billed as “Housewives with balls”) but we watch anyway out of some kind of gay guilt. These are our peeps, after all. Only they’re not.
The late Lance Loud, under the surveillance of PBS cameras in his crappy room at The Chelsea Hotel in the 1970s, never could have imagined such a bourgeois bunch in the city of his dreams.
The A-List often seems like little more than last year’s International Male catalog, come to life on the streets of New York.
The recent revelation of former Amazing Race winner Reichen Lehmkuhl’s nude photo floating on the web was unremarkable, barely more titillating than a phone-sex ad in the back of a gay weekly from Anytown, U.S.A. Are we supposed to be shocked that Reichen exchanges nude photos with potential sex partners?
It’s hard to believe that someone with his good looks (if blandly generic style) really has so much trouble finding love or sex in New York City, even without the Botox injections his castmates crave.
We won’t include the charming and bright-eyed Brazilian, Rodiney [sic], in this A-List complaint. His usual caveman phrasing (“I don’t thinking you my friend,” for example) and beefcake calendar photo shoots are really the only excitement on the show. And the Season Two episodes do provide insight into the mind of social climber and fag hag Nyasha, some kind of singer-fashion-designer-diva who isn’t nearly as famous as she seems to think she is.
What does today’s hag want from her flock? Apparently, undying devotion in Nyasha’s cause, as well as some loving care from the allegedly bisexual Rodiney. “She not my type,” he insists, Tarzan-like, in his video diary. Whose type is she, we wonder? Her castmates can barely get her into the realm of dating, even with the help of the Internet.
Here’s our primary question: What A-List did the Logo producers have in mind? These boys conduct their lukewarm quarrels and heart-to-hearts mostly in no-name Chelsea coffee shops and nameless bars during off-hours, posing only in the lowest echelon step-and-repeats. With the exception of the unusually stable Mike Ruiz, none seems to have any creative potential, entrepreneurial skill, or even a basic liberal arts education.
Bad Girls are better
With most of the A-List boys engaged in impotent antics, we were forced to seek out a warrior lesbian in New Orleans to refresh our reality palates. We’re talking about Bad Girls Club cast member Shelly from St. Louis, described on Oxygen’s website as “Determined to fix things her own way and on her own terms, [she] isn't afraid to stand up for herself regardless of who she needs to confront.”
In her own words, however, Shelly is a lot more fun. “I will kill you with my lesbian ass,” she shouts at a group of religious fundamentalists. Protesting gays at Mardi Gras? That’s sort of like taking Mickey Mouse out of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
They may try to dampen Shelly’s fun with the other bad girls in New Orleans, but she’s the one doing the dampening when she empties a bucket of water on them from her Bourbon Street balcony. Minutes later, she’s at street level, throwing punches as a protester swings an anti-gay sign at her head. This is someone we can admire.
Shelly’s story becomes even more poignant when the love of her life comes for a brief visit dressed in a hoodie and sunglasses. Since she is currently deployed to Iraq, it’s not safe for her to reveal her true identity in front of the Bad Girls camera and crew.
Is this the 21st century? The poor soldier just wants a little sugar before she heads back to Baghdad, but is it still don’t-ask-don’t-tell on American television?
Of course, Jersey Shore has its own set of bad girls, and for Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and Dina Nicole Cortese, nothing inspires a little situational lesbianism like living in Florence. In a recent episode, their castmates responded with disgust and hilarity. The male specimens on Jersey Shore might make anyone run screaming into the arms of a woman, but we’d prefer people who don’t need to be bombed out of their minds to consider hooking up with members of the same sex.
As we think of the collective blood-alcohol content of the Jersey Shore cast, we’re reminded how much drinking happens on The A-List and all of these shows. We may not be able to say what “gay” is on reality TV, but we can say that booze seems to be the one common element uniting reality television across a wide spectrum of sexualities.