MTV's 'Are You The One?' And The Future Of Queer Representation In Reality TV
Support for this podcast and the following message come from Google from Connecticut California from Mississippi to Minnesota. Millions of businesses are using Google tools to grow online learn. How Google is supporting businesses in your state at Google dot com mm slash economic impact? This is one A.. I'm Joshua Johnson in Washington. It's been almost two decades since the bachelor slur and the bachelorette debuted on A._B._C.. The franchises can be sappy and sentimental and formulaic but they kind of created a new market for dating reality T._V. shows they're still entertaining the masses on a basic premise the quest for love almost exclusively heterosexual love now many people argue that shows like this often hinge on preconceived notions of gender that they reinforce what mainstream culture already tells us a relationship is supposed to look like one show is Flipping Ping that script M._T._V.'s latest season of the dating show are you the one sixteen contestants who identify as sexually fluid are vying to find their perfect matches. What's the value of representing the underrepresented in reality ATV and can we trust T._v.? Networks not to exploit those. It claims to champion joining us from L._A.. Is kyw wes one of the contestants from this season of M._t._V.'s. Are you the one kind welcome to one. Hey thanks for having me. Can we start a coyote a little bit about you. How do you identify as it relates to your sexual orientation and your gender identity yeah so I specifically identify in my gender as a trans masculine non binary which means I was born born female at birth and I have chosen to transition but I don't prescribe to exclusively male or female and then in terms of my orientation <hes> I like to use the word queer which is kind of an all encompassing sexually fluid identity it is also worth noting I would not bring this up for the fact that it is visible on the show but it is worth noting that you've had what's often referred to as top surgery so your chest is a little flatter kind of looking a little bit more like a man's chest yeah absolutely lately I've had top surgery and I also have been on it off to saas thrown the has lower my voice and masculine my appearance? That's something that came up in the first episode of the season. Here is a clip where Jenna another contestant offers her support for you and while you are taking a testosterone shot listen nine hasn't been very linear like I was like on testosterone for about like four or five months and then I got off of it for a couple of months was a little I was scared and also like filling out my identities not like when you're like the female and so that's me unpacking. How do I want to become there is no guidebook to I mean there are literally books on relationships for heterosexual people like dating for Dummies right blake how dangerous for dummies that doesn't exist yeah? What do you think I called yogurt so many times but like I'm already like totally chill? Those are Jennifer from episode one of this season of are you the one Chi that must have been pretty dramatic granted. You knew that you were going to be bringing your testosterone shots with you to this house for the show but still opening up about that that had to be a big decision. Yeah I mean it was it was nerve wracking to say the very least <hes> however it's something that people don't see an so I purposely chose to show that I wanted people to see it. I wanted it to be normalized and say okay. This is a part of someone like this. This is their their life. This is this the whole thing and part of the reason why I wanted to share it with the one who I had a relationship with is because I say well if you're going to like me take all of me. This is everything that comes with it. What made you decide to take part in this program? You know my biggest motivator innovator to be honest is queer trans visibility. I think that there's absolutely a lack of authentic visibility representation within popular media and I think that the more that these things are put into the popular space that the more quote unquote normal they seem to everybody else and it doesn't seem like such an uttering or such a token izing subject for everyone no elaborate on that in terms of visibility. I think we have more visibility of L._G._B._T.. People now in the media media that doesn't come with a whole lot of like judgmental baggage than we ever have. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the stonewall so that got people thinking about a lot of things there are more queer and Trans and gender non binary characters on TV. I'm openly gay so there's like there's more visibility now. What is this additional sort of visibility that your referring to this this additional layer of visibility yeah issue right? There is a lot more visibility but I think with this show in particular particular why I feel especially proud to be part of it is because it's showing authentic queer relationships as not as a one off not as a special episode <hes> not token is in any anyway you literally just out of the House of people that all identify similarly authentically exploring relationships in love which is not something that anybody ever sees especially on television. It's a very nuanced type of. Social Interaction. That's a whole different world to people <hes>. I can't name a single place where I've ever seen it represented the way that it is here on this show and you said that you described yourself as queer. What does that mean to you? In terms of your sexual orientation addiction. <hes> queer is one of those terms that is a little bit more loosely defined but it depends on the person but for me personally it feels like an all encompassing sexuality <hes> Aka <hes> a label to we just find that I can't really define it in mostly minister now I i. I don't WanNa be to blyth about this and this is why I'm asking because I think it's easy as we talk about sexual fluidity for someone who knows nothing about it and just kind of wants to get a question answered and move on to think that that means that I hate to be crass about this but to basically mean that you will hook up with anybody that there is no one who was awfully you know what I'm saying that there's no one who's off limits to you. Like what is it. What does it actually means you? What does that kind of fluidity really mean for you? Practically I mean it does mean that anybody is an option right but also I do have taste do standard so and it does not mean I'm going to go and hook up with everybody at the same thing as when it came out in high school and then and I I identified as female at the time and I had girls that said Oh don't get a crush on me and I'm like Oh girl you're not even my type planning yourself now there and there's the difference Prince Kai between identifying as queer identifying as bisexual correct me if I'm wrong but when we think of somebody is by that still kind of speaks to a binary continuum that you are attracted to this or that and not not necessarily making room for people who don't fit neatly into the two ends of that continuum is that is that fair yeah. I think it'd be fair to say. I think that there are some people that would feel differently. Some people do feel that bisexual does cover the gender gamut eh arguments for that but I think the general scope of understanding of bisexual mean have bisexual binary right so it really does <hes> Kinda get defined as only being attracted to males or females and that's one of the reasons this is why I like the word Queer in other words like Penn sexual and sexually fluid because those tend to encompass more than just a binary gender spectrum now with regards to the show. Are you the one for those who haven't seen it. There are the singles who go to this beach house in Hawaii and they have already been kind of analyzed. There's a psychographic profile made of them to determine which of the other singles would theoretically be their perfect match and if everyone finds the person that they have been kind of paired with then everyone splits a prize of one million dollars so they kind of win the money or lose the money as a group everyone in the show has already disclosed by their own admission that they suck it relationships and we know how dating shows go on M._t._v. v. so this is not going to be a P._B._S. documentary about sexually fluid people were you concerned at all about M._T._v. having a little bit too much fun with your relationship suck edge <unk> as it relates to being on the show you know <hes> I did. I have my reservations one hundred percent <hes> however I actually can't talk more highly of the crew that we had <hes> it turns out that the production election team was actually trained with glad and I'm sorry gliding realize be the line against defamation. There are media advocacy group that advocates for positive portrayals about should be people. Yes absolutely that and you also had a cast for all of us for the type of people that really held each other and the people that we were with responsible and the production really knew what they had on their hands so was I afraid of being exploited one hundred percent have I already come off as quite dramatic in M._t._v. style yes but at the same time <hes> I know what I signed up for and also <hes> we were in good hands and I think that one of the biggest difference watching our show as opposed to something else very similarly is that you're not only entertained for your also being educated and there's a lot of real substance there so <hes> that fear quickly dissipated. Hey We got a few questions one question in particular from a listener who left a voicemail. I'M GONNA ask you to stay with us for just one more minute and I want to give you a chance to answer Sasha's question we'll continue with Kai West contestant from season eight of M._t._v.'s argue the one we'll zoom out and look at reality TV and sexual and gender fluidity more broadly in just a minute. I'm Joshua Johnson and you're listening to one A. From W.. A. M. U. and N._p._R.. Support for one day and the following message come from the Platinum Card from American Express conversations and civil debate in our society push us forward aboard connect us with the rest of the world with the Platinum Card earned five times membership rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express travel. That's the powerful backing of American Express. Don't live life without it. Visit American Express is dot com slash explore platinum terms apply. I hope and expect this to be the only time that I speak to you. In this manner. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress Special Counsel Missile Robert Muller isn't getting his wish he set to testify about his investigation into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice by President trump afterwards the N._p._r.. Politics podcast is going to be there to break down everything you need to know about what he he says. This is one A.. I'm Joshua Johnson. We're discussing sexual and gender fluidity partly as portrayed in season eight of M._t._v.'s reality dating show. Are you the one we're speaking to one of the contestants from this season Kai. Wes will broaden out and talk. talk about sexual and gender fluidity and reality t._v. more broadly kaya no i gotta let you go in a second but we did get voicemail from a listener with a question for you about the show here is what sasha left in our inbox hi my name is sasha i'm calling from washington d._c. and my question is for by my friends and i are a big fan of this season of are you the one and we're fascinated by the dynamics playing out on a reality show setup for straight people but with a queer cat we've noticed that once contestants on the show couple up there is an assumption of monogamy but in so many communities there is an exploration and celebration of alternative relationship structures and also having multiple partnerships so so in a season of are you the one that's supposed to emphasize fluidity why are so many contestants coupling up naga asli and is this even the right strategy to win a game show where money is at stake great question sasha kyw what would you say to sasha <hes> <hes> well i actually was the one person that was pinned as the open relationship guy so i am with what sasha saying in i think it's really interesting <hes> yes does this show in cast run the the gender and sexuality game it one hundred percent but are we all people that have been brought up in a heterosexual society yes so just because we identified that way doesn't mean that we broken out of those patterns <hes> my personal opinion do i think that monogamy is the way to to win the money for this show no but i don't think that all make asked me would agree with me before for someone else who's on a similar journey as you have been then on which you say in the show you've gone through a lot of iterations of that someone who is coming to understand the fluidity of their sexuality of their gender what would you say to them is there any advice you would give them to anybody anybody who here this i wish someone had told me your perfect the way that you are there's nothing wrong with you it is okay to explore we're all humans we were on this planet for a very short time so please by all means explore and talk about it i think the more that you talk about the more you feel comfortable with yourself and the more other people feel comfortable and can support you in the way that you need kyw wes a contestant on season eight of m._t._v.'s are you the one time we really appreciate your time thanks for talking to us thanks for having me i appreciate it let's zoom out a bit and add two more voices to this conversation joining us now from n._p._r. in new york is peer demeaned dominquez a culture writer for buzzfeed news pure welcome to the program hi thanks for having me and joining us in studio is sherry williams and mass media and communications professor at american university american university owns w. a. m. u. which produces one a. professor williams welcome back thank you professor i'd love to hear your reactions to what we just heard from kaiwas anything stand out to you while i think something that i said that was really important is that even people who are who exist along the sexual identity gender identity spectrum are still trying to unlearn some of these rules from hetero patriarchy that that really don't serve serve any of us and i think there's some good examples of that on this show even though this is an mtv reality dating show and there's some <hes> traditional conventions of reality t._v. that feel exploitative and all that kind of stuff but on there we see that they are character character not characters but cast members like bissett who does not really fit into these binary ideas that we have about gender and about sexual identity and people are able to learn from that and even there's one character ah i keep saying character the one cast member nor who says that she's bisexual but when it came down time for her to choose a mate she ended up choosing a says gender man because she said she went with what was safe in what felt comfortable and she even that that's really an indication that even though she knows that it's okay to be attracted to a woman and have a relationship with a woman she still needs to learn some of that too so that is some of the value that i see in this show uh-huh and also in some of the things that guy was saying worth noting by the way that bus it and nor are both from international more conservative families but sit is nigerian nor grew up in a traditional jordanian muslim household pier dominquez what about you anything that we heard from kyw that stood out <hes> well i think one of the things that i guess i would like to bring into the conversation is this notion of <hes> reality t._v. being trashy or or m._t._v. <hes> you know being this corporate behemoth who's obviously trying to sort of <hes> have a show oh that's going to have high ratings but i also think that like m._t._v. has had a history starting with poodle somewhat who was a latino aids activists who got on the one of the early real world episodes and was able to stage basically a gay wedding on television before it was even a political conversation point so i guess i just wanted to start by saying that i think that the questions of the commercialization of queer identity and the idea that reality television is somehow illegitimate <hes> around those questions i think it's almost the opposite it reality television has been at the vanguard of a lot of these issues around race and gender and and being on television pure also want to make sure before we go any deeper into the conversation that we're clear on some terminology amy tweeted remember that sexual fluidity and gender fluidity are different things well said amy sexual orientation and gender identity are different sexual sexual orientation has to do with who you see yourself with gender identity has to do with who you see yourself ads and we've also got this term sexually fluid pure would you add anything to what we've already discussed in terms of what we I guess that what that usually the the way that that trope usually gets played out on television is that there's usually sort of it kind of is very straight male Gezi and there will be like a very attractive love women and the question becomes Oishi into men or into women and I think in a way that is often kind of structured or on a street male gaze and I think what's so interesting about the show is that it really kind of pushed away from that trope <hes> of the way that sexual fluidity usually gets understood right because these concepts are might be abstract but they get played out in reality television in very particular ways and I think what's important about the show is how it kind of moved away from the usual way that sexual fluidity loyd gets represented on television with what <hes> peer was referencing with regards to these shows being viewed as trashy professor Williams. One of our listeners already had another word for it. Are we wrote on our facebook page. These shows are so skanky. It's nice at the market for them is expanding to be more inclusive but this type of programming should've gone the way of the dinosaurs prior to even getting it start just smutty. It has an audience though I guess so good that they'll be inclusive presser well. I mean I do to agree that reality TV even though it has been perceived as being low brow and dismissive it is a place where we end up seeing not only people but people of color represented in ways that we don't traditionally finally see them in a scripted television so when I think of where we see Queer people of color the most that is on reality television and <hes> I know that again some people don't see that there is value in those shows but there is value value in the representations because we don't see those representations elsewhere and I think of love and hip and eleven hip hop franchise for example <hes> on love and Hip Hop New York there is a cast member on their Jonathan who is <hes> a Latino Tino man who talks about going through conversion therapy having his mother put him through conversion therapy. That's not anything that I've ever seen before in terms of a queer rep a representation of a queer person of color who has experienced that in that is on this show on this franchise that people easily dismiss so I think they're like we need to start taking these representations seriously because we and we also need to really explore why we don't see those representations included in what we perceive as highbrow representations in media and when you see conversion therapy you mean to convert someone away from being gang right and I think it's also worth noting professor that what's considered to be the first reality TV show aired on P._B._S.. It the American family back in one thousand nine hundred ninety three where we learned about Lance loud who was one of the first openly gay real people on television at all so it may be skanky or smutty but P._B._S. proved that people will watch yeah yeah yeah peer you wrote an article for Buzzfeed News called M._t._v.'s new dating show actually gets queer dating. What did you mean by that? I think I meant that a lot of the way that reality television has represented queer dating has often been <hes> as a kind of <hes> plot twist almost so like shows like Tila Tequila <hes> shot at love with Tila Tequila or <hes> boy meets boy on Bravo <hes> there was there was this idea that like sexuality was kind of like a thing that suddenly got revealed and it was <hes> again it was designed for straight audiences to kind of have a way into the show they were not shows primarily about what queer dating looks. It's like for Queer people and this show is really one of the first <hes> shows that I've seen that's not structured for a straight gays. It's really about these sort of intricacies these inner community inner queer sort sort of intricacies about gender desirability and there's there's FEM people and Butch people and there's every kind of gender rather than these shows that usually have a main character that fits into idealized <hes> conventions mentions of desire to kind of bring in St viewers who will be not threatened by that Pearson she mentioned it. Here's a clip from a Promo for boy meets boy. It was a reality dating show that aired on Bravo in the early two thousands here is part sort of how they promoted the show exceptional gay man the want to make huge attempted finding connection fifteen extraordinary Souza's Ovine for his affection. Everybody's out to get this perfect guy. That's definitely ingredients for a lot of trial. There were things that he had heard that I hadn't heard two conflicting stories in the end. Just one man say two appearances on always always will they see what neither the gay suitors nor the leading man no is that some of the suitors a straight man pretending to be gay. I love yet competing to win. A cash prime. Mover meeting man discovered a secret. That's a clip from a Promo for boy meets boy presser. I'm having flash but like I literally had like my stomach just when some problematic but this is kind of where this is where we've come from to the point of are you the one so I guess remembering boy meets boy when it came out my I think my barometer for what's Skanky and somebody and trashy is maybe a little different because I've seen what came before yeah I mean this. I remember this show I remember when it came out and it was problematic problematic than it is now because what this show does and what it did was it really trivialized and really made a mockery of same gender attraction really just for the heterosexual as because again. This isn't a show that was. Really and truly about helping <hes> gay man fine love this was really a show that was really based on making a mockery of men who are attracted to men who are seeking relationships with men and also just four the whole whole point of gaining a cash prize so I think this we really have come a long way when it comes to <hes> l._G._B._T.. Reality dating shows and I think boy meets boy shows that people are now taking the same gender attraction seriously on reality dating shows even though reality dating shows themselves <hes> have some problematic <hes> aspects to them but I guess professor. That's the flip side of it. Is You know to to have these shows. They you have to recruit a cast. I mean nobody has been court ordered to be on M._T._v. and and take part in the show right right but I think it's what guy was saying earlier. In how how important representation is an even though knowing that you know reality shows does have some <hes> traditional aspects to them that are built in to you know <hes> create drama to exacerbate in 'cause drama but also just having the representation of <hes> someone like high of someone like the sit and some of the other cast members is really important because I think of being a person who is of of generation x. of the original M._T._V. Generation. I mean we barely even saw people of color at all represented on M._T._v.. Let alone <hes> Queer people of Color so I think this representation on this show is groundbreaking and it is important but it also is not meant to teach us everything we need to know about gender fluidity and sexual fluidity but it is a gateway to people learn more visit us remember the very beginning of M._t._v. remember when it was a rather monochromatic channel so it's come a little ways. We'll continue our conversation in a minute sticklers support for N._P._R.. And the following message come from Carmax for more than twenty five years Carmax has made it easy to sell your car they provide free appraisals and offers on the spot carmax will buy your car even if you don't buy there's in fact Carmax has bought more than eight eight million vehicles to learn more and schedule your free appraisal visit Carmax Dot Com bitcoin is a huge amount of electricity to power its computers and that has created some very unique money making opportunities in different parts of the world world. It is also causing some governments concerned. Listen and subscribe to the indicator from N._p._R.. Let me get to some of your comments and peers. There's some peer there's very mixed perspectives on just the merits of having these kinds of stories on reality ATV Belinda wrote on our facebook page love this show why not just say love is love. Maria wrote on our facebook page. People who are sexual outsiders are not entertainment MTV. My sexual sexual preferences are not a spectator sport queer chocolate tier. I love that twitter name Queer chocolates here tweeted visibility and authenticity are incredibly meaningful in our society. Keep holding that space and telling your story peer. How do you see this the line between holding space for valuable stories and turning people into a spectator sport <hes> I think that again with what we just talked about regarding earlier shows like <hes> boy meets boy or a shot shot at love with Tila Tequila <hes> I think the the what Kai brought up about the idea that glad trained the the media crew the crew that was making or you the one I think that's really interesting <hes> because you can tell in the show show and the way that the show is structured again? I mentioned in my article there. There's still to some degree playing into the trope of the idea that oh which gender is this person going to pick as if that's like the most interesting question originally when I saw the ads for the show I was like Oh God this again but actually when I watched the show. I realized that it's not that's not the question that it's asking. It's really <hes> about <hes> how queer people are unlearn earning the sort of hetero normative patterns of desirability of dating that are that we are bombarded with from the time we are like you know sentient and the show I in sort of focusing on that question of on learning really is sort of an intra tre queer show in a lot of ways it's not for it's not exploiting <hes> in in the way that that viewer is is framing the question in my opinion. Let me play another clip from are you the one this is a conversation between in Kylie who is a bisexual contestant who identifies as a woman and beset who I mentioned earlier who is a pen sexual non binary contestant. Let's listen I have never dated. Somebody is similar to you. I I would be shocked if you did. I mean who else is like me like back. I'll being pan. Sexual is stayed very guarded because when a girl or female identifying person finds out that you're attracted to other men the immediately are like that sounds like you're just gay which is a tired idea I do perform in drag. Drag name is Deanne Sleigh <music> all the Holler and she turns every party. I can't wait to meet Dion. I hope I do how do you feel about that. I feel like it's a vibe for sure. No I like it I really do I'm very intrigued and. Fine I wanted something different. This is different because I I don't judge I don't give do you want that means a lot. It means a lot a clip with Kylie and Bissett from are you. The one and I think a professor Williams we may they have made N._p._R.. History I believe that's the first time anyone has said Ochre N._p._R.. So I believe this may be a moment note the date of the time I think we've made history Elliott emailed. I love the power of gender play especially with the Queer Prom episode also so much so much praise for giving incredible non binary representation. I've never seen myself represented on a dating show until but sit I also think they've handled discussions of internalized by phobia any frank and deeply personal way way professor. There's also an aspect of this season of the show that deals with race as a constant in their identities race and the cultures from which they hail. How do you see that playing out? I think that they do and they don't deal with to be honest. <hes> so we know that Noor is a bisexual woman from <hes> Jordan and her family is from a Muslim background and she talks about <hes> wrestling with <hes> cultural ideas about an inch traditional national ideas about <hes> gender and sexuality and besides it <hes> whose from whose families from West Africa talks about that too. I mean so we see some of the cast members discuss that but what I don't see is the show overall getting getting into that and <hes> I'm just kinda therefore episodes that we've seen so far and I'm just really interested in how that will happen because one thing that I I have noticed <hes> that I kind of have a raised eyebrow about is even though there are like three or four six gender black women on their they don't get very much camera time and they don't really seem to other than Kylie. No one really seems to desire them or be interested in them very much and along with brandon who is assist gender. I'm bisexual black man who is on the show who is starting to I think in the last episode he started to <hes> Vibe with somebody but I think that's really interesting too because on these reality dating shows we traditionally have not seen a lot of black representation and when we have seen seen it it's been in a really traditional sort of way <hes> in real and also a in a heterosexual lynch too so it's either been like this hyper sexuality on the love of Ray J and real chance of love and flavor of love and all that kind China stuff and but because I'm wondering if because the people on this show don't really fit into these traditional ideas of sexual identity and gender identity I don't I'm not sure if that's why we're not seeing them represented as and focused on as much in this show yet but again we're only four episodes in and I think it'll be interesting to see where the attention continues to ebb and flow on the show one more quick comment before we wind down Sydney rights. I watched a lot of reality T._v.. In middle school that was full of Sexual Chemistry and just plain sex between men and women. I can't express how much it would have helped being navigating my sexual and gender identities to have seen this show at twelve which was how old I was when I came out. Is this season of are you. The one less destructive I don't know but it's representation and young people can look to the show and see a future outside of Struggle Sherry. I wonder where you see this kind of representation going from here here. When I was in my teens all I had were the men on film from in living color to show me what a black gay man was like which is why it took me so damn long to figure out who I am? Where do you see this kind of representation going especially for people like our last listener who said I wish wish I'd have this when I was twelve? I think this is really important because we know that media is a socialization tool. Immediate teaches us what is acceptable. What isn't what is expected of us and it also teaches US teaches us? If different aspects expects of us will be accepted by society and now that we have a lot more in still not enough a lot more representations of people with gender with different gender and sexual identities being represented in society that shows two things not only do these type of people exist because when we don't see them and there's this <hes> media term called symbolic annihilation when we don't see people with power represented in media and that just gives off the idea that they don't exist and they don't have power in society but when we start to see people more we start to not only show that they do exist that they are important and an important part of society and that they deserve to exist in the way that is authentic and comfortable above them and before we go pier. Where do you see this going? One of our listeners mentioned pose on F._X.. Another form of representation before we go here. Where do you see this going yeah? I think <hes> it's I mean I just think that this is a great. I also wish had this <hes> growing up I mean I'm mcgahee Latino man from Columbia <hes> with its own issues around gender and gender dissidents and I think that it's really important to see <hes> these representations of <hes> those of us who are like who are not represented in mainstream media as sort of desirable or a sort of you know having fun I mean there's there's a kind of element of joy and fun to these shows that that is really important and I think the it really shows where things have moved into and I'm just I think it's Great Pier Dominquez culture writer for Buzzfeed News and Professor Sherry Williams of American University. Thank you both for being with us. This conversation was produced by Catherine Fink edited by Orion Donovan Smith to learn more about our team visit the one eight dot org slash staff. This program comes to you from W. A._M._U.. Part of American University in Washington distributed by N._P._R.. Until we meet again.