So-called reality television is usually so over-the-top that
its representation of lesbian and bisexual women is typically far more
dramatic than what we find in scripted television. But the histrionics (both on
and off screen) surrounding the Grey’s
Anatomy fiasco this season were hard to top. In fact, reality television
seemed almost tame by comparison.
Lisa Fernandes, Jenn Biesty, and Zoi Antonitsas of Top Chef Season 4
For the first time ever in television history, this week there are at
least a dozen lesbian/bi women on prime-time TV in reality shows on three
different networks….These women range in age from 20 to their late 30s, have
many different interests and personalities, and even represent some diversity
in race, with several Asian-American lesbian/bi women among them.
While the sheer volume of lesbian and bi characters supplied
by these programs was comforting, the quality of representation on the shows
varied wildly. Top Chef was easily the most benign of the group, but Jackie
Warner’s Work Out was, for the third
season running, a hot bed of lesbian intrigue, betrayal, controversy and smack
Jackie Warner (left) and Rebecca Cardon of Bravo’s Work Out
Similarly, Gimme Sugar
placed friendships between lesbian and bi women in the foreground, but with the
bisexual character taking more than her share of grief from her lesbian friends
simply for being bisexual.
The cast of Logo’s Gimme Sugar
Of course, all of these issues seem insignificant when
compared to the Tila Tequila dating-show train-wreck, Shot at Love 2, which regularly employed trashy,
offensive, and hyper-sexual stereotypes about lesbians or bisexual women (or
heterosexual men, for that matter) in its hot pursuit of a mate of either
gender for its host.
Tila and her suitors
Other notable queer women in realty television in 2008
included Tabatha Coffey in her Shear Genius spin-off, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover; Elina Ivanova
from America’s Next Top Model (which,
this season, also included an MTF transgender contestant, Isis); and Cat Cora on Iron Chef America.