Queer Women On Reality TV are Making a Difference

Kim Stolz from Top Model Nik Pace from Top Model

The fact that Straight Girl did not cast four lesbians begs the question of whether there is some sort of unspoken limit on the number of lesbians that a reality TV show can have. Although multiple gay men can be featured on a show, it is rare that more than one lesbian character exists on a reality show.

“Generally lesbians are not seen as ‘entertainers' — like camp gay men (which are safe and desexualized),” Pullen explained. “Lesbians may be seen as sexualized and dangerous due to the idea that they can take on the homemaker role as breadwinner and provider, while gay men can be sidelined as frivolous and indulgent (in stereotypical terms). So perhaps lesbians are still stereotypically seen as threat.”

Considering why Bravo did not cast four lesbians on Queer Eye for the Straight Girl, Labrador said, “You have to look at things for timing purposes. … By the time you see it and it's on air, that means you have to go back a minimum of a year from when it was developed.” At that time, Bravo was operating on the winning Queer Eye formula, which consisted of gay men making over others. Labrador believes that “when the show came out, society would have accepted a cast of four lesbians,” but at the time that the show was developed, Bravo did not want to veer from their success story.

Kim Stolz, now 23, was the only openly lesbian contestant on the fifth season of America's Next Top Model in 2005. “Unfortunately, in today's society, no television show wants to be known as ‘the gay show,'” she told us. “Even if there are other gay members or participants [on a show], I think that perhaps production might have a hand in keeping them a little bit more quiet.” Stolz is now a VJ for mtvU, where she hosts the music show The Freshman.

During Stolz's season on Top Model, fellow contestant Nik Pace, who wound up in second place, was never revealed to be a lesbian onscreen but was out in real life. “She definitely wasn't hiding anything,” Stolz recalled. “All the contestants knew her sexuality … when we were on the show.”

In addition, Stolz said, “There was another person besides Nik and I who was gay on our season, too, but that name I will not disclose.”

If Sarah, the girl with whom Stolz was linked romantically on the show, is also counted, that adds up to four queer women on the fifth season of America's Next Top Model. The fact that producers did not reveal that Nik and another contestant were queer does suggest that there is a limitation to how far producers are willing to go in terms of the number of openly gay characters on a show.

“They are trying to cater to an audience across the country which includes not just the East Coast and the West Coast but also the flyover states,” Stolz theorized. “Unfortunately there are a lot of people in the United States that don't want to watch a show where three out of the 10 people are gay. … People are homophobic, that's the problem.”

But although Top Model may not have been willing to become America's Next Lesbian Top Model, it did break many taboos when it portrayed a romance between Stolz, then 21, and Sarah, then 18, a girl from the Midwest who had never before fallen for another girl. Top Model's straightforward depiction of the two girls kissing and even snuggling in bed under the lens of a night-vision camera brought lesbians, at last, into reality TV's prurient sexual fold.

And in Cycle 7, the series is revealing for the first time that it has more than one lesbian contestant: San Francisco bartender Megan, who was eliminated in one of the first few episodes, and remaining contestant Michelle (whose identical twin sister, Amanda, is also a contestant).

For years, reality TV shows such as Big Brother and The Real World depicted straight couples falling into compromising positions with each other, but it was not until Top Model that lesbians finally joined this dubious inner circle. What was most astonishing about it was that when the episode that showed the two girls in bed together aired, UPN — then Top Model's network — did not receive protests from conservative factions who might otherwise be expected to object to a straight teen girl falling for an outspoken lesbian.

This past summer on Bravo's Work Out, the relationship between trainer Jackie Warner and her girlfriend, Mimi, was one of the primary draws for the reality show. Though the two women did not do more than kiss briefly onscreen, it was clear that depictions of lesbian relationships had advanced to another level in terms of public acceptance.

“She really laid her relationship out there on the line,” said Honey Labrador of Warner's show, “and I think that quite frankly, [it was] the biggest success of the show … and I think why they had a million viewers on the finale was that people wanted to see what was going to happen with the relationship.”

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