A lesbian deckhand isn’t so great at her job on “Below Deck: Mediterranean”

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I watched the first few episodes of Below Deck: Mediterranean because I’d read in our very own Morning Brew that one of the deckhands, Jen Riservato, is a lesbian.

jennifer-riservato-fullvia Bravo

Jen is immediately put in a tricky situation on the show. She’s the most experienced deckhand by far, but Bryan, the first mate and therefore her manager, says right away that he isn’t sure how to manage a woman. In fact, he says he’s never worked with a female deckhand at all. Bryan says that with men you can yell and swear and move on, but he assumes he can’t do that with Jen.

What Bryan does not do is try treating Jen just like the guys and seeing how it goes over. Or, you know, talking to Jen about it directly.

We also see Bryan talking about how hard it is to work with women (presumably stews?) that he doesn’t find hot–he actually refers to them as “heifers.”

In addition to the explicit sexism, Bryan does lots of little things to shut Jen out. We see him carefully training the one of the other, much less experienced deck hands on driving the ship’s tender, but Jen doesn’t seem to get the same attention. He repeatedly talks to the guy next to Jen instead of directly to her when giving orders to more than one deckhand, and he group fist-bumps with the guys right next to her without including her at one point. And remember that this is all on a yacht, where they’re not just working long hours; they’re living in close quarters and socializing together too. Those repeated little slights really snowball in a situation like that.

And, while editing and managed or manufactured storylines are always a factor on reality TV, Bryan does seem to be harder on Jen than he is on the guys–he calls her out on being late on deck one morning and at one point stops her in a corridor and bitches at her for sighing. Not sighing around the passengers, mind you, just sighing in a way that he doesn’t like. At the same time, Bryan tries to intervene with the captain for the two male deckhands when they bring two girls they just picked up in a bar on board the yacht and start drinking with them–something they have been explicitly told not to do that day.

Bryan is sexist and he bros out with the guys on his crew and looks for reasons to snap at Jen and he sucks.

And yet.

Jen is really late for her first early-morning work shift. Not just a few minutes–she’s on deck a full 40 minutes late while fellow deckhand Danny is busting tail trying to do two people’s worth of work on his own. Once Jen finally strolls up, she announces that she expects Danny to lie for her, which would also mean suggesting that he’s a bad worker if the two of them can’t get everything done before Bryan comes up. Danny says he won’t rat, but he also won’t lie if he’s asked a direct question, which is a fair position. (Bryan does ask Danny a direct question with Jen right there, because Bryan is a douche.)

We end the segment with Jen, who left Danny work by himself at 6:00 in the morning, annoyed that he won’t also lie to cover for her. She adopts that smug grin that people use when they know they’re being inconsiderate jerks and for some reason think that’s a charming character trait and says he doesn’t know how he gets through life without lying.

And that is when I said “Come ON! REPRESENT!” out loud to my television.

Because when team LGBT is out there, especially on TV, I want us to be on point.

Jen isn’t horrible. She calls herself “an overachiever without the discipline,” and mentions dropping out of medical school, but medical school isn’t right for lots of people. She does cheerfully help out the stews when they’re slammed on their first day on board. And she’s clearly an experienced and competent deckhand–she takes charge of the ship’s tie lines during a tricky docking sequence and seems to absolutely know what she’s doing. She’s just… not great. She’s not putting out any extra effort to prove her case and show that Bryan is wrong. And Jen does sigh and huff and slouch.

I haven’t been in Jen’s exact situation, but I have been the only woman on the writing team. I responded by joking harder and dirtier than any of the guys early on to make sure they knew I could handle it–which obviously isn’t the right choice for everyone, and certainly isn’t right for Jen if she’s not comfortable with that–and by busting tail to make sure it was clear that I was pulling my weight.

It’s frustrating to watch Jen sulk and go through the motions instead of kicking into high gear. But is that frustration with her fair? By the third episode, Danny is the deckhand who’s been screwing up the hardest. He brings the women on board on an off night, and then on the very next cruise he stays up late and neglects work to flirt inappropriately with a passenger. (The passengers are all model-waitresses from the Tilted Kilt. I’m having a hard time figuring out what audience Bravo is going for.) I don’t think of Danny as representing all straight men, and not even really the pack of bro hands who are drooling at the models.

I think Danny’s a bit of a dolt, but I did catch myself being harder on Jen because she’s on my team and I want her to be amazing. We’re getting more representation on TV than we did a decade ago, but it’s still rare enough that Jen is The LGBT One. And when you’re The LGBT One, it feels like you’re letting us all down if you’re not showing yourself at your very best. I cringed at hearing Jen say that she hated how old the buildings are in Greece and bitching about the food there, because we’re all supposed to be open-minded and cultured. My heart dropped a little every time she got defensive instead of getting better, even though it’s probably a natural reaction when you’re in a bummer of a work and living situation with no potential girlfriend in sight and a camera in your face day and night. Which of us could survive a reality TV edit?

I’ve read that the true integration of baseball wasn’t achieved when non-white superstars made it into the Major Leagues. It was when mediocre players of all races could make it in.

Are we there yet? Do we have the luxury of being neither good nor evil? Of slacking off and screwing up sometimes and only being OK? The standard (dumb) pushback to our pushback against the kill-your-fictional-gays trope is to ask if we want all LGBT characters to be saints who survive everything in all circumstances. And the answer, of course, is no. We want survival rates roughly on a par with everyone else and complex, flawed characters.

So when are we ready for people to see our flawed reality? Is it time yet? Because to me, it still feels like we need to bust a little tail.

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