How Reality TV Exposes LGBTQ Micro-Agressions In Society And Why It’s A Great Time To Educate

How Reality TV Exposes LGBTQ Micro-Agressions In Society And Why It’s A Great Time To Educate

Reality TV is something that is seen to be vacuous and meaningless. A filler programme that keeps you awake and slightly engaged. However, this season of UK Celebrity Big Brother has thrown some big gay curveballs in the mix. Gender, sexuality, internalised and externalised homophobia and transphobia being prominent topics on this years season.

Since Celebrity Big Brother moved to Channel 5 in 2011, its audience has grown and the series, which is aired twice yearly, has featured some iconic pop culture moments. Prime examples of its wild and random moments are Kim Woodburn’s wild death stares and rampages and Gemma Collins calling Gillian McKeith the C word…you know the one. But this year, the tone is different; to celebrate the hundred years since women were allowed to vote in the UK, they’ve themed the series around ‘the year of the woman’.

As we have featured on XXY before, using ‘Gender As A Trend’ is something that is problematic, vacuous and can actually be detrimental to LGBTQ+ progress in the world. This series featured celebrities such as India Willoughby, the UK’s first transgender newsreader, and LGBTQ+ powerhouse and RuPaul’s Drag Race star, Courtney Act.

Within the first day, India had already brought LGBTQ+ issues to the forefront of people’s minds in the house, after discussing her ‘fear of drag queens’ and how she feels that trans identities in society are being ‘confused’ and ‘changed’ to include people who identify as non-binary, gender fluid and gender queer. She vocalised these feelings in the house by saying that the term transgender “can mean anything from RuPaul to someone who’s Bob one day and Barbara another day, and I think that cheapens the seriousness of it”, which is a rather exclusionary binary view of trans identities.

There were also important discussions regarding trans women and relationships. After asking the cis-male housemates whether or not they’d date a trans woman, Willoughby was greeted with blatant transphobia; she was treated as a sensitive woman in the house from then on. (Just FYI for anyone who watched that and think she WAS being over-sensitive, being told that you’re not desirable in a relationship because of your gender identity is something that is never nice to hear, and is deeply offensive).

Her mixed opinions on trans self-identification were heightened when Courtney Act joined the house, as Courtney herself identities as someone who is gender fluid. Although Courtney was brought into the house with the other men, she herself discussed with fellow housemates that her gender identity was placed in the middle of a male-female spectrum. This positive discussion in the house was something that many LGBTQ+ viewers were happy to see, although it did cause debate in the house, as many of the cisgendered celebrities were unaware of these ways of self-identification.

Courtney herself dissected the way in which her relationships with straight cis-men are interesting to observe, and her subsequent friendship/flirtationship with fellow housemate Andrew Brady, who found fame and business stardom on this season of The Apprentice.

Brady is a prime example of someone who, on the outside, appears to be a fairly masculine, straight, cis-gendered man however his attitudes to flirting with Courtney and their overall relationship was something that caused concern within the house. The hegemonic attitudes of fellow male housemates meant that Andrew’s carefree approach to teasing was called into question, as many of his male counterparts felt that he was being ‘played’ or ‘led up the garden path’ when it comes to his ‘flirtationship’ with Courtney. Andrew has openly said that he finds it fun to flirt with Courtney when she is Courtney, and to be great friends with Shane, which is Courtney Act’s non-Courtney life, and shouldn’t that be ok as long as both people are happy and on the same page?

Although Celebrity Big Brother does occasionally bring social issues to the forefront of viewers minds, with one of the first seasons of CBB discussing racism and classism, it usually is just relaxed viewing. This injection of social justice training into the mix is something that is creating a level of discussion that has warranted warnings of “frank and offensive discussions on gender and sexuality” by the show’s narrator Marcus Bentley before several of the shows.

Many tabloid newspapers love to pick up the storylines from the show, and although their odd negligence to actual news warrants putting Big Brother on the front of their paper, people are talking about Andrew and Courtney.

Toxic masculinity is something that affects people of all genders and sexualities and can be something that really affects both masculine presenting people, and feminine presenting people. It is also intrinsically affected by the heteronormative ways in which we carry out relationships with other people.

A lot of gay cis-gendered men suffer from the need to be ‘toxically masculine’ in order to feel like they’re still a man due to the fact that they believe that sleeping with and being attracted to men is a ‘feminine trait’. Andrews continued discussion around how he feels that it’s absolutely fine and valid to find Courtney attractive is met with harsh criticism from other members of the house, who clearly still value masculinity as a cisgendered, heterosexual concept.

This discussion tends to be bred from ignorance, and scaremongering that people may have heard in the media or from other ill-informed individuals. The notion that Courtney is ‘tricking’ Andrew or is being deceptive in any way is completely wrong and offensive.

Courtney’s identity as a drag queen is completely vocalised and identified when she entered the house. Shane, who is Courtney’s real persona, self-identifies as gender fluid and pansexual. Shane’s honest discussion around both his gender and sexual identities means that the concept of Courtney being ‘deceptive’ in any way, is false. This idea does fall into a wider social idea that trans and gender non-conforming people in society are seen as ‘deviants’ or ‘deceptive’ when it comes to flirting or dating. We’re seen as something to be figured out and rectified, rather than welcomed and loved.

Celebrity Big Brother is a great filter for media publications and human beings when it comes to real discussions that are prevalent in the ‘outside world’, such as gender and sexuality. It really shows you who’s an ally, who isn’t and how prevalent these worldviews are in society. Although the group of celebs represents a microcosm of society, it still is a cross-section of many political and social views that people have that are either outdated or in need of a fresh lick of social-justice-coloured paint. It can be stressful to watch and listen to as someone who strongly identifies and relates to the discussions that are going on in the house.

Reality TV will always be something that we watch with a ridiculous amount of saturated fat coursing through our veins; I for one will never be sorry for that fact. However, it’s important to realise the discussions and real life opinions that are being thrown around on our TV screens. Just because they’re through a screen, doesn’t mean that they’re not real, or that they do not hold power. We tend to forget the influence and actual real-life implications of what they’re saying.

It’s time that our TV programmes and media represented all types of relationships, sexual and gender identities, races and classes. Lack of representation results in people like myself having to constantly explain my gender and sexual identity to people, essentially having to come out every day. The media and press are still not using their privilege to discuss our representation in non-shameful and sensationalistic ways. We are not here for your headlines, and our relationships are nothing new. It’s time for people to be free to express their desires and romantic intentions however they wish to, without fear of persecution, especially when in front of millions. (I really can’t believe I had to even write that).

Written by Jamie Windust,


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