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MTV's 'Are You The One?' And The Future Of Queer Representation In Reality TV

Season 8 of "Are You the One?" features 16 contestants who identify as "sexually fluid."
Season 8 of "Are You the One?" features 16 contestants who identify as "sexually fluid."

Reality dating shows are nothing new.

You know the tropes: a bunch of conventionally-attractive heterosexual young people vie for the heart of an eligible bachelor or bachelorette, conflicts arise and drama ensues.

In an effort to stand out from the crowd, shows have used gimmicks from pitch darkness to mandatory nudity.

But MTV’s latest season of “Are You the One?” promises something different: For the first time in the show’s eight-season history, all 16 contestants identify as “sexually fluid” and are attracted to all gender identities.

The stakes are just as high as in the show’s first seven seasons: If they all find the “perfect” match by the season’s end, they split $1 million.

The show provides a platform for a range of identities that are seldom represented on TV — let alone reality TV. But it’s wading in tricky territory.

BuzzFeed’s Pier Dominguez weighs in:

Sexual fluidity often gets reduced to this trope of “will this (conventionally hot) woman ultimately pick a man or a woman?” in a way that seems designed to turn on straight men — or at least, the trope is designed not to offend straight logics about desirability.

But the housemates in “Are You the One?” aren’t just fluid in terms of their sexual orientation, and the actual show doesn’t limit itself to that straight-gazey question of “which gender will they pick?” The castmates represent a much fuller range of the gendered spectrum, from femme and masc queer men to butch and femme queer women, to nonbinary and trans castmates. In bringing them all together, the show is creating a televisual space to stage the complexities of gender and desire that can come with queer dating and that are rarely seen on television ⁠⁠— or in pop culture, period.

Can we trust reality TV not to exploit those it claims to champion?

Show produced by Kathryn Fink.

GUESTS

Sherri Williams, Assistant Professor, School of Communication, American University; @SherriWrites

Pier Dominguez, Culture writer, BuzzFeed News; @Pier_Dominguez

Kai Wes, Contestant, MTV’s “Are You the One?”; @kai__wes

For more, visit https://the1a.org.

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Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.