Beyond No Homo: Calling Shenanigans on "Gender-Bending" Reality Show

A photograph of a television with a bullet hole in it

I'd be lying if I said that when I heard about a reality TV casting call asking "Do you bend gender roles? Do you go against the norm?" I truly believed a show was going to focus on folks who reject prescribed ideas of gender and sexuality. But just in case there was a show that wanted to feature, to make visible, people who go against the grain when it comes to gender and sexuality (dare I say...gender outlaws?), I investigated.

Here's the description for Straight as a Board:

Just because you're a man who likes pedicures, or a female gym teacher, that doesn't mean you're gay, does it? If you're sick of your friends constantly trying to set you up with members of the same sex then it's time to set the record straight. A new reality series is casting people that are ready to put all the rumors to rest. Just because you're a guy and like show tunes or a girl and play softball that your not hiding your sexual preferences in the closet.

While this might look like a show that is interested in challenging gender roles, my next thought about the casting call (that is, after "What kind of friends set you up with people you're explicitly not into?") was that this show is about straight people. They're clearly not interested in, God forbid, actual gay people—femme lesbians, or non-effeminate gay men—who also do not fit what society expects in terms of gender presentation and sexual preference. Or, heaven help us, people attracted to...both men and women!

The show may push weakly on prescribed gender roles--but it firmly seeks to put people into their (hetero/homo)sexuality boxes, stopping short of exploring how people can travel along sexuality and gender spectrums fluidly, or reject conventional binary gender roles at all.

The point of the show, in fact, seems to be "You guys, I'm NOT GAY." What could be worse than people thinking you're gay? (You know, besides supporting them serving openly in the military?). Plus, they seem to subscribe to the thought that gender non-conforming people have to be on the defensive about their identity--that it's on their shoulders to prove their heterosexuality, and not society's responsibility to reshape their ideas about gender and sexuality. As one commenter on Jezebel put it,

[My boyfriend] has been getting called "gay" since he was a little kid. What sucks is that other people like to decide what he is and call him gay. Something that I respect about him is that he really doesn't care about "setting the record straight"...Only in a homophobic society does it matter what other people assume your sexuality to be.

But beyond having a less-than-radical show about gender, I had a more pessimistic hypothesis about the show. (I don't need to tell you, dear Bitch readers, that reality TV isn't exactly a harbinger of progressive ideas about gender, race, and sexuality.) "What if," my cynical, feminist mind conjectured, "rather than exploring how straight people can challenge gender norms, this show actual intends to out these people as gay?"

Unfortunately, I was proved correct—and it wasn't just the fact that Straight as a Board is truly too awful a title to be used as a television show.

Minimal web-browsing on the same casting-call site revealed the same production company (One Louder Production, the company behind MTV's Made, Pretty Smart, and Boiling Points) posted another call for "Straight Eye for your Friend's Queer Guy?" just one day after the "straight as a board" call:

Is your best friend's boyfriend gay and everyone knows it except for her? Does he only order drinks that come with tiny umbrellas? Does he worry more about his hair, nails, and outfits than she ever does? If your friend's man is way past metro and it's time she knew, we want to hear from you. Tell us why you're ready to confront your friend and let her in on her man's little secret. Be a good friend and let her in on the skeletons in her boyfriend's closet. Must be 18 years of age and older.

If this is for the same show, it's clear that they don't want to challenge ANY notions of gender—but reinforce them. This is about prescribing somebody's identity, about telling people who trespass gender norms who they should be in love with. It's dehumanizing and disgusting--especially when you consider that this specific casting call is for heterosexual people.

Not to mention! That it compares being gay to "having skeletons in your closet," reinforces tired—exhausted even—gender and sexuality stereotypes (tiny umbrellas in your drink? really?), and asks people to out someone else—a deeply personal action.

Ah, there's the reality TV I know.

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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8 Comments Have Been Posted


I can't believe this is a real show! Oh wait, yes I can. I wish I couldn't, though.

le sigh.

If there's one thing "reality" TV is good at, it's enforcing all sorts of nonsensical stereotypes (cat-fighting, gold-digging women and angry black people, anyone?), and the sad thing is that since it's billed as "real," people actually start believing this crap.

The other thing that's creepy about this show is that it seems to be saying that crossing traditional gender lines is okay ONLY IF YOU'RE REALLY HETERO. Gross.




That's beyond fucked up.

That's beyond fucked up. Just another reason to not turn on the television.

When I first read the casting

When I first read the casting call, my first thought was that they're going to make these gender outlaws over to conform to hetero standards. You're a softball coach? Well, let's put some make-up, hair extensions, and revealing clothing on you so the guys will actually be attracted! You're an actor on Broadway? Don't you think the girls would understand you better if you gave up your dreams and became a soap-opera actor instead?

I suspect that the show has two goals: 1) out the folks who are gay (or bi, since we all know that bisexuality is just a stepping-stone for scared fags and lezzies), and 2) make over the straights so that they conform. And I'm sure that either way, this will be portrayed as making the individuals happier and their lives richer.

In any case, it sounds dreadful.


"Be a good friend and let her in on the skeletons in her boyfriend’s closet..." With friends like these...

Obviously, much of this is

Obviously, much of this is very upsetting.

But I just keep thinking about how, if you've ever actually done very much carpentry/Home Depot shopping, you know that many boards really aren't very straight at all, at least if you're budget-conscious and buy a lot of pine.

But that's just my experience as a woman with construction and supply management experience. Hey, look, I'm a gender-bender!

No reality show for me, though. I'm bisexual (and not the marketable, Tila Tequila kind).

I thought the same thing!

Hey Lindsay, as a woodworking hobbyist, I had the same thought about how boards are so often so warped! Maybe you should respond to the casting call and set them "straight"!

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