Rachel Bunting

bisexuality goes mainstream

Ever since it premiered on October 9, I have been faithfully watching A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila on MTV. In case you’re not familiar with it (it is trashtastic, after all), this show is another dating show along the lines of The Bachelor, for crackheads – 16 straight men and 16 lesbians are competing for the affections of one bisexual Maxim model – that would be Tila Tequila. It’s disgusting and full of stereotypes and completely nasty – and that’s partly why I’m watching it, because I know it will be easy to feel superior. But what I’m most struck by right now (halfway through the fourth episode) is the complete lack of understanding and respect for gender identity.

The show is rife with gender stereotyping and role-playing – the men feel the need to “man up” and “be manly” and “assert their masculinity,” maintaining that women aren’t “real competition.” In tonight’s episode, when they lose a challenge to the women, they berate each other for “losing to a bunch of girls.” It’s very clear that they are currently group-thinking of the women as the weaker sex.

The women are prone to prancing around in little skirts and bras, talking about using their sex appeal to knock out their competition. And while they’re not entirely innocent of gender stereotyping, it seems their comments are a reaction to the objectification they’re being subjected to.

There were three comments on tonight’s episode, though, that really upset me:

“We lost to a bunch of he-shes.”
Uttered in response to losing the competition to a team of lesbians by a blond beefcake from Flemington, NJ, named Ryan. (His occupation is listed as “Oil Executive,” although I have no freaking clue what that means.) Honestly, that’s a term I haven’t heard much in my life – and with no regularity outside of reading Stone Butch Blues. It’s a mean-spirited assessment of a lesbian, and honestly, it’s not even accurate for any of these lesbians. It’s generally applied to transgendered individuals, or hard butch women, right? So these girls, most of whom are serious femmes flitting around in their bikinis and belly shirts, are hardly ‘he-she’ by any stretch of the imagination. The term is obviously intended as an insult, designed to remove what society has assigned as most valuable to a women: her sex appeal. By culturally standards at this point, strong, independent, “masculine” women are considered threatening and often completely unsexy. By labeling these women “he-shes,” Ryan is attempting to masculinize them by revoking their desirability – but sadly, he just betrays his insecurity in doing so. Would he make such a comment if he really didn’t feel threatened by the presence of these women? It shows how devoid he is of compassion and comprehension.

“They’re not even really girls. They’re lesbians. Technically they’re guys.”
This gem comes to us courtesy of Domenico, the Italian superman. I initially liked this guy, because he was the first one to bring up the point that the men were acting on their homophobia. But it looks now like he just likes to stir up the drama, and mock any sexuality not his own in the meantime. And in reality, this statement is just an echo of Ryan’s – he’s attempting to desexify the women. And it occurs to me that these men, actually, are just really uncomfortable with having to keep the company of beautiful women who show no potential for being attracted to them.

The third comment is actually an exchange, and bothers me more than the other two comments.
Tila: Why are you the only one not wearing your angel costume? [referring to skimpy, sheer white outfits provided to the women – they consisted of a bra, a thong, and a sheer white slip with wings and halo]
Dani: This is my angel costume. [gestures to her pair of linen pants and a white button down shirt] This is who I am.
Tila: It is? Oh, that’s cool, I respect that, you’re down with chillin’ like the boys.

Sigh. Where do I start?
First of all, Tila spends a lot of time whining about how coming out as bisexual is difficult. While I can relate, having spent most of my life in relationships with men and abruptly beginning to date women in my mid-to-late twenties, I have to say that it would be a lot easier if she would respect the culture of the gay community and do a bit of research on the attitudes encountered by lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals – as well as the attitudes held by lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. It’s not that hard to figure out that there are “issues” within the community concerning bisexuals, and it’s also not hard to figure out why – although Tila seems to be the kind of bisexual woman that makes most lesbians with a bisexual-avoidance complex say “I told you so!” So it shouldn’t surprise me that she hasn’t respected the boundaries that exist for gender and sexuality within the community.

Secondly, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that if Tila recognizes that she is mainly attracted to other feminine women (commonly known as femmes, Tila, not “lipsticks”), she also recognizes that there are women who aren’t all femmey. And I would hope that, recognizing there are women whose gender identities fall to the left (or the right) of femme, she would avoid pressuring them to fall in line with her preference. Apparently I’ll be hoping in vain – Dani may have that “something” she’s interested in, but only if she starts wearing miniskirts and skimpy tops. Fortunately Dani seems comfortable in her own skin, and is unapologetic about her gentle refusal to dress like a prostitute on Halloween. I just can’t quite figure how Tila didn’t notice that while the other girls constantly wear lingerie or clothes that could pass as lingerie, Dani has been in the butch uniform of board shorts and wifebeaters the whole time?

And finally, Tila makes an assumption that Dani is cool with “chillin’ like the boys” because of how she chooses to dress her body. If the above two reasons didn’t display Tila’s complete lack of understanding of gender identity, this is the kicker for me. Lesbians, I think, are sort of used to be compared to men – but even being used to it doesn’t make it less annoying. And Dani’s decision to dress in a less traditionally feminine fashion doesn’t necessarily convey any deep desire to be a boy or be addressed as a boy in this life. Of course, that’s not something everyone will understand, though I would think that someone who claims to be part of the community would attempt to achieve a greater understanding than the average person.

I guess what I find really frustrating about Tila is that she doesn’t really have a desire to be bisexual in the true sense of the word. There’s a community of queer people out there, with a culture and conventions unique to it. Tila’s not interested in any of that – she just wants to have sex, and my guess is that she doesn’t want to choose between a man and a woman – she wants one of each. She shows no interest in understanding the history, the culture, or the psychology of the queer community because it doesn’t promise her hot sex with a hot chick (or dude).

And now I understand why so many lesbians say, “I won’t date bi chicks.”

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