Gay people have the right to pursue happiness, they have the right to be married in the United States (and many other countries across the globe), and they have a right to unadulterated trashy television that reflects (with whatever degree of funhouse-mirror distortion) their likenesses. But to hear the star and host of Logo’s upcoming all-male spin on the Bachelor template Finding Prince Charming explain it, what they have created is nothing less than a politically important work in this era where the case can be (and often is) made that all television is prestige television.
Prince Charming’s Prince Charming, Robert Sepúlveda Jr., and its host, former *NSYNC member-slash-masculinity expert Lance Bass, have been on a promo tour hawking their new show. In an interview with People, Sepúlveda claimed, “This is a real show that’s going to help the LGBTQ community. It’s another step forward in LGBT entertainment.” Imagine someone on The Bachelor or The Bachlorette saying that those shows would help the “straight community” (or any community). Imagine Flavor Flav claiming Flavor of Love would help the “black community.” (Note that trying to do just that was a big plot point on this past season of UnREAL, which mirrors the Bachelor universe.) Imagine Sepúlveda being given the task of having to explain how a cookie-cutter competition show featuring all gay men will help the LBT members of said “community.” Imagine him being given the task of explaining anything at all.
To Entertainment Weekly, Bass claimed, “I think when you watch the show, you’ll be educated about what it’s like to date in the LGBT community.” For those who don’t know what it’s like to date in the “LGBT community,” here’s a spoiler: It almost never involves 13 guys vying for the attention of one via quality time spent entirely in front of cameras while all living in the same house. In the age of geolocation apps, in fact, this vision of gay dating is not just unrealistic, it’s something verging on quaint. Dating in the time of Grindr, et. al., in fact is more in line with the UK’s controversial and absurd show, Naked Attraction, in which a contestant is presented with six potential suitors to choose from, and gets to see each bit by bit, starting with their genitals. Sometimes among gay men, sending a dick pic is a way of saying, “Hello.”
Bass continued: “This might be the first time people see two guys going on a date and that might make them feel so much better about themselves like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can have that?’” Who are these people who have never seen any depictions of gay dating (even if they’re fictional, it’s not like they’re that less removed from the truth than that which goes down on the highly constructed world of reality TV) but want to tune into a gay dating show on fucking Logo? How have these people successfully avoided Looking or Modern Family? Do these people know how to read? If so, my recommendation is to read a fucking book. Try Edmund White or Andrew Holleran or Garth Greenwell or Gore Vidal or Larry Kramer. They’ll teach you a lot more about this stuff than Lance Bass can, if you’re actually interested in learning.
Another focal point of Sepúlveda and Bass’s nominal activism is a contestant who’s HIV positive, as was revealed by TMZ earlier this week, in a post vaguely stoking the fires of stigma for making an issue out of it at all. While HIV is a topic desperately in need of mainstream conversation, it’s one that is not worth exploiting. Upon reading this news, you should ask yourself who leaked this information ahead of its reveal on the show—if it was anyone employed by the network, that’s deplorable. There’s no scandal to be found in gay men sharing space someone who’s HIV positive, or even having sex with him if he’s being treated (which he presumably is, if he’s aware of his status), since he’d then in all likelihood be undetectable and it’d be practically impossible to transmit the virus. (It’s in fact, way riskier to have sex with someone who thinks he’s negative but isn’t, because then he’s not being treated and his viral load is high.)
Perhaps all this will be explained on the show, but for now the HIV status of an as-yet-unnamed Prince Charming contestant is being used as a marketing tool for Sepúlveda and his show. He told People:
Again, me being Prince Charming—the guy that everyone’s vying for their attention—I’m not going to not date someone because they’re HIV-positive. That’s ridiculous. It’s really a stigma that we have to resolve now.
To Entertainment Weekly, he said:
The whole point of the show is acceptance. So if you’re going to have a Prince Charming that doesn’t accept someone because of their HIV status or because of their past, that’s a little ridiculous. So the Prince Charming that I am, I’m accepting of everything. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you’ve done in your past. It’s all about being worthy of love, and worthy of loving someone.
Actually, the whole point of an elimination show is elimination, which is to say: rejection (the opposite of acceptance). (Also I have a sneaking suspicion that actual Prince Charming doesn’t start sentences with, “So, the Prince Charming that I am...”) We won’t know for sure how this will play out until Finding Prince Charming premieres next week, but it’s being sold via disingenuous identity politics pretending that any representation is good representation, when in fact it is not. True equality will not be reached until we, as gay people, can have trash TV that represents our kind without the pretense of being important for the world.