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“I have no idea if I’m going to be attracted to a male or a female,” says blonde housemate Kari in one of the show’s commercials. I’m ambidextrous.” 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. 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?Like all dating reality show franchises, MTV’s Are You the One? A bunch of young singles are thrown together in a house, set in the kind of tropical paradise required for finding true love on television.The twist: Using old-school matchmaking techniques and complex algorithms, dating experts have paired the housemates with their supposed “ideal” mates, but neither the cast nor the viewers know the matches.” 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. actually lives or dies through the strength of the casting and the resulting drama of the casts’ relationships. As the housemates engage with each other, falling into and out of connections and figuring out their feelings for each other in search of the grand prize, they are remarkably open and self-aware about the difficulties — and pleasures — of breaking out of old dating patterns.For instance, early on, Nour, described as an “aggressive possessive” (the castmates are all chyroned with their relationship style) tells the group about her difficulties coming out as queer in her Jordanian Muslim family and community.
Queerness on reality dating shows has mostly been treated superficially, like with the trope of the sudden reveal.“I’m so used to going after people like you; it’s hard for me to get out of that mindset,” she tells him.“I was playing it safe, and I fucked up and I’m sorry.”The theme of unlearning the kinds of desire dictated by a heteronormative culture permeates the show.During a group therapy check-in, she admits that Amber should have been her first pick, and Justin gets upset about her “playing” him.But this drama gets unpacked in nuanced ways that transcend the usual drama for drama’s sake.
The show’s driving question became whether the titular “boy” would be able to tell the straights from the gays.