ast night's premiere of Finding Prince Charming, Logo's new reality television dating show, made it abundantly clear that we, The Gays, have finally "made it"…in the most heteronormative sense of the phrase.
LPrince Charming borrows the Bachelor's wildly successful (if familiar) premise of dropping attractive singles into a house and keeping them mildly tipsy while they compete for the affections of one model-esque suitor.
The twist here, of course, is that all of Prince Charming's contestants (and host Lance Bass) are openly gay men and at the end of the season "Prince Charming" (Robert Sepulveda Jr.) will pick one of the men to pursue an off-camera relationship with and hopefully find true love.
Finding Prince Charming has all the necessary ingredients to make a compelling dating show: a novel spin, dramatic zooms laid over cheesy stock music, and hot guys with a (surprising) variety of ethnic backgrounds and body types who love the camera. When it comes to the way that Logo has marketed the show as being a progressive and important portrayal of what it means to be a gay man in 2016, though, the story's a little bit different.
The show opens with a montage describing Sepulveda's accomplishments and his hopes of finding someone who can help him turn his white picket fence dream into a reality. Sitting down with Sepulveda before he meets the contestants, Bass asks whether he's concerned about the idea of them all living in a house together and potentially finding romance amongst one another.
"Some of these guys might be going into the house thinking it's summer camp [and] wanting to hook up," Bass says. "What are you going to do if that happens?"
Sepulveda answers with a twist: he's going to show up alongside the contestants for a mixer without telling them who he actually is in order to get a feel for their personalities. On its face, this is reality TV 101. A little light espionage can make for interesting conversations that turn into memorable moments. But Finding Prince Charming establishes the plan as a way to sniff out the people who might want to get down and count that against them.
There are rules about sex and the performance of sexuality that franchises like The Bachelor have established and built massive success on. Physical intimacy, kissing, and touching are only allowed to happen between contestants and The Suitor, and because most of these shows focus on straight people, that's the way things play out. For obvious reasons, though, things are different with the cast of Finding Prince Charming. The problem is that the show doesn't own up to it.
At one point in the episode, Justin, a 29-year-old model from Seattle looks into the camera and says that there aren't any differences between gay and straight dating other than than gender. As politically correct and socially respectable as that sentiment is, it's just not true, especially within the context of a dating competition. Why wouldn't the contestants find each other attractive and potentially sleep with one another? Sadly, it's both obvious and disappointing why Logo would shy away from that version of the show.
By sticking to the narrative of (monogamously) finding one's true love, Finding Prince Charming plays into many of the ideas about what it means to be a "respectable" modern gay man, for whom a traditional relationship or marriage are the ultimate goals.
Television shows like Will & Grace and Modern Family became award-winning representations of gay men in pop culture in part because they depicted their characters as being "just like" straight people. In many cases, unfortunately, achieving this meant stripping the characters of any sort of discernible sexuality, opting instead for their love (and sex) lives to be spoken about but not shown.
While those programs undoubtedly did their part in contributing to the progress of the LGBT rights movement by normalizing queer people for mass audiences, to treat them as the only types of gay men that we should see on television is a step backwards.
We live in a world where millions of gay men log onto apps like Grindr daily, and engage with each other in a variety of ways including chatting, trading pictures, and meeting up for sex. In the past, this sort of behavior has been considered taboo or indicative or some sort of moral failing, but in 2016, being a "respectable" gay man shouldn't have to mean being a heteronormative gay man.
Despite being a reality TV show, Finding Prince Charming has the potential to be one of the most truly progressive, compelling, and honest portrayals of being a single gay man. In order to do that though, it's going to have to get over the white picket fence and accept that there are other dreams to chase.