MTV makes queer dating a reality

Totally, irrefutably, in-your-face queer: It’s what makes the eighth season of MTV’s reality series “Are You the One?” groundbreaking — and utterly fabulous.

While there have been attempts at queer-ish dating shows before, nothing comes close to the newest season of this series. This is queerness through a queer lens, offering a range of gender presentations and identities.

To wit, in one of the first episodes, contestant Kari says, “I have no idea if I’m going to be attracted to a male or a female. I’m attracted to both genders. I’m ambidextrous.”

The premise of the show has contestants — 16 this season — blindly trying to find their perfect matches, which have been algorithmically chosen in advance. If all eight perfect matches are discovered, $1 million is given to the contestants to split among themselves

Because all 16 contestants in season eight are open to dating a person of any gender, creating eight matches is significantly more complicated, with unlimited pairing possibilities.

Like all relationship shows, “Are You the One?” features its share of fixation and misplaced passion. But, for LGBTQ-plus folks, season eight also presents a great deal of honesty: We know people like these contestants. We are these contestants.

After years of straightness, we get to watch friends — or ourselves — experience relationship drama.

And, as contestant Danny put it: “If you have a reality TV show that includes the entire spectrum of, like, racial, sexual and gender identities, you’re gonna have a really interesting show!”

The range of fluidity is impressive with queer, polyamorous, bisexual, pansexual, nonbinary and trans folks showing visceral queer desire. The contestants also include several bisexual men — not just bisexual women.

Many of their backstories are familiar to the queer community: bullying, closeted attractions, small-town claustrophobia. It feels personal in the way straight reality programs must feel to straight people.

A majority of the contestants are likable. Basit is beautiful, genuine, queer, kind and strong; Remy is sexually liberated and protective; Amber dives headfirst into love but guards her heart and stands her ground.

But, as Remy said, “some of us are not what you would want to maybe represent you, and that’s fine, but we’re real people, and we exist and deserve to be seen, and we deserve to express how we feel.”

Kai is hard to sympathize with during the nine episodes currently available, as his and Jenna’s relationship grows unhealthy. Nour’s bullying of Paige and possession of Amber go too far, and Jonathan’s misguided attraction to Justin is cringeworthy and borders on obsession.

Still, this isn’t one of those point-and-stare exploitative series in which queer contestants are being made the examples. Rather, it’s a display of humanity, good and bad. In a culture that shows out-of-control straight people on TV 24/7, the queer contestants of “Are You the One?” are hardly outrageous: They actually seem normal within the milieu of reality TV.

And the series has all the things expected from a relationship reality series, from hookups to cat fights. The intensity occurs when contestants reveal their inner workings and reflect on lived experiences.

Kai talks about being trans-masculine nonbinary and how he (who also uses they/them pronouns) didn’t feel confident in his body before transitioning. Basit, also nonbinary, talks about being in love with love. Danny reveals some experiences that bring him — and viewers — to tears.

Of course, some scenes elicit eye rolls and set teeth on edge — but this is MTV. Queer-relationship guru Dr. Frankie Bashan gives everyone advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of bad relationships, providing some calm after tumult.

Season eight of “Are You the One?” opens a door into a queer new world and invites viewers into intimate moments and times of chaos, inevitably fulfilling the purpose of reality TV. 

“Are You the One?” airs 9 p.m. Wednesdays and also can be streamed. The show’s website features links to GLAAD, The Trevor Project and other LGBTQ essential resources and advocates for the bi-plus community.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.