Finding Faith in “Unreal”

It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of “gay” media out there. It’s why, if you’ve ever hung around lesbians or bisexual women, you’ll hear a lot about The L Word and Orange Is the New Black. Or you’ll hear us talk about shows that aren’t gay per se, but that made us feel better about being weird or different back before we knew why we were weird or different. In other words, we cobble together our own media history as best we can, looking for something – anythingthat looks like us.

And that’s why I was surprised to find myself in tears over my own reflection on a show that by all accounts is the most straight.

Last week I was looking for a new show to watch at the gym, and the writers on my favorite tv site, previously.tv, had been talking up a show called Unreal on – of all things – the Lifetime Network. Unreal is a scripted, fictional show about two women who produce a reality program called Everlastinga not-very-covert stand-in for The Bachelor. If you’re familiar at all with old reality staple The Bachelor, you’ll know the rumors that the program is heavily produced, that the women on the show are sometimes manipulated into saying and doing things they might not otherwise do at will. You know that they’re pumped full of alcohol at every opportunity. You’ll know that one is always picked to be “the villain” and another “the wife”. In short, if you’re familiar at all with the program, you’ll know that it might be hard to work as a producer while maintaining any semblance of self-respect.

That’s the battle that the two lead characters, Quinn and Rachel, fight each episode. Rachel in particular has a feminist past; she mentions all her friends from school who work for public television; she sometimes wears a shirt that says “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like”. A portion of her wants to believe that she’s painting the women on the show in a positive light. But she is constantly undermining her own dreams of purity by putting the ladies in situations she knows, deep down, are manipulative or unfair.

I knew the basic plot of the show when I began watching. I expected to see women portrayed in a way that was complex and interesting. I craved the complexity offered by a show where women could be strong, but not always right. I wanted to see Quinn and Rachel struggle with real, complex life decisions. I wanted to see them make mistakes. And I was not disappointed. the show contained all that and more. What I didn’t expect, though, was for the show to gift me with a gay woman whose story felt just enough like home to make me cry and punch me in the stomach. Continue reading “Finding Faith in “Unreal””

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