Two things I’ve never been into at all are “reality” TV1 and sports.
I’ve never considered reality TV to actually have much, if anything, to do with reality. I personally feel that, at best, it’s generally performance art with an agenda. At worst it’s the predatory capitalists trying to sell people as spectacles for profit.
And I was never any good at sports. I totally lacked large motor skills as a child.2 However, in college, I enjoyed watching a friend play basketball. He was amazingly good, more like an artist, a dancer, than an athlete.3 But it was all so very loud and noisy – just not for me.
Anyway, all of that is an aside – is context. Let me get to the point. I recently watched Coming Out Colton on Netflix. I only watched it because Underwood is a gay man who played in a heteronormative cisgender macho man’s sport. He also was apparently a reality TV star on the Bachelor.
I never saw him play football. I’ve never seen a single episode of The Bachelor. Neither interests me. But what often does interest me is how people get from point A to point B in their lives, especially when those two points are extremely disjointed and oppositional – if that’s a real word.
To be sure, the fact that the series, Coming Out Colton, seems to me to be dancing all around and even on top of realty TV in and of itself, is not lost on me. I have a really, really hard time believing that each of his coming out conversations presented in the series was a real “take one,” in-the-moment life experience. He wanted to have these intimate and difficult conversations, starting with his closest family members. Weren’t they puzzled by or curious about the presence of the camera crew(s), hair and makeup, lighting considerations?
I just find it too difficult to believe that mom, and then dad, and then his brother weren’t in on the planning of shooting their “scenes.” I find it hard to believe they would have had authentic reactions because a Netflix camera crew(s) was filming everything they said and every facial expression they made. I can just hear the director saying, “Ok, cut. That was really good, but now let’s try that again from a different angle. And this time I need a little bit more of…”
But, as with any performance piece, we willingly suspend our disbelief. We willingly pretend that what we are seeing, the performance, is real. We play along. So, I’m willing to play along. I’m willing to pretend I’m a fly on the wall watching these very private moments unfold into a well-edited, cohesive episode just like life really, naturally does. Oh, wait… It doesn’t, does it. But, no. Seriously. I’ll let all of that slide.
Why? Well, because the producers tell a compelling story that is at least related to the reality many people, especially men in our culture, face when coming out. As is often said, straight people don’t have to come out as straight. So, often they don’t even begin to understand the complex and deep issues that swirl around coming to terms with understanding yourself as outside the norm – waaay outside the norm, whether you want to be outside the norm or not. Straight people generally don’t understand being outside of the expectations and assumptions of the vast majority of people around them. This series at least reflects that difficult journey to some extent.
This series, this performance piece, showcases Colton coming out to his family, his best friend, his coaches, his church, trying to find and make new friends that are at least somewhat like him4 , trying to sort his spiritual life (as that seems very important to him), trying to come to terms with how badly he behaved in his recent past and how that relates to his coming out. He seemed to need to resuscitate his public image, polish the tarnish off of his brand, and frame himself as a relevant influencer. After all, he is a public figure who makes his living because he “trends.”
The whole trajectory of the project was probably the well-planned, well-crafted, and well-executed work of a gifted team of people who stand to make a lot of money off of the project’s success. And, you know what, I think it works. When the series ended, I wanted this guy I had known nothing about to make it. I wanted him to be successful. I wanted him to find the love of his life. I want him to have a bright future.
I want straight people to better understand what gay people in general experience as they come to terms with themselves5 . And when a person is gay, I want their understanding of and coming to terms with being gay to be a vastly easier path than the one I had to take6 . I do think it’s a great deal easier for young people today for all kinds of reasons, and I suspect that this reality TV series will become one of those reasons. So, kudos.
And also, hats off to Gus Kenworthy who appears throughout the series as a friend and support for Underwood. Kenworthy’s insightful quips throughout the series aren’t just entertaining, they’re fabulous. I also have to acknowledge the wisdom and hope offered by Ben Mann and the timely and profound words of Nicole Garcia7 . I think their counsel is of such great importance for everyone, I will discuss that in a separate post.
For the morbidly curious, maybe one day I will even publicly share some of my own coming out story.
Part two of this post can be found at Coming Out Colton: Two Big Takeaways
This previous post on my blog fairly well summaries what I’ve generally thought about reality TV. ↩
I did get into badminton in college, but that’s a whole story in and of itself. ↩
When he ran the ball down the court, he rarely appeared to ever touch the floor. He just elegantly floated the full length of the court. How was that even possible?! I had never seen anything like it. ↩
He seems to want to be portrayed as an innocent, harmless, even lovable Disney character, and maybe he really is? Oh, but there was that whole restraining order thing. At least he was successfull in getting me to ask that question in my mind. ↩
Would Aaron Hernandez sill be alive today had he lived after the telling of this story? ↩
In some ways, my own coming out is similar to Underwood’s. ↩
A little more about her at this Netflix link. ↩