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#LGBTQ Allies: Please Respect the ‘T’!

While many fans of Bravo’s Flipping Out and Jeff Lewis’s show Jeff Lewis Live (on Radio Andy, a channel on Sirius XM) are focused on his split with long-term boyfriend Gage Edwards, the drama of the split and ensuing contentiousness, some took note and were perplexed by a discussion at the top of today’s show.

Actor Doug Budin (Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls) was the guest, and a surprising exchange transpired that had listeners wondering how Jeff Lewis, who is openly gay and has historically expressed support of others’ sexualities and identities, could make certain remarks.

Budin mentioned that three girls from Connecticut who ran track had filed a federal discrimination complaint. It stated that state-wide policy on transgender athletes have led to girls’ top finishes in races, and perhaps, have even led to college scholarships. “This complaint, on behalf of the girls…they’re asking for an investigation into the policy in order to make competitions fair,” said Budin. “This is in Connecticut…and Connecticut – their discrimination policy is [that the schools respect] the gender in which they identify… So that means athletes can compete according to their expressed gender rather than the gender they were born. They’re arguing that transgender athletes are always winning all of these running [competitions]….”

This could have been a moment for Lewis to respond tactfully, and in a way that showed his support for transgender women, but his response could be seen as alarming. Then again, this is Jeff Lewis. History has taught us to expect the unexpected with him, and much of the initial shock value surrounding him has worn off.  Nevertheless, when it came to the topic of transgender individuals, his response took many listeners aback.

“Because they’re dudes!” Lewis exclaimed. “They’re dudes. That’s the problem. I think this has merit, I really do. I’m really looking forward to all the negative social media messages I’m going to get this weekend. Obviously, generally, men are stronger than women. Men average 26 pounds of more skeletal muscle mass than women. Women have 40% less upper body strength and 33% less lower body strength. I like my statistics. I truly believe that whatever their gender was at birth…However in some cases, there’s been hormone therapy, right?  So if they’ve gone through hormone therapy, maybe that’s a different conversation. But these transgender women are consistently winning track and field events. I think only 17 states allow transgender high school athletes to compete. I do think this absolutely has some merit here.”

“I’m ambivalent about it,” Budin responded, “Because if you go through gender reassignment surgery, then you’re a woman. It’s not on what you were. It’s on what you are now.”

To this, Lewis replied: “Yeah, but some of these people…Look at Caitlyn. She’s a big woman. She’s strong. I don’t know. They have a lot of testosterone. It’s a slippery slope. I don’t know.”

Weeks ago, another Bravo star was subjected to scrutiny and scorn because she is known as an LGBTQ ally: Lisa Vanderpump made an off-handed remark during a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills confessional about costar Erika Jayne “tucking.” Erika Girardi has playfully compared her performing alter ego Erika Jayne to a drag queen in the past and has expressed her love for the art of drag. Therefore, many fans did not detect malice from Vanderpump, whereas others found the comment offensive. Vanderpump apologized in a public statement and expressed her full support of transgender individuals, as well as her regret for making a cavalier statement that upset some viewers.

Months ago, fans of the show Vanderpump Rules were disappointed when cast members didn’t fully acknowledge how Billie Lee, a transgender cast mate, could feel left out of an event labeled “Girls’ Night”.

“I understand not liking Billie Lee’s character or her personality,” said one Vanderpump viewer, “But why not have a thorough conversation with her – as [cast mate] Ariana Madix did – acknowledging an understanding of her feelings and properly clarifying the misunderstanding. The fact that they did not come across as empathetic or sympathetic to that is what turned me off.”

What are your thoughts on how Jeff Lewis handled today’s topic on his radio show? Do you think he should have steered the conversation in another direction to avoid potential criticism and controversy, or do you appreciate how he freely expresses his opinions at the risk of backlash?

If there is one thing I’ve learned from the past year of watching reality TV shows, it is that the LGBTQ community has a lot of supporters and people who consider themselves a part of this community, yet there is still a long way to go when it comes to respecting the “T” in LGBTQ.

 

 

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Psychology, Reality TV, Vanderpump Rules

#PumpRules: Preconceived Notions, Premature Judgements…or Prejudice?

Season 7 of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules premieres next month and fans have expressed some opinions on one of the cast mates, who is slated to become more of a central character this time around. The show’s first transgender personality, Billie Lee, had minimal, yet significant story-lines during Season 6. She fascinated and inspired viewers with her candor about her courageous journey with a triumphant outcome, albeit one still filled with challenges.

During the off season while the show was not airing (but filming), some drama transpired in the complicated world of social media. Billie Lee claimed to have been excluded from a party thrown by a cast mate, while the others chimed in to say she had been invited. Others contradicted that by saying the party was for a specific set of restaurant workers. Billie used her platform and past experience to communicate that this current conundrum reflected the type of cliqueness and exclusion she had and still experienced as a trans women. Cast mates chimed in on Instagram to say she was overreacting and viewers came to the defense of the somewhat snobbish Vanderpump Rules queen bee Stassi Schroeder, who deemed Billie Lee to be an overreactive drama queen.

A lot of venom was spewed in that vortex known as the “interwebs.” Facebook groups, Twitter pages and Instagram posts began to pop up that were less than pro Billie Lee. They praised her journey and the fact that she was a trans spokeswoman but, without actually seeing the footage from season 7, deemed her to be a diva with personality issues.

Whether Billie Lee was discriminated against or not is something viewers will have to determine individually when the season airs. But one thing that we should all keep in mind is that she has an understandable reason to be extra sensitive. Stassi Schroeder makes for great television and has learned a lot during her time on the show, but she has made the news in the past and rubbed cast mates the wrong way for criticizing aspects of the #MeToo movement. She also impulsively made quips that were the opposite of “woke.” To her credit however, Stassi has acknowledged that she wants to do better. She has admitted to her faults and to the fact that she is constantly learning and evolving. We have come to see her as continually taking two steps forward, then two steps back and then a step forward again.

Given this context and the fact that Billie Lee has been through a trying ordeal – living most of her life feeling she was in the wrong body and having faced backlash and bias – we have extra information to truly consider once the season airs. Maybe fans will understand Billie Lee, and perhaps others will hate her due to her personality…with it having nothing to do with anything other than personality. Still, I think we need to try to abolish the memories of the social media drama between seasons. We (you and me, all of us) should keep in mind that Billie Lee had been through one hell of a ride before she was cast on the show. She didn’t get to the highs without incurring the unimaginable lows.

Before beginning Season 7 on Monday December 3rd (at 9PM), it might be insightful to read more about Billie Lee’s past, the ordeals she has been through, the trials and tribulations she faces daily and generally, what it is like for her to live as a trans woman in 2018: Billie Lee’s Website.

(Pictured: Lisa Vanderpump with Billie Lee, Photo Credit: Bustle.com)

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