I’m a huge fan of the show, “The Circle U.S.” — so much so that I’ve even seen all the international versions: from Brazil, France and the United Kingdom. I just can’t get enough of its premise: contestants from around the country compete for $100,000 in a social media contest.
But there’s a catch. They can only communicate with one another through screens — known as “the circle” — and the participants can choose to either play as their real selves, or catfish as somebody else.
I love cheering for my favorite players and watching them plan out their strategies and alliances. It’s been a great show to watch with my family, and the second season of “The Circle U.S.” had us constantly debating which contestant had the upper hand.
But after watching five seasons of “The Circle,” I realized that there were no out transgender or nonbinary contestants in the show. Despite some diversity in the players’ race and sexuality, there’s no representation of non-cisgender people.
As a nonbinary person, who would love to one day compete in a reality TV game show, this lack of inclusion has me feeling a bit weary. Like somehow, I’m not part of this version of “reality.”
The amount of transgender and nonbinary people in reality TV has always been inordinately low, and the history of transgender and nonbinary people’s participation in these types of shows is disappointing. Like when the show “Survivor” had its first transgender player, Zeke Smith, his transgender status was outed on the show by a fellow contestant. And from what I’ve found searching online, there hasn’t been an openly out transgender contestant on “Survivor” since.
There are reality shows that make an effort to uplift exclusively LGBTQ contestants, such as the drag competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the eighth season of the dating show “Are You The One?” And I greatly appreciate these shows for creating comfortable spaces for queer people.
However, shows that don’t blatantly state that they’re against hosting transgender people, but choose to not cast us in their perceived versions of “reality,” perpetuate the erasure of trans and nonbinary people.
By not putting an effort into including the fullest range of diversity possible into these shows — which are supposedly meant to represent your average set of go-getters — what are they telling audience members? That we cannot coexist?
Who are they protecting when they’re casting? Is it for our sake, to avoid a repeat of the tragedy faced by Zeke Smith? Or is it to avoid making straight, cisgender people “uncomfortable,” and to protect people like the man who lost his job after outing Smith?
Not having answers is frustrating — and it hurts to not be included in any part of the conversation about gender diversity in reality television. We shouldn’t have to be segregated to be part of the fun, to feel safe. I want to be welcomed. I want basic respect. I want decency. But if these shows refuse to include us, we will proudly continue to create our own circles.