During Wednesday night’s episode of Real World: Ex-Plosion, a very important dialogue took place. “Sure it did, Kristie,” you roll your eyes. “Was it before or after someone dry humped another person in a taxi?” DIFFERENT EPISODE, but come on. The show is so much more than that! (I can't believe I said that, but I mean it.)
Yes, it’s the series that you might now associate with “hot tub make outs” and “drunken debauchery.” Yes, it’s the season that hinges on the format curveball that is the Ex-Plosion. But ya know what? Wednesday night’s ep made me think this season might help the show swing back toward its 90s glory days. Arielle Scott addressed Internet speculation that she is transgendered in a very honest, very real, and very productive way. A way that hopefully raised awareness regarding gender identity.
While the season taped, the roommates went out a lot (as is customary for Real Worlders), and other club goers recognized them as the future (now current) Real World cast. So, other club goers took pictures of the future Real Worlders and posted those pictures online. The Internet made predictions and assumptions about the cast (as Internet commenters are wont to do), and one particular assumption was incorrect (I’m sure it wasn’t the only off-base prediction, but it’s the one the show aired). As Scott explained in a confessional:
“There’s been a lot of conversation on les Internet about, like, ‘Oh, will there be a trans person living in the Real World house?’ ‘Oh, we think Arielle may actually be the trans person and she’s transitioned from female to male.’ I am a woman! I am a girl. that’s how I was born.”
When she and her roommates saw the pics and comments, Scott said, “I don’t want to be trans.”
On Zap2it.com, Scott expresses regret regarding that initial remark: “One of the things I'm upset about with myself after watching the episode is that my immediate reaction to being labeled as a trans person without actually being a trans person was negative. That was so f***ing unfair of me to so many people. What if a straight woman back in the day was miscorrectly labeled as a lesbian and she reacted negatively? That's rude, you know?”
In a later confessional, she said, “I don’t know if being upset about being called a trans person is a good feeling to have.” Scott is a smart, sensitive individual, and rather than push this heavy subject into the back corner of her mind to be forgotten, she addressed it head-on. She acknowledged her problematic reaction. She invited some of her friends over to the house to dig into any and all questions she had about gender identity and others' perceptions.
“I think whether you’re gay, whether you’re straight, whether you’re of color or mixed, or any of these things, people are on a spectrum,” Scott’s friend Kingston Farady said in the ep. Farady is a trans activist, writer, and actor. “There is no just pure black and pure white, you know? People need to understand that. So like, who you are isn’t going to be who another woman is.”
Scott, Scott's friends, and the Real World roommates talked about gender identity for nearly four hours. Sure, the segment was only a few minutes long, but it could've served as a jumping off point for viewers to explore these issues.
As Farady explains in The East Bay Express, “I knew there would be gaps because you can’t capture this conversation in a few minutes on reality TV. I also knew it would create critique around the perception of one person talking on behalf of all trans people. But I figured, criticism, dramatization, and misrepresentation or not, people would see a black trans person visible on TV, and start talking. My decision to participate was to create discussion.”
Scott addresses last night's episode on act.MTV.com. She explains that though it was not the most tactful response, her “initial reaction to being defined as anything other than what I perceive myself to be was, justifiably, a rejection” and that it it meant “‘You don’t know me and I don’t want you to label me or more importantly, tell my story for me.’”
When she initially saw the e-rumors, Scott was not just put off by the assumption that she is trans, but that there were any assumptions made about her identity at all. As Farady pointed out during the ep, identity is freakin' complex. Scott continues:
“When I first discovered that people thought I was trans, it confused and saddened me because I did not want who I am, Ari Fitz, an at-times androgynous lesbian of color, to be hidden by who I was not.
It also frightened me because I knew I wasn’t ready to become or represent an entire community of people I believe to be more than capable of representing themselves. Still, recognizing that this was bigger than my own ignorance, or that of my 10 roommates, I stepped outside of myself and back into my Oakland support system. Luckily for me, they were there as they always have been. As seen in the episode, they were there to teach me what I didn’t know, but also remind me of our most important resource: our willingness to learn.
Whether you personally identify as trans or not, trans issues are important. And they’re important for much more than trivial matters of dress, or sexuality, or body type. They’re important because trans people are…well … people — like gay people, like lesbian people, like bisexual people, like straight people. They’re also important because a lot of trans people don’t have the luxury of cleaning up misidentifications as easily as I can.
Transgender (or gender variant) people often lose their homes, jobs, families, health insurance and a number of other luxuries we take for granted because of who they are, not inside, but in the eyes of others. And put plainly, I find that, like all forms of discrimination, to be unacceptable.
So, am I a trans woman? No. But does that make me any less willing to learn and speak out about transgender needs? Absolutely not.”
Hey, Real World: Ex-Plosion? I like this progressive, Real World of yore side of you.