The dating game

Meet reality TV’s Gay Bachelor Number 1—and find out why some are concerned about the straight twist in Bravo’s Boy Meets Boy

BY Rick Andreoli

June 24 2003 12:00 AM ET

And if
Andra’s presence isn’t enough to be a cold
shower for the mates, the only physical connection
allowed on Boy Meets Boy is kissing. “We
didn’t want this show to be a big sexual romp and for
it to be salacious,” explains openly gay
executive producer Douglas Ross, who created the show
with Tom Campbell, his production partner at Evolution
Film & Tape. (Evolution was also behind last
year’s acclaimed, gay-positive Bravo series
Gay Weddings.) “We very specifically
designed this show to challenge the viewer’s
preconceived notions about what it means to be gay and
to be straight. We really wanted it to be an
exploration of sexual politics and not sex.”

While this
kissing rule protected the straight contestants from being
asked to put out, it also raises the question of whether gay
men know how to court one another without sex being
involved. “Of course they can,” James
says, but he’s quick to add that he believes men in
general are more sexual than women. “Straight
men would have sex the first night if women would let
them. It is no different in the gay world.”

The natural
assumption concerning the straight twist is that James or
the other gay contestants will be able to spot the
impostors in an instant. As James attests, “Gay
men look at men the way straight men look at women.
That is a dead giveaway.” In Boy Meets Boy,
the producers promise, the mystical homosexual power
known as gaydar fails, and some delicious
complications ensue.

“If it
were just a gay dating show, for sure we’d get a lot
of gay viewers, probably not that many straight
viewers, [and] some looky-loos,” Ross says.
“But we felt by putting [the twist] in, we would get
a much broader audience and have a chance to explore
the sociological issues which are really important to
us as gay producers.” Adds Scott Seomin of the
media watchdog organization Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against
Defamation: “Frankly, only a reality show could
create a closet for straight men. We hope the closeted
heterosexuals in the cast will learn what it’s
like to be gay.”

Since gay images
on reality TV have become something of a stale
staple—lately failing to match the excitement
generated by, say, Pedro Zamora and Richard
Hatch—it’s promising that Boy Meets Boy
promises to shake up concepts of sexuality. Take it as a
good sign, then, that within hours of the
show’s announcement, Andrea Lafferty of the
right-wing Traditional Values Coalition was quoted by the
Associated Press as saying, “Clearly,
they’ve hit a new low. What’s next after
Boy Meets Boy? Boy Meets Sheep?”
Psychotherapist Betty Berzon, whose autobiography,
Surviving Madness: A Therapist’s Own
Story,
just won a Lambda Literary Award, welcomes such
controversy. “Groups like this do [gays and
lesbians] a favor by keeping us in the public mind and
giving us a visibility that we don’t always do for
ourselves,” she says.

And while
everyone at Boy Meets Boy seems to be approaching the
concept with the best of intentions, the show’s
methodology doesn’t necessarily sit well even
with potential allies. “It’s my understanding
that if the gay guy picks the straight guy in the end, the
joke is on him, and I don’t like that,”
observes Berzon. (According to Ross, if James chooses
a gay mate, he and the suitor win a romantic vacation, but
if a straight guy is chosen, they win a “very
small” cash prize.) PlanetOut’s Hartley
is also skeptical. “If what they want to do is make a
documentary or explore social issues, they should do
that,” he says. “What makes reality
shows work is the delight in seeing people devolve to
horrendous behavior toward one another. That’s what
we’re watching for.”

There’s
horrendous behavior, and then there’s homicidal.
Boy Meets Boy’s gay-straight
romantic dynamic has been a queasy reminder for some
of the Jenny Jones show’s disastrous same-sex
secret-crush episode in 1995, in which Scott Amedure,
a gay man, surprised his heterosexual friend Jonathan
Schmitz by professing his attraction to him.
“[Schmitz]’s response was
anticlimactic,” explains Jeffrey Montgomery,
executive director of the Triangle Foundation, an
antiviolence project dealing with victims of bias
crimes throughout Michigan. “[Schmitz] laughed
it off and said, ‘You’re a nice guy and I like
you,’ and then went home,” only to
fatally shoot Amedure three days later at Amedure’s
home in the suburbs of Detroit.

Violence is not a
likely scenario for Boy Meets Boy, argues Larry
Grimaldi—who, along with Christopher McDonald, cast
the show—because the heterosexual contestants
knew exactly what was in store. “Many of the
questions we asked [the straight participants] were geared
to ascertain their social behaviors, political views,
and friendships,” he says. A solid pool of
applicants, all with gay best friends and relatives, were
then told about the twist and concept behind the show, and
they quickly signed on. “We didn’t want
them to put on any affectations or try to ‘be
gay,’ ” Ross adds. “We just wanted them
to change the story about their sexual
identity.”

Be that as it
may, the premise of Boy Meets Boy worries many gay
men. What if the show ends with James rejecting all of the
gay contestants? Would this support the right-wing
stereotype of the self-loathing, predatory homosexual
male? Ross notes that during their private
confessionals, the straight contestants make it clear that
they don’t feel preyed on. “If anything,
it’s going to help dispel that myth [by
showing] that gay men and straight men can be
friends,” he says. “They can bond on a
lot of different areas, and it’s not just because a
gay guy might be sexually attracted to somebody.”

Gooch points out
that, far from being new, the mix of gay and straight
men on Boy Meets Boy represents a return to age-old
roots. In ancient Greece men like Socrates were
married and yet had homosexual relationships as well.
“So our society at the moment is rolling the dice,
instigated by gays, to reconsider what masculinity is and
what makes a straight man or gay man, and if these
definitions are real or if a middle ground can be
found,” says Gooch.

Howard Buford,
founder and CEO of Prime Access, an ad agency that serves
more Fortune 500 companies than any firm in the gay market,
believes that protests by the Traditional Values
Coalition or other right-wing organizations could
ultimately prove beneficial to Boy Meets Boy.
“The actual promotion for Boy Meets Boy
isn’t widespread, but if it were to hit CNN,
suddenly it generates a much higher awareness, and it
could increase viewership,” he says. As for a
backlash against advertisers, Buford says those days
are over: “There’s so many active
Fortune 500 companies in the gay market, it’s just
become untenable to boycott them.”

Ross and his team
told all of the participants to be ready for surprises
and have fun, which Berzon believes is exactly the right
approach to dating in general. “I think people
take dating too seriously,” she says.
“They approach it like a life-or-death situation,
asking if this is ‘the one’ when they
barely know the person’s name.”

James shares
Berzon’s laid-back approach to romance. He’s
had only two relatively long-term relationships, and
he’s never felt like his life is missing
something because he’s single. “I do feel like
there could be something more in my life,” he
says, “but I am content being single until that
special someone comes along.” And that special
someone might be just an episode away.

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