Why Can't Tila Tequila be Polyamorous?!
When looking for visionary ideas, I wouldn't normally think about our entertainment industry ... but when it comes to sex and sexuality, they're always on the frontier, so it shouldn't be a shock that MTV almost brought us a glimpse of a new vision for sex and sexuality.
OK, I understand that I'm revealing a guilty pleasure, but I was oddly fascinated by Tila Tequila's "reality" show -- A Shot at Love -- on MTV. What made this spectacle of drunken fights, inane drama and half-naked pseudocelebrity interesting was that Tila -- "the least lonely girl on the Internet" -- outed herself as "a bisexual" in the first episode and went on to be wooed by both dudes (I use the term "dude" to differentiate the men on the show from straight men in general) and women over the run of the show.
Despite my hopes, there were many ways in which the show fell short and disappointed. First, the show completely ignored sexual options for men outside of the heterosexual norm and reinforced the gay/straight binary: all of the male contestants had to be straight, and all of the female contestants had to be exclusively gay, but with eyes for Tila alone, of course (rumors that a female contestant had "hooked up" with a male contestant and kissed another female contestant got her sent home).
Furthermore, the racial politics of Tila's choices were troubling. Tila, who is of Vietnamese heritage (she mentioned this at various times during the show, seemingly to emphasize her "exotic" appeal), eliminated the people of color very early on in the show. From an original pool of 32 contestants that was roughly 70 percent white, Tila had whittled it down to only six women and six men by the third episode -- only one of those people left standing was not white (that's a 92 percent qhite dating pool).
Lastly, the show's elimination-style competition between contestants for Tila's affections enforced monogamy as the only option, forcing Tila to choose Bobby (one of the dudes) over Dani (the kinda-butch female firefighter who was my personal favorite) even though she claimed to love them both.
So Tila Tequila's "A Shot at Love" ultimately squandered the possibility of offering a radically different vision of sex and sexuality. Instead, it reinforced the racism embedded in our society's hierarchy of desire, where Asian women are sexually desirable but Asian men are invisible and interracial relationships must always involve a white partner. And the show's treatment of female bisexuality largely pandered to the voyeuristic fascination of straight dudes, featuring Tila making out with other bikini-clad women. Finally, Tila's ultimate choice of a dude reinforced the reassuring idea for straights and paranoid fear for queers that bisexuals ultimately choose heterosexual partnerships.
(Un)Fortunately, the show was a huge success. It was MTV's biggest hit in over two years, garnering roughly 6 million viewers and making it the network's top-rated series among viewers 12-34 in 2007. That huge viewership could have been boosted by the controversy that one would expect a bisexual dating show to generate, with supporters on the left and detractors on the right.
As big media will always do, MTV is following the money, and the network is giving Tila another "Shot at Love"(that Tila's relationship with Bobby didn't last shocked no one and helps remind us just how unreal and scripted "reality" TV is). So what can Tila and her handlers do the second time around to air a show with a new vision for sex and sexuality in the 21st century?
Well, for starters, Tila's being "a bisexual" shouldn't be used as a gimmick to shock the audience and the other contestants. Also, the contestants should not be penalized for being attracted to each other (regardless of race and sex). And the cast could have more options that just pairing off.
I don't suggest the viability of polyamory because of Tila's bisexuality. People who are bisexual are just as (un)able to be monogamous as straight or lesbian/gay people, and polyamorous relationships can span all sexual orientations. Polyamory, or consensual nonmonogamy, recognizes a basic fact of human sexuality: the eye will wander. If open relationships were a socially acceptable option, we'd think very differently about "adultery," and we'd probably craft very different romantic relationships.
Given the fact that adultery is wrapped up with lying, estimates of its prevalence vary widely, but www.infidelityfacts.com claims that 57 percent of men and 54 percent of women admit to having cheated in a relationship. As with so many other things we obsess over (sex, race, sexual orientation, etc.), adultery is a social construct, and it varies from culture to culture. Pamela Druckerman explored various cultural views of adultery in her book Lust in Translation: The Rules of Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee; apparently Russians have a much more permissive view of adultery, and in Japan the real crime isn't the sexual betrayal but indiscretion. When you consider that more than half of all marriages end in divorce, it's not hard to believe that infidelity could be widespread and a contributing factor.
Consensual nonmonogamy would make it possible for partners to honestly tell each other when they are attracted to other people and even go out on dates with other people with the full knowledge and blessing of their primary partner. It would be possible for a couple to welcome another person (or persons) into their relationship (and bedroom). It would certainly give new meaning to the idea of a "blended family" (Heather could have three mommies instead of just two). Obviously, these possibilities exist outside of the legal frame of marriage. But, as the 250 authors, activists, intellectuals and celebrities (gay and straight) who wrote the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement noted, "Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others."
Nonmonogamy could be gaining ground. When I was in college, many of my friends were reading The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities. In New York this past October, an organization called PolyamorousNYC held a series of "Poly Pride" events, including an all-gender cuddle party that broke attendance records. Personally, I know polyamorous couples whose relationships seem no less stable or fulfilling than my own monogamous one (I swear to my boyfriend that I'm not envious).
Who knows, maybe polyamory is the future of sex and sexuality; or at least it could become a more acceptable option. It could certainly make Tila Tequila's A Shot at Love, Season 2, more entertaining and ground-breaking.