I’ve always been reserved. When I was a kid, I was called shy. When I was a teenager, people said I was awkward. Now that I’m an adult, I’m considered an introvert. All of these descriptors have been various ways to identify my difficulties talking with people. Having to talk to people, especially people I don’t know, causes me anxiety. One of my most memorable examples is my first day of kindergarten.
From the time I was ten months old, I’d had the same babysitter every day. I was the only child she took care of. By the time I was a toddler, she was essentially another grandmother, so much so that I called her ‘ma.’ Because I had daily childcare, my mother didn’t feel the need to put me into preschool or pre-K. So, on the first day of kindergarten, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of unfamiliar faces, and being expected to interact with all of those strangers, Lil Quita was completely overwhelmed. I cried on my first day of school, because it was just too much to handle.
Fast forward a few years later to pre-teen Quita. After years of socializing, communicating was a little bit easier. Around that time, I also received access to a resource that would forever change the way I thought about communication: the Internet.
Online chat rooms provided spaces in which I felt super comfortable talking to strangers. It wasn’t awkward to start conversations. I could talk to multiple people at the same time. It was easy to find people with similar interests. And ending conversations wasn’t awkward. All I had to do was type g2g.
The Internet was also the first place in which I could talk through my sexuality. I could allow myself to type the word bisexual, which was, at the time, the only language I had in my vocabulary to describe myself. I could connect with other girls who felt the way that I did. And I had a space to flirt with girls, free from the shaming of the folks in my real life. The Internet provided spaces in my preteen and teenage years that my real life would never have allowed.
Without the Internet, LGBTQ youth would not be finding each other. Catfish the TV Show show gives us countless examples of what it means to be queer and/or trans living in our society, how isolating it is, and how the Internet is revolutionizing the ways in which LGBTQ youth are able to explore their identities safely. When watching the show, most folks have visceral reactions triggered by memories of being lied to by people they trusted and held dear. My reaction is different. I remember the feelings of being isolated and how the Internet saved me from that.
In season one episode six, we meet Kya. Kya has been in a long-term relationship online with Alyx. Kya and Alyx had only been texting and talking on the phone. Alyx recently moved from Switzerland to California and told Kya that he would like to meet her once he could afford it. Kya asks for Nev and Max’s help to meet her beau.
After some online snooping and their meeting face-to-face, it is revealed that Alyx is Dani. Dani is American, he’s from California, and he’s a transman. He hadn’t come out to Kya; because of the many rejections he had faced in his life after coming out, he was afraid of losing her. Kya identifies as pansexual and isn’t angry or disappointed at all when Dani comes out. More than anything, she is sad that he felt that he couldn’t tell her the truth. They spend quality time together and leave even more in love than they were before.
Then there was Anthony from season two, episode two. Anthony is a veteran who was wounded in war. Anthony has been dating Marq, whom he met on Facebook, for seven months and has known him for over a year. Anthony knows Marq is lying about something because of his refusal to video chat and his history of standing Anthony up when he went to visit him in Mississippi.
Nev and Max do their private detective act and find out that Marq’s photos are actually photos of someone named Joshua. Then they find out that Marq is Framel. When Anthony meets Framel, he is devastated and angry. He feels that Framel has taken no responsibility for lying to him and embarrassing him. Eventually, Anthony calms down and lets Framel tell his side of the story. Things end with Anthony feeling that he has answers to his questions and Framel feeling that he’s been able to tell Anthony the truth. They don’t speak again after filming.
Finally, in season three, episode 8, we are introduced to Miranda. Miranda is dating James. But James has catfished Miranda before, leading her to believe that he was Cameryn and lived in California. After some of Miranda’s own sleuthing, she discovered Cameryn’s photos belonged to someone else. After he is faced with this fact, he confesses that his name is James and he lives in Atlanta. However, they still haven’t video chatted with each other, which is why Miranda has asked for Nev and Max’s help.
They discover that James is most likely not who he says he is. And when they go to Atlanta to meet him, James arranges for them to video chat. During this chat, they find out that James is actually Gabby, a girl. Gabby reveals that her family did not know anything about her relationship with Miranda and were not okay with them meeting, which is why she had to do a video chat. She reveals that she does have feelings for Miranda and would like to meet the next day to talk about everything. Fast forward and, once again, her family prevents the meeting. However, in their update, it is revealed that Gabby and Miranda are still in contact with each other. Miranda even may still have feelings for Gabby, now that she knows that she isn’t James.
These three episodes provide glimpses into the complex realities of LGBTQ young folks trying to navigate romantic relationships. And, in my opinion, the oversaturation of queer and trans folks on Catfish the TV Show episodes indicates the integral role that the Internet is playing in providing a safe place for them.
For me, the hardest part of watching the show is seeing the poor job it does handling the realities of queer and trans lives. It’s hard to sit and watch queer and trans folks have to navigate insensitive and flat-out misguided questions from Nev and Max. It is hard watching their complex lives be boiled down to them lying and preying on people on the Internet. And the show is missing the opportunity to start conversations about what it means to be desired, and about what LGBTQ young folks need to survive and thrive.
When it comes to Catfish the TV Show, we must be sure that we aren’t actively erasing the complex experiences of LGBTQ folks for ratings and hashtags. We must honor that we learn to live and cope in various ways and that, at the end of the day, there is no right way. We also have to provide space for queer and trans folks to tell their own truths in their own way and at their own pace. If we don’t, we are replicating oppressive systems and beliefs, and furthering erasing and marginalizing folks whom society has already deemed invalid.
They deserve better.[Headline image: The image shows a TV logo. The logo is bordered by black, above and below. The word “catfish” appears on a white and gray background. Beneath it, the words, “The TV Show” appear in a gray rectangle, with yellow, green, purple, red, and blue squares next to it.]