Whore Next Door: Sepulveda, The High Road

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

Logo made reality-television history last week when the network premiered its new gay dating show, Finding Prince Charming, hosted by none other than former *NSYNC-star-turned-gay-icon, Lance Bass. As a long time Bachelor and Bachelorette watcher, with a healthy side of Rock of Love, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, and (let us not forget) For the Love of Ray Jay, this show is basically my dream come true. Say what you wish about reality television, I think it’s brilliant — in that Orwellian-dystopia Hunger Games kind of way.

Someday, cyborg historians will look back on this point in human history in the same way we look back on the brutal tastes of the Elizabethans or the ancient Romans.

Trapping a dozen strangers together, pumping them full of Chardonnay, depriving them of food and sleep, and then filming as they compete in physical, mental, and emotional challenges isn’t much less barbaric than a good old-fashioned bear-baiting.

People often ask me for recommendations on how to consume, “ethical” porn — in which workers are respected, well-paid, and giving enthusiastic consent — but rarely do I hear conversations about concern over ethical practices in mainstream television.

Angelea Preston was crowned America’s Next Top Model in 2011 only to be stripped of her title once news of her brief career as an escort was uncovered. Late last year, Preston filed a $3 million lawsuit against the show’s producers, and began speaking out about the exploitative conditions under which the contestants worked. Preston speaks of her time in the Top Model house as being “like a prison,” where contestants were often denied food and water as a way to enhance drama on the show, by ensuring everyone stayed hangry and on-edge. (As if there would be any other way to be in a house full of aspiring supermodels.)

Preston isn’t the only reality television contestant who’s been given the boot because she had a past in the sex industry. Frenchie Davis was kicked off the second season of American Idol when news spread of the nude modeling she’d done to help pay for her first years at Howard University. And on Season 19 of The Bachelor, top contestant Jade Elizabeth recently revealed her past as a Playboy centerfold, only to be swiftly eliminated by the farm boy who just couldn’t take a chance on a girl like that in a small town.

Although reality TV contestants are constantly sexualized and even compete for sex at times — i.e., “one-on-one time,” the fantasy suite, etc. — producers have historically drawn a hard line when it comes to cast members who have done sex work.

But Finding Prince Charming truly might be different. The leading man, Robert Sepulveda Jr., is not only a chisel-jawed Puerto Rican interior designer and LGBT activist, he’s also a former male escort who advertised on the late, great Rentboy.com — which the FBI seized and shut down last summer. Though the subject has yet to be discussed on the show, Sepulveda and Bass have been quick to address the controversy and let everyone know it’s not that big a deal.

“We all have a past,” Bass said, defending Sepulveda on Huffington Post Live. “I was in a boy band. I’ll admit it.”

Even the notoriously bitchy celebrity blogger Perez Hilton took a stance on the subject that was nothing short of nonchalant. (“Who are we to judge?” he asked.)

Sepulveda insists that being open about his past is proof the show isn’t the same old heteronormative nonsense. He also revealed that one of the contestants on the show is HIV-positive, and attacking that stigma will be at the forefront of the season.

Perhaps Prince Charming is right, and the times, they are a changin’, but I would venture to chalk this collective shrug — over something that would probably be quite the scandal to straight audiences — up to a simple double standard. Gay culture has had to make space for the reality of sex work, as LGBT people are disproportionately disenfranchised, and many find ways of surviving via the sex trade.

Moreover, women and men are simply punished differently for engaging in sex work. Men are assumed to have agency over their sexualities, whereas women are expected to defer control of theirs to the church, the state, their husbands, and society’s pressures.

I’d say that world is also ready to make some formal apologies to Angelea Preston, Frenchie Davis, Jade Elizabeth and anyone else who’s been kicked off reality TV for doing sex work. Regardless, I’m glad the world is finally ready for a full hour of primetime pretty boys snuggling, curated by my all-time favorite boy band member.

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