The popular MTV show Catfish, now in its fourth season, thrives on half-truths and big reveals. For a quick background, Catfish is co-hosted by Nev Shulman and Max Joseph. The idea comes from the Catfish documentary in which Shulman himself is a wide-eyed youth that was “catfished” by a beautiful, young woman who turned out to be an older, married mother of two.
The pair travels the country connecting online romances and more often than not, revealing to the poor souls, that have been completely committed to their online loves, that these people are not who they say they are.
With this premise of people hiding their true identity, Shulman and Joseph have also run into the occasional reveal that the person who is “catfishing” is actually transgender. And sadly, the show’s co-hosts have not always acted in the most positive and informed manner.
Over the course of the show, especially in the first season, the co-hosts have acted quite inappropriately towards their transgender “catfish,” doing everything from using the wrong pronouns to asking personal questions about treatments and surgeries. Needless to say, the show that seems to be quite positive when it comes to gay and lesbian couples, had a very long way to go on LGBTQ acceptance.
However, on last night’s episode, we met Ari and Jamey. They had met online and when Jamey asked to meet, Ari actually suggested they have their first meeting on Catfish. During their research, Shulman and Joseph did not find the usual red flags. Ari seemed to have a real profile and real friends and had even skyped with Jamey, though the camera was admittedly close to her face. After a few speculations, it was not until a phone call to Ari herself that she disclosed that her “big secret” was that she is a transgender woman.
I imagine anyone watching the show shared my initial discomfort about where the show would take it from here. However, to my surprise, the show finally grew up and took a positive approach to the transgender community.
The hosts used the pronouns Ari asked of them and they did not pry into her transition, though she did offer some of that information on her own. Jamey also seemed to react somewhat positively and even though they did not continue dating after the show, they continued to be friends and he continued to see Ari as the woman she has always presented herself to be.
Mostly though, it was the fact that Shulman and Joseph not only gave the audience the transgender resource trans.lookdifferent.org, but they also included a PSA.
“Transgender women like Ari are real women and are not deceiving anyone when they state this. Telling people you’re transgender is a decision that you have to make for yourself and it isn’t something that transgender people should or have to do.”
The clip also touches on the fact that many times this decision to disclose that you are transgender can lead to violence and alludes that this may be the reason Ari decided to make her reveal in such a public way.
Though mainstream society and Catfish have a long way to go when it comes to understanding and becoming a positive space for the transgender community, and as sad as it was to watch this poor woman sit there and have a person decide whether or not to accept her just because she is transgender, it was incredibly refreshing to see the discussion finally evolving.
In only four seasons, we have watched the transgender landscape make huge strides in mainstream society and it is wonderful to watch our media not only grow as well but also use the opportunity to correct mistakes and help others understand and appreciate our LGBTQ community.