The Sexualization of the Desexualized Same-Sex Couple

7 10 2013

Here’s my (hopefully) A+ short paper I wrote for my Critical Studies in Sexuality class. Also, please don’t plagiarize me. I don’t expect it to happen, but hey, students are known to be desperate sometimes.

The Sexualisation of the Desexualized Same-Sex Couple

The article “A New Entity in the History of Sexuality: The Respectable Same-Sex Couple”, written by Mariana Valverde, examines the notion of a new phenomenon known as “the respectable same-sex couple”, or “RSSC” (362). Valverde outlines how a common image of gay couples has emerged in the last decade that frequently depicts them as “middle-class, middle-aged, and white” (363). In addition, these depictions of same-sex couples often desexualize them.

All of this calls into question the idea of sexuality and how this relates to one’s overall identity. By pointing out the desexualized images of the RSSC, Valverde seems to imply that sexuality is an integral part of one’s identity especially for gay couples, whose sexuality is one of the major differences from heterosexual couples. Yet, Valverde does not address a more basic question: why do same-sex couples need to constantly express their sexuality? Is it for themselves, or is it for an audience? For this paper, I will use the example of Josh Kilmer-Purcell and husband Brent Ridge, winners of the reality television show The Amazing Race (TAR). Josh and Brent, as they are known on the race, are both middle-class, middle-aged, and white, fitting Valverde’s description of the RSSC. Like other gay couples in previous seasons of the show, Josh and Brent were desexualized, never shown doing anything more than give supportive hugs after finishing a leg, while their straight competitors openly and comfortably kissed each other. I think it’s safe to say that most straight people watching TAR know that gay people have sex with other gay people, so sexualizing Josh and Brent would not serve as an educational tool; rather, it seems that sexualized images of the RSSC, in this case, Josh and Brent, would serve as reminders to viewers that not only are they a gay couple, but as a gay couple, they have sex with each other. If this is the case, does this sexualisation function as a reinforcement of the classic queer motto, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!”? And is the message to other gay and queer audiences the same?

As Josh and Brent are only the second gay couple to ever win the race, perhaps their sexualisation would serve as a reminder that gay couples (and gay/queer people) are in fact able to compete with and beat their straight counterparts – and are also able to win a reality show. Thus, sexualizing them effectively functions as both a milestone in history and as visibility in a heteronormative world. In this regard, sexualisation of the RSSC results in a feel-good, subtle message that can apply to both straight and gay audiences: it reminds everyone of gay people’s existence, but can also serve as a kind of encouragement for those who are queer.

However, there are other questions to consider. If the sexualisation of Josh and Brent is important to queer people’s identities as well as their history and future, then how do we go about the process of sexualising these images? What might their sexualisation even constitute? How much is enough, and how much is too much? And who can judge/monitor all this? These are all questions Valverde does not answer (nor pose). Does the sexualisation of the RSSC include doing things that are outside the norm for a straight couple? For example, if Josh and Brent are shown kissing, is that sexual enough? Or is it not queer enough, relative to, say, showing them having anal sex, or talking about anal sex? (which isn’t really queer, since straight couples can have anal sex as well, but is more commonly associated with gay people) Moreover, if the depictions of RSSCs partly serve to pacify and calm the straight population and convince them that gay folks are just as wealthy, unsexual, and white as the typical straight couple, what might the response be if RSSCs became sexualized? Would people – both straight and gay – complain if Josh and Brent kissed once? Or every week? Or did more than kiss? After all, straight people have complained and blamed their queer counterparts for being too sexual (the many complaints around pride parades and public displays of affection, for instance). Is it not a bit of a double-edged sword, then, that on one hand, people complain (or note, like Valverde) that Josh and Brent aren’t sexualized enough, but if/when they are sexualized, that others may complain that Josh and Brent are too sexualized? In effect, some may complain that their sexuality is being left out, while others rebut that same-sex couples are too sexualized. Is there a way to reconcile these two opinions? Will it ever be possible for everyone to simply accept the image of same-sex couples, sexualized or not, the way we have about opposite-sex couples? And perhaps most importantly, what about the wants of the RSSC? What if Josh and Brent don’t wish to be sexualized? What if hugging is as sexual as they get in their daily lives? What then?

Valverde’s article is important in that it points out homogenous and unrealistic depictions of same-sex couples; it does leave a lot of questions unanswered, however. Since TAR is a television show that is heavily edited, the image of Josh and Brent as an RSSC is ultimately left in the hands of a network. Sexualised images are important, yes, but going about the production and maintenance of these images is more complicated than it seems.

Work Cited

Valverde, Mariana. “A New Entity in the History of Sexuality: The Respectable Same-Sex

Couple.” Queerly Canadian: An Introductory Reader in Sexuality Studies. Ed. Maureen Fitzgerald and Scott Rayter. Toronto: Canadian Scholars/Women’s, 2012. 361-366. Print.


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