TV

13 LGBT Reality Series That Changed Queer Life

by Chris Azzopardi 7:30 AM PDT, June 08, 2016
Photo: NBC Universal

Fifteen years ago, the LGBT community had to settle for fictional stereotypes. We had Will. We had Jack. We had Queer as Folk. The real stories, though? Not so much.

But in the years since, post-Ellen, post-marriage equality, queers are ruling the tube via a wide range of reality programming, including the second season of Transcendent, which premieres on Fuse on June 8. 

Before the premiere, revisit the reality series that have also advanced the LGBT rights movement.

1. Gaycation (2016-present)

With the highest LGBTQ murder rate in the world, do you know queer life in Rio de Janeiro? How about Japan? Out actress Ellen Page and out filmmaker Ian Daniel didn't until they wound up in those places, exploring the sometimes-scary realities of living outside of America. Gaycation isn't always an easy watch -- while in Brazil, Page and Daniel confronted a man who murders gay people -- but it's by far one of the most important.

2. Transcendent (2015-present)

It's hard to imagine an all-trans show like Transcendent airing 10, even five, years ago. But Fuse's unscripted series portraying a sisterhood of transgender women who work at a transgender-owned and operated cabaret called AsiaSF in San Francisco is exactly that. More specifically, "kooky, courageous, transgender women," as cast member Nya puts it.

MORE: Meet the Newest Member of Caitlyn Jenner's 'I Am Cait' Squad: Ella Giselle

3. I Am Cait (2015-present)

Caitlyn Jenner may not be everyone's cup of tea (certainly not Rose McGowan's), but there's no question Cait's mere openness about life as a transgender male-to-female has generated awareness for a marginalized and once-unsung subset of the LGBT community. The docuseries isn't just an eye-opener for those unfamiliar with transgender people, though. Cait, too, has experienced many revelations herself.

4. The Prancing Elites Project (2015-present)

A troupe of black gays and gender non-conformists don't let small-town life in Mobile, Alabama, stop them from pursuing their dream to dance in Oxygen's The Prancing Elites Project. As the fierce group faces familial obstacles and other roadblocks, they find the tenacity to push on, letting their ambition take them to L.A., where they naturally kween out when they get to Beyonce's house. And the dancing? Watch as they move the most unexpected individuals into a gyrating frenzy.

5. I Am Jazz (2015-present)

If you haven't already, meet Jazz, a YouTube and TV personality, spokesmodel, and LGBTQ rights activist. Oh, and she just so happens to be a transgender girl too. Seeing as though 75 percent of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, Jazz and her harrowing GLAAD-winning TLC show, which treats gender so matter-of-factly, are shining examples of what the world's youth needs more of.

6. Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (2013-present)

Booty booty booty. Sure, there's a lot of that on Big Freedia's Fuse show, and nobody minds, right? But the Bounce Queen, who cameoed on Beyonce's "Formation," isn't just serving twerks -- her show is an empowering testament of self-love and of total, as Bey would say, "slay."

7. The Fabulous Beekman Boys (2010-present)

Here's one way to shatter "gays are fashionista" stereotypes -- put them on a farm. Husbands Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, the novice farmers spotlighted in the 2010-launched reality series, normalized gay life simply by being themselves: Kilmer-Purcell is a New York Times bestselling author, while Ridge is a physician and former employee of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Together, they have goats and a llama named Polka Spot because it's 2016 and the pursuit of happiness (and llamas) should be a reality for everyone.

8. Be Good Johnny Weir (2010-present)

Look no further than the trailer for Johnny Weir's Sundance show to make you feel like you should live your best life. Featuring a high-heeled, fur coat-wearing Johnny Weir, the intro's "when I'm good, I'm good. but when I'm bad, I'm better" tagline says it all: He's out, proud and loud, and that fearlessness is pretty damn inspirational, isn't it?

MORE: Johnny Weir's Best Super Bowl Looks

9. The Real L Word (2010-2012)

In 2010, the world was ready for more cable-channel lesbians, so Showtime launched an off-shoot of their hit drama, The L Word. Much like the series, The Real L World explored the everyday lives of lesbians living in Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Though marriage equality wasn't legalized countrywide until 2015, three legally married couples were already demonstrating that LGBT people just want the same right to not know everything about their spouse.

10. TRANSform Me (March 15, 2010-May 3, 2010)

Before Laverne Cox made a big mark on the world with her breakthrough as Sophia Burset on Orange Is the New Black, the LGBT icon, along with three other trans women stylists, gave cisgender females makeovers on the VH1 series. Though it ran for only a single season, it introduced us to Cox, a trailblazer even then. She was the first black transgender woman to star in and produce her own TV show.

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11. RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-present)

You know RuPaul's Drag Race has sashayed its way into mainstream culture when even Josh Groban wants to be a judge. Men dress as women on the Logo hit, sure. But moreover, every gloriously gay week brings gays, straights and your mom together (because who doesn't love the Snatch Game?!) to witness the campy marvel of aspiring queens lip syncing for their lives.

12. The Real World (1992-present)

Equal marriage. Mixed-gender bathrooms. Yes, the queer community is finally merging with the rest of society, but The Real World was always one step ahead. For two-plus decades -- and 31 seasons -- MTV's influential and inclusive show has illuminated lives from all walks of life, including a multitude of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Among them: New York's Norman Korpi, one of the first gay people on non-scripted TV, and San Francisco's Pedro Zamora, who was living with AIDS at the time.

MORE: 'Real World' Creator Jonathan Murray on Show's Changes, Remembering Diem Brown

13. Queer Eye (2003-2007)

The world is a better-dressed place thanks to Queer Eye (shortened in its third season from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). But Bravo's Andy Cohen-produced show didn't just change straight men from frumps to fashionistas. Despite its zeitgeist stereotypes, the show's all-male "Fab 5" were instrumental in stylishly guiding queerness to the non-queer corners of mainstream life.

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