Last night, I tuned into “Part 2” of the Real Housewives Of Orange County season 12 reunion expecting to hear the same old, same old. After all, George W. Bush was still squarely president when the OG Housewives franchise began — can the orange-toting ladies really say or do anything surprising anymore? Yet, while watching longtime veteran Tamra Judge cry and scream over the fact costar Vicki Gunvalson stirred gay rumours about her husband, I wasn’t reminded of an old chapter of this very old feud. Rather, it sounded like the exact conversation Real Housewives Of Dallas stars Cary Deuber and reality TV machine LeeAnne Locken had just a few weeks ago during the second part of their own reunion special. That’s when it became pretty clear the Housewives hurl queer allegations when their mummy-shaming insults simply won’t hurt enough, which is intrinsically homophobic.
As we see with RHOC, Tamra is genuinely devastated by the fact her marriage with third husband Eddie Judge has had to weather the storm of gay rumours. Even when the cameras seem to be off during the reunion, meaning anything we see isn’t put on for television, a teary Tamra begs Vicki to apologise and mean it. Beforehand, Tamra’s BFF Shannon Beador stresses the fact Vicki’s behaviour hurt the Judge family as a whole.
When you question why this specific form of so-called “insult” so deeply wounds the woman it’s thrown at, it eventually starts making sense. Someone like Tamra is upset by the speculation because it not only suggests your spouse is cheating on you, it also alleges he’s lying, living a double life, and isn’t even vaguely attracted to you in the first place. Then, multiple people are saying this to your friends, and it’s all going to play out on national television for possibly millions of people to watch (depending on which city you hail from).
While all of this is at play with Tamra’s anger at her frenemy, the “root” of Vicki’s insult, as Meghan King Edmonds puts it, is homophobic. By continuously playing the game of questioning Eddie’s sexuality everywhere from interviews to TMZ as a way to drag him, the OC OG is hinting being gay is a bad thing in the first place. It’s not like Vicki is toying with the rumour as a compliment. That’s why the moment Tamra calls Vicki a “liar,” the latter hits back by asking, “Did you ever hear, prior to marrying Eddie that he had been with men?” If you squint, you can try to say Vicki is attempting to exonerate herself from the homophobia allegations tossed at her, but, in reality, she is again trying to take a jab at Tamra for calling her a “la-la-la-liar.”
Although Vicki tries to avoid her own culpability here, the RHOD discussion between Cary and LeeAnne proves the true purpose of these rampant Housewives gay rumours. LeeAnne, who alleged she knew the exact men who “sucked off” Cary’s husband Mark Deuber at a popular Dallas gay club,” tries to allege calling Mark gay wasn’t an insult. But, when Cary asks if her comment was supposed to be “nice,” LeeAnne is forced to admit she “made it to hurt,” since she felt hurt. Both LeeAnne and an in-denial Vicki were lashing out, simple as that.
That’s why it’s so important to hear Mark, a man, explain the real problem with these rumours. The issue isn’t the idea that men have sex with men, it’s maintaining and baiting harmful, out-of-date cliches on a national platform. As the doctor says, “This is bullshit we throw this [term] around in any way that it’s a negative. There’s people on social media [writing], ‘Mark must be gay because he likes clothes.’ This is a stereotype from the ‘80s.” Despite the fact LeeAnne has already confirmed she called Mark “gay” to “hurt,” she still responds to Mark’s explanation by saying she can’t used the word as an insult since many of her friends are gay. Yes, the defence ends up sounding as tone deaf as when people claim having Black friends shields them from inadvertent racist comments.
Although Vicki and LeeAnne are the latest people to find themselves slipping into homophobic tendencies to battle their Housewives costars, they’re far from the first. The feuding style is practically baked into the format, as Real Housewives Of New York OG Alex McCord was fighting gay rumours about her husband Simon van Kempen in the very first season of the Bravo staple, which was the second franchise to premiere. A 2009 E! News headline reads, “NYC Housewives' Alex: "My Husband Isn't Gay!" In season 8 of Real Housewives Of Atlanta, multiple ladies ambushed actress Kim Fields with questions of whether her husband Christopher Morgan is “fruity or gay.” The already-offensive description is then called a “problem” in the same vein as tax troubles. RHOA star Kenya Moore continued the homophobic drama into that year’s 2016 reunion to the point where Housewives mastermind and proud gay man Andy Cohen called her “gay-bashy” and forced her to to apologise.
While Kenya's apology was pulled out of her like teeth, at least Vicki and LeeAnne's problematic mea culpas were genuine and tear-stained. Let's hope the reunions of 2018 completely forego the need for any regrets, in favour of actual new, juicy, and creative drama.
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