I started watching Selling Sunset in 2019 because my coworkers were talking about it, and I wanted to be friends with them. My boss at the time was a culturista before I’d even heard the word culturista. He always knew the best restaurant to eat at, the best gay parties I was too shy to go to, what movies were actually worth watching. And he was raving about this new show, Selling Sunset, that was so utterly ridiculous it simply could not be ignored. So I started watching.
I never really watched reality TV before that, not seriously. I’d seen a few episodes of Fear Factor growing up (tbt) and watched obligatory episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians in group settings, but I’d never really been hooked. I hadn’t understood the appeal, to be honest.
This was different. I was immediately invested. What drew me in was the way these people — I always want to say characters, but they are people — embodied womanhood and femininity, in ways that I found compellingly contradictory. On one hand, they embody the stereotype of the LA bimbo — she’s white, thin, rich, cis, she’s wearing full-face 24/7, and her biggest goal is to make buckets and buckets of money.
But on the other hand, these women seemed to understand gender performance without even realizing it. They didn’t quote Judith Butler; they openly joked about and discussed their plastic surgery. They didn’t discuss the artificiality of “beauty”; they gave out Botox injections at their real estate open houses. They wear some of the most outlandish, impractical outfits I’ve ever seen, and they know it! The body looks ornamental when covered in the pieces they wear!
These women were rejecting any perceived “naturalness” of femininity, while still very much functioning (nay, thriving) in mainstream heterosexual culture. That was (and still is) wild and compelling to me!
So then, what happened when one of the titular characters — I mean, people! — of Selling Sunset falls in love with a nonbinary person and fully steps into her queerness?
Well, simply put, the show gets better.
Four years (and somehow seven seasons??) after I first started watching Selling Sunset, I almost feel like I’m watching a different show. The main conceit of the show remains unchanged: It’s about a group of women who want to make a lot of money by selling luxury real estate in Los Angeles. But watching the reunion, I was struck by the wide array of womanhood and femininity at play. All in one show, we have:
- A queer woman married to and very much head-over-heels in love with a nonbinary musician (this is Chrishell Stause, of course)
- A single mother of two, who grew up in what sounds like a dysfunctional family (Amanza Smith)
- A woman who had her first child at 15, raised him, then 26 years later decided to try for kids again, and then experienced a miscarriage (Mary Fitzgerald)
- A daughter of immigrants who has made gobs of money literally before she turned 30 (Chelsea Lakzhani)
- A mother of an infant in an extremely unconventional relationship (Bre Tiesi, whose child’s father is Nick Cannon)
- A woman who won’t reveal if she’s seeing someone or not, which I can only interpret as she’s dating a woman (okay I’m filling in some gaps here myself, but this is of course Emma Hernan)
- And then there’s Nicole Young who’s just Nicole lol
So it begs the question: What exactly is the heterosexual mainstream anyway? Don’t get me wrong. I know what I’m watching. It’s a straight show. It is, right? RIGHT???
And yet. In a twist in the reunion I won’t reveal, Chrishell discusses whether or not she and Emma have hooked up. Emma discusses whether or not she’s in love with Chrishell (reader, I… you just have to watch). All’s to say, this reunion places queer people and queerness firmly in the mainstream zeitgeist (and look at the choice of host! Tan France!).
The reunion centered mostly on fan-favorite Chrishell, her relationship with G Flip, and the various beefs she had with other ladies throughout this season. Perhaps the most charged part of the reunion comes when host Tan France brings up the homophobic comment Nicole Young made on Instagram, which she… doesn’t see as homophobic! It’s wild to watch a group of people — including the straights! — explain to Nicole why her actions are hurtful. I mean this is wild! This is the show unpacking homophobia?! How the hell did we get here (in a good way!)?
When Selling Sunset started, Chrishell (now married to G Flip) was married to actor Justin Hartley. It seems like a lifetime ago, perhaps because in so many ways, it was. Their marriage ended very publicly and painfully in season one of Selling Sunset, which was wild and brutal to watch.
But it’s not just Chrishell’s sexuality that has expanded. It’s her whole personhood, which she and the other women of Selling Sunset discuss in the reunion. She’s changed — she knows it, and she’s proud of herself. It’s very easy to see she loves his iteration of herself. And frankly? So do I.
Chrishell is still the same optimistic, big-hearted romantic she was back in 2019, but now, also, she has an edge. She has boundaries. She says them out loud. She says them repeatedly, without a hint of hesitation in her voice. She won’t let anyone speak for her, and she won’t let anyone insult her partner. She is a far cry from the demure real estate agent we met four years ago.
Selling Sunset is a chronicle of the women it portrays; Chrishell’s queerness has queered Selling Sunset. I know that’s a crazy sentence! I know! And yet! In Chrishell, the show explores just how happy a woman who has embraced her queerness can be, even if she never fucking saw it coming. In Emma, the show explores what it can be like to be best friends with a queer woman (and I’ll leave it at that!). In Amanza, Chelsea, Bre, and Mary, the show explores a wide range of motherhood, from a two-parent household, to a single mother, to something in between, to a teen mom who is now all grown up and considering beginning again.
Discovering my queerness blew my world wide open, upended my expectations and left me with a clean slate to fill in as I pleased, holding on to the parts I wanted to keep, and discarding the ones I didn’t.
And somehow, against all odds, I think that’s exactly what’s happened with Selling Sunset.