Vanderpump Rules aired its annual Pride episode. Perhaps for you, like me, those words carry a lot of meaning and inspire haunting flashbacks to the alleyway behind SUR Restaurant. Perhaps you, like me, have lost approximately twenty thousand hours of your life to this Bravo reality program, about 40% of which has specifically been lost to thinking about the Pride episodes.
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown on what exactly Vanderpump Rules is. Vanderpump Rules is a spin-off of Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, focusing on the current and former (because they were fired) employees of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant SUR Restaurant & Lounge (SUR stands for Sexy Unique Restaurant, so its government name is Sexy Unique Restaurant Restaurant & Lounge). It is a show about a bunch of beautiful liars navigating their lives and all the lies they’ve told. It depicts one of the most dysfunctional group of friends I’ve ever seen in my life (the main cast includes four Cancers, two Aquarians, a Pisces, a Libra, and a Virgo), and everything I know about heterosexual culture I’ve learned from this show.
The Pride episode is an annual tradition, set during Los Angeles Pride. SUR sits along the parade route and turns into even more of a hot mess than usual for Pride, full of patrons who likely are here specifically because they want to be a part of the annual Pride episode, which despite happening on the earlier end of each season is usually a pretty climactic event. The Pride episodes are a dark corner of the series, one that me and my fellow gay lady friends who are fans of this show (Bravo Lesbians: there are DOZENS of us) hold in contempt and awe. Mostly focusing on the mostly straight cast of liars, Vanderpump Rules’ Pride episodes are an EXTREMELY ACCIDENTAL critique of the modern commodification of Pride and rainbow capitalism.
Season eight’s Pride episode was a lot of the same, although now there’s the added layer of main cast member Ariana being out as bisexual. This was the first Pump Rules Pride episode that Ariana was out for, and in fact, it was her first experience being out at Pride event in her life, something she talks candidly about in the episode. It’s not the first time a Vanderpump Rules Pride episode has shifted some focus to actual LGBTQ people. One Pride episode introduced new recurring character Billie Lee, who is a trans woman and who often used her platform on the show to discuss the prejudices and challenges she faces. But Pump Rules’ track record with dealing with LGBTQ issues has been messy at best. Billie Lee, in fact, accused several of the main cast members of transphobia when they excluded her, and the show never really grappled with that, because everyone’s approach to conflict resolution on this show is to 1. Scream 2. Lie and 3. Scream lies.
That’s why I was thoroughly surprised to see a very queer — and important! — scene in last week’s follow-up to the Pride episode, “It’s Not About The Pastor” (the episode’s title is a brilliant in-joke/callback to a previous nonsensical fight on the show, and if you want to be in on the joke, I implore you to just watch the entire series from the start and join me on this demonic journey). In it, new girl Dayna approaches Ariana at the bar and says that she was inspired to come out during Pride this year. Ariana and Dayna then have a conversation about their bisexual identities and some of the reasons it took them a while to come out.
Two bi women talking about being bi without anyone else in the conversation?! I can’t recall ever seeing that on television, especially since Ariana and Dayna aren’t in a relationship. Just two bi friends being bi friends! More of this on television PLEASE! And less of Dayna interrupting herself to center her straight dude boyfriend’s reaction to her coming out, please, but I’m going to chalk that up to her still working on some internalized stuff.
In addition to its bisexual bonding scene, “It’s Not About The Pastor” also confronts another queer issue head-on when Jax (the show’s resident Liar In Chief) and Brittany (Jax’s fiance) have to reckon with the fact that the pastor who is supposed to perform their ceremony is homophobic. In actuality, they do very little reckoning. It isn’t until they receive pressure from their friends and Lisa Vanderpump herself that they pivot from a homophobe marrying them to ?LANCE BASS? marrying them.
Watching Jax and Brittany initially defend themselves by saying they weren’t totally aware of the comments the pastor had made on social media is incredibly frustrating but also familiar. As with most reality shows, everyone has stock types that they fill and lean into, because the name of the game is ultra over-the-top melodrama. Brittany often positions herself as the sweet farm girl from Kentucky, and an insidious side of that crops up here when she tries to say that she knows this pastor and knows that he’s ultimately a “good guy.” Ariana isn’t buying it, and neither am I. Interpersonal relationships do not trump bigotry.
But this is an extremely relatable situation that queer people often find themselves in: having to deal with someone who is complicit in homophobia while simultaneously trying to distance themselves from it or downplay it. So many straights will only stand up to homophobia when it’s convenient to do so, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. Jax’s issue isn’t so much with the pastor’s beliefs but with the fact that he had made them public. I can’t believe I’m about to say something positive about Tom Sandoval (Ariana’s boyfriend), but even after Jax and Brittany pivot to Lance Bass, he pressures them to explain why they didn’t do something sooner. This immediately devolves into a classic classic Vanderpump Rules episode a.k.a. lots of drunk shouting, emphatic finger-pointing, tears, frustration, and nonsense.
Through it all, Ariana does not back down. Jax and Brittany don’t get any passes just because they finally did do the right thing. Honestly, Ariana and Sandoval are challenging their friends in just the slightest way, but the reaction is outsized—partially because outsized reactions are necessary for good reality TV but also partially because of the actual reality of most straight, white people never wanting to be challenged ever.
So yes, “It’s Not About The Pastor” is a very special episode thanks to that little moment between Dayna and Ariana that, despite many victories for bisexual representation on television in recent years, stands out in the way it centers bisexual identity between two friends. But Ariana’s queer identity also comes into play throughout the episode, forcing a group of friends to face the limits of their allyship. Does anything get actually resolved? NO. I’m not holding my breath for Brittany and Jax and the slew of friends who rush to their defense to actually engage in some introspection. Historically, Vanderpump Rules is more about people performing their worst qualities in perpetuity versus learning from them (BLEAK, but there are at least a few exceptions). But at least Ariana and Sandoval don’t shy away from naming their friends’ failures. Expose! These! Heterosexuals!
Anyway, it seems like Ariana’s entire arc this season is 1. Being queer and 2. Being depressed, and I for one feel incredibly seen.