the holiday season is the perfect excuse for a ‘real housewives’ binge.
December is an anxiety minefield, but in my experience a healthy helping of Bravo trash can dull the damage.
Queering the Burbs is a weekly-ish distillation of pop culture, politics and queerness written by Joe Erbentraut. If you like what you see, please consider subscribing (it’s free!), liking or sharing this piece.
I don’t know about you folks, but with approximately three weeks to go in the calendar year, I am feeling pretty exhausted. The holidays are officially here, and there are gifts to buy, cards to mail and tidings to cheer — and somehow, no matter how much you try and prepare for it, the end of the year always winds up being a mad dash to deck all the damn halls.
The pressures are amplified when you have a stressful family dynamic, and this is something unfortunately common for many in the queer community. Research suggests that LGBTQ people are more likely than their straight peers to experience stress, anxiety and depression during the holidays — especially for many of those who are spending time with their families. As one psychologist explained to NBC News in a 2018 interview, “going home for the holidays is not always a time of bliss, but a painful reminder of moments of [LGBTQ clients’] ‘otherness’ within their families.”
So what does this have to do with Bravo’s Real Housewives? Well, one of my personal coping mechanisms with stress throughout the pandemic and especially in the recent weeks of pre-holiday buildup has been a rededication of sorts to the problematic television universe that Andy Cohen helped build. Over the course of the pandemic (since mid-March 2020), I have consumed the following Housewives content:
One full season (18 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Dallas (R.I.P.)
One and a third episodes (~30 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Atlanta
Six full seasons (130 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (I’d never seen seasons 1-4 before a deep dive into the series this summer)
Two full seasons (43 episodes) of The Real Housewives of New York City
Two full seasons (44 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Potomac
Nearly two full seasons (~30 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
One full season (7 episodes) of The Real Housewives Ultimate Girl Trip
One full season, one just-begun season (18 episodes) of The Real Housewives of Orange County (ugh, I know)
These 320-ish(!) episodes when combined with Watch What Happens Live episodes, YouTube after-shows and my unhealthy Below Deck attachment have provided countless hours of low-stakes disassociation from the disasters du jour presented by the news cycle over the past almost two years. I held my breath when Jen Shah’s arrest played out in front of Bravo’s cameras on the current season RHOSLC. I gasped audibly when a salad fight broke out during a girls’ trip on RHOP. I cried with laughter when Sonja Morgan slurred that she’s “raised millions for LGBT” on RHONY. And I’m sure I’m not the only queer or marginalized individual who’s taken solace in the franchise during these difficult times.
As veteran Real Housewives recapper Brian Moylan wrote in a piece earlier this year, many queer people (let’s be real: gay men, in particular) find themselves drawn to the franchise because of the parallels between ballroom culture and how the women on these shows (particularly RHOA and RHOP) express themselves. Others have pointed to the fact that romance is never the main plot point of these shows — they more typically explore friendships, careers and family dynamics. When paired with what other experts have said attracts viewers to these shows — the voyeurism, the scandals, the shifting social hierarchies — you have a nearly endless supply of escapist entertainment that is difficult to match.
I would argue that the Real Housewives specifically offers a welcome escape to viewers who find themselves navigating or preparing to navigate difficult family dynamics during holiday gatherings.
When we see Kenya Moore asking Ramona Singer “Who the fuck do you think you are?” on RHUGT or Heather Gay accurately pointing out that the rest of the RHOSLC seems to be afraid of alleged cult leader Mary M. Cosby, we live the fantasy of someone serving up the response that we wish we were capable of when a family member makes us feel lesser than.
After all, depending on your family dynamic, is a Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas Eve gathering where you’re forced to break bread with a QAnon uncle or anti-vax cousin really all that different from a contractually obligated girls’ trip or dinner party? When a Real Housewife utters the common phrase that she is having a hard time fitting in with “this group of girls” is that really not that far off from how many people don’t feel totally comfortable being their full, authentic selves around their blood relatives? But every year, we protect the “fourth wall” of holiday tradition by swallowing our pride, biting our tongues and avoiding conflict.
I wish the holidays didn’t have to be this way. More families could stand to welcome the occasional conflict, particularly when the alternative is inauthentic — empty smiles, forced hugs and only the occasional passive-aggressive jab to interrupt otherwise polite conversation. But when you have a Ramona or a Mary in your family, accountability is difficult to come by. So the quiet resentment grows and the facade carries on with no end to the suffocating Midwest Niceness in sight.
But, in the meantime, let’s just disengage from the holiday drama for a minute and revel in Dorinda Medley who “made it nice” (RHONY season 8, episodes 9-10), Kenya Moore as the Grinch (RHOA season 8, episode 17) and the Juan Dixon of it all (RHOP season 5, episode 19). These episodes all bring classic Housewives hijinks with a dash of seasonal cheer (and if you are looking for even more of this vibe, including a fight over a life-size Nutcracker, this Reddit thread has you covered).
For everyone reading this, I hope you’re getting the most out of this season — and don’t let it take everything out of you. I’ve personally struggled to get in the festive spirit this year. If that’s you too, just know you’re not alone. This time of year is hard and getting harder for so many reasons, but I know there are good things lying ahead. I know my worth and understand my values, and hope that you can too. A new year lies ahead.
LINKS FOR DAYS (WARNING: And Just Like That… spoiler below):
It is, of course, the holiday movie season again and there are plenty of queer and queer-adjacent offerings coming out this year, including VH1’s The Bitch Who Stole Christmas (starring RuPaul), Comedy Central’s A Clusterfunke Christmas (starring Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer) and Netflix’s Single All the Way (with Michael Urie, Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy). These were all surprisingly satisfying watches to me, a self-described queer holiday movie expert, but if you want a closer analysis on Single All the Way and the rest of Netflix’s new seasonal cinema offerings, Rachel Handler’s piece in Vulture is one of the funniest things I’ve read online this entire year.
Speaking of new holiday movies, HBO Max has a new one called 8-Bit Christmas written by a former Batavia resident, Kevin Jakubowski. The movie very effectively scratches the ‘80s-Chicagoland-nostalgia itch and also has a great cast (including June Diane Raphael and Steve Zahn) and a ton of local references as easter eggs sprinkled throughout. The Kane County Chronicle spoke with Jakubowski about the movie.
Let’s not get it twisted and forget what Nancy Reagan’s true legacy is. (And also, don’t look and see why she is currently trending on Twitter if you don’t want to ruin your day.)
Classically Abby @classicallyabbyThis is Madonna at 63. This is Nancy Reagan at 64. Trashy living vs. Classic living. Which version of yourself do you want to be? https://t.co/Gj5M0Gqr5w
It’s been weeks since I first laid my gaze upon it but I still cannot get over this Taylor Swift ornament that looks almost nothing like her from the same people who brought you this deeply cursed RuPaul ornament.
Rihanna still hasn’t given us any new music, but do we really deserve it anyway? She was recently formally honored as a national hero by her native Barbados.
Hulu just dropped the final set of episodes of the series Pen15 on its platform, and I’m really not OK. This show has been such a nostalgic touchstone for this elder millennial, and this exploration by Mia Mercado in The Cut of what the show got so devastatingly right about growing up in the pre-social media early aughts is perfectly on point.
I definitely could not have predicted that my personal pick for the most chaotic instructor on the Peloton platform, Jess King, would be indirectly responsible for the death of Mr. Big on the new Sex and the City HBO Max reboot And Just Like That…, nor that the death would send Peloton’s stock plummeting. To be clear, King (who plays an instructor named Allegra) did not kill anyone — but her character led the workout that Chris Noth’s character took part in just before dropping dead of a heart attack in one of the most opulent home showers I’ve ever seen. To make matters even more juicy — apparently Peloton had no idea this was how its bike would be used in the show, and the fitness tech giant is now in major damage-control mode.
I’ve got to hand it to my colleague Andreas for this week’s featured bop because he has introduced me to my latest musical fixation, KennyHoopla. The pop-punk singer-songwriter’s music is inescapably catchy in the best way and his most recent release, Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape, is packed with hooks and melodies that harken back to the glory days of pop-punk releases from the likes of Taking Back Sunday and Blink-182 (which makes sense because Travis Barker is a collaborator and producer). Here’s my favorite track so far:
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