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For Reality TV-Obsessed Queer Women, Tampa Baes Is Long Overdue. So Why Isn’t It Better?

With that description, Tampa Baes sounds like any other reality show, but this one is different: It details the mundane, yet dramatized for television lives of twelve lesbians, many of whom are coupled, connecting with their families, navigating friendships and careers, and just living life in sunny Florida.

And like most popular entertaining reality shows, it isn’t without its problems. “The original concerns from the cast announcement are still good ones,” Juarez says, referencing an online controversy that broke out over the lack of diversity within the cast in 2020. “The show definitely felt very white, even though there was a light sprinkle of diversity…Tampa Bay is literally a quarter Black, and the show did not reflect that at all. I would love to see that remedied in future seasons.”

For Najwa Alsheikh, watching Tampa Baes felt obvious. Following The L Word: Generation Q finale last month, there was an intermission in contemporary lesbian content to stream. “I love it,” Alsheikh says. “There is so little lesbian representation on TV, so whenever I see content, I’m definitely going to watch. This show is real, it’s messy, and it’s fun.” 

For Alsheikh, the series is also an anthropological, intimate glimpse into a lesbian scene outside of the Bay Area where she lives. “I’m always curious about the lesbian scene in other cities, and I love to travel to check out lesbian bars I haven’t been to yet, so watching Tampa Baes was also like doing research,” she adds.

But no show can be all things to all people, and the burden often falls on series depicting marginalized people to include and appeal to the wide range of people who have a shared experience—in Tampa Baes’ case, living as a lesbian. “I don’t think the show is lacking anything,” Alsheikh says. “If the goal is to show real, lesbian women just living their lives, they accomplished it. What Tampa Baes doesn’t do is a script, and I appreciate that genuineness.” She hopes another season will be in the works, and that more studios notice the market for lesbian shows.

The lack of diversity, however—skin color, size, sexuality, gender expression—is notable in a series with such a broad cast. One that Shelli Nicole pointed out in her Autostraddle review, “Tampa Baes is Thin, White and Colorist,” a piece that led Kelly, last name withheld, to avoid the show completely.

“As a plus size, queer Black woman, I have no intentions of watching it,” Kelly says, citing the lack of diversity and bi representation in the series. “It’s annoying that we lack representation in the media. We’re asking for something so simple.” She says she’s “forced” herself to watch the original L Word and the reboot, just to indulge in some type of queer entertainment, despite racially tone deaf moments on the show. 

Twenties, Lena Waithe’s semi-autobiographic series about a masculine-of-center queer Black woman trying to make it in LA, is next on Kelly’s binge list. But she’s eager to have more content—including easy-breezy reality shows—that represent her and her social circle on TV. “I want more queer perspective, more Black people, more aesthetics, more hair. I want more.”

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer and editor living in New York City. 

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