A Haitian lesbian uses “Catfish” to come out

I have a friend who says that Catfish is the worst thing that’s ever happened to “fat people and lesbians.” As a self-identified fat lesbian, she was upset that more often than not, the reveal of the catfisher often ends up being someone who is lying about their identity because they are insecure about how they truly look or uncomfortable about their sexual identity. And while this can be the case (Catfish has had its fair share of “Psych! I’m not your boyfriend—I’m a girl!”), the MTV series also tells stories of queer women who are looking to meet the other queer woman on the other end of their internet relationship.

Season 4 has been no exception, with five episodes dedicated to female/female pairings, but strangely, two of these have been about lesbians trying to trick host Nev Schulman and viewers. The first (“Whitney and Bre“) was about two women who knew they weren’t actually catfishing one another, but just really wanted to meet in real life and couldn’t afford any other way. And then last night’s episode had Nev and special guest Machine Gun Kelly going to help Hundra, a young woman who says she’s nervous about coming out on national television because she’s from a very strict Haitian family. But she met a woman, Emily, online (when Hundra wanted to go “gay for a day” and looked up girls’ profiles), and now she’s in love. So much so that Emily is the only woman she can see herself with.

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Nev and Machine Gun Kelly want to help her meet Emily, so they do their investigating and it doesn’t take long to find out Emily doesn’t exist. Instead, it appears androgynous Geralyn is posing as her femme girlfriend, Melanie. No one can understand the motive, and the initial meeting between Hundra and Geralyn does not go well.

“Fucking awesome,” Hundra says. “I went looking for a lipstick lesbian and I got a butch dyke.”

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Geralyn stands by awkwardly, and Nev tells Hundra she’s being a little unfair. And this isn’t the first thing she’s said about other gay women that is a little off-putting: she says Geralyn is clearly just looking to convert straight women and that should be a win for her. Again, Geralyn looks uncomfortable but not guilty. So it’s only a small surprise when it comes out, the next day, that this was all a rouse—that Hundra contacted Geralyn and Melanie to help create a fictitious plan so she could come out on the show. But it’s too hard for Geralyn to keep it up (which she says she did just because she still loves Melanie. She even has her name tattooed on her neck), and she doesn’t like the way that she (and lesbians in general) are being shown. “You don’t portray a lesbian that way,” Geralyn says.

When confronted, Hundra defends herself by saying she needed to:

“But it was still something that needed to be done, as far as me coming out. I wanted the world to know that I was gay.When you’re in a culture that hates what you have to come, it’s not that easy. So yeah, in a way, the world should give a fuck. I don’t want to keep lying and stuff.”

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When Nev and Machine Gun Kelly comment that the way she’s doing things is not very admirable, and that she’s not speaking highly of fellow queer women, she says, “I feel like I can call them certain names because I’ve been in their world for a while.” 

“On paper, I think your crusade to liberate Haitian women across the name is, like, beautiful,” Nev says, “and, like, there are very real ways one could do that, and this is the worst way to do it. This is incredibly selfish.” 

Melanie and Geralyn half-heartedly apologize, Melanie smiling through the admission that she’s putting herself in a shitty situation “for the whole world to see.”

The next morning, Hundra visits Nev at his hotel and they have a conversation about the situation. Hundra refuses to apologize because she wanted her coming out to be “something memorable for me.” Nev asks if her friends and family are going to focus less on her coming out and more on the bizarre way she handled it.

“If you wanted people to know you were gay, there were a lot of little things you could have tried before this. That’s all,” Nev says. “Your intentions in terms of creating an episode of a show that addresses homosexuality, that is incredibly important. But I feel like that’s going to get dwarfed by the fucked up craziness of all this. … I really do encourage you to have a discussion with your family before this TV show comes out, just so they’re not totally blindsided by it, but that’s up to you.” 

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Two months later, Geralyn and Melanie Skype to say they just wanted to help Hundra, but they’ve “learned their lesson” and they now think she just did it for publicity. Hundra says she’s been dating women but doesn’t regret duping Catfish. She’s happy she will be getting attention.

There’s no one right or wrong way to come out, but manipulating anyone (for TV fame or any other reason), is clearly not the ideal way to share such an important and personal part of yourself with the world. It doesn’t benefit anyone, including yourself, especially if you are going to criticize other lesbian identities in the process. And because this is something that will reach millions of viewers, it’s not a good look for our community.

Perhaps this is a comment on the idea that coming out should be accompanied by a press release—that the hoopla surrounding public figures who come forward as not-straight are treated as suddenly more worthy of air time because it’s still seen as titillating to discuss anything surrounding their sex lives. As LGBT people, we are excited when we find positive role models and well-known figures who are proud to be one of us, but it comes along with a fanfare that may have gotten out of hand, if this episode of Catfish is any indication.

Like pre-rehearsed proposals or outlandish prom invitations, we live in a time where even the most private of things are sometimes prepared in hopes they will go viral; that the event will receive more attention from those who aren’t a part of the moment and don’t have any idea who the people at the center of the moment are. At 21, Hundra has grown up with the internet and spent her adolescence and young adulthood watching the general population become famous (or more famous, as the case may be) for coming out. Somehow, that turned into her deciding that asking two other women to help her lie to get on television was an acceptable way for her to make the announcement to her family.

After her family sees this episode, they might wonder the same things complete strangers do, and now we all feel owed answers to those questions. Hundra lied about “Emily,” falsified an entire relationship she said was the first time she’d fallen for a woman and was made to feel good about who she was. Something like this can not make anyone feel good about who they are. Yes, even queer women are imperfect people. We have flaws, individual and as a community, and maybe it’s not such a bad thing Catfish brought that to light. It’s not a good look for us, but it’s also proof we’re human.

Catfish airs Wednesday nights on MTV.