Bienvenidos a Miami
It’s early morning in Miami Beach, and the streets are virtually empty.
At a coffeeshop on the corner, a few patrons slouch morosely at scattered tables. Against
the windows, a group of young, attractive women sit silently, hunched over their menus, bleary-eyed and squinting in the sun. It is too early for anyone in this party town to be awake; especially this group.
“Don’t talk to me,” moans one of the women.
“I haven’t had my coffee. I’m not nice before my coffee.” Her companions agree: “No,
Before she has a chance to be offended, her friends burst into laughter, taking stabs at each other with the kind of teasing that is only painless when it is delivered by the best of pals.
These are the ladies of Logo’s hit reality series Gimme Sugar, a groundbreaking docu-drama featuring a cast made up entirely of lesbian and bisexual women. Now that The L Word
has ended, Sugar is the only new programming currently running on TV with such characters. And, perhaps most remarkably for a reality show, all the members of the cast are friends—and actually treat each other with respect (the morning’s coffee interlude notwithstanding).
The Miami season of Gimme Sugar is the second round of the show. The first season, filmed in Los Angeles, featured five young friends who had lofty dreams of making it big as nightlife promoters. The show’s creator, Michelle Agnew, based the show’s premise on her experience producing nightlife events for lesbians. She joined forces with her friend Michaline Babich, an executive producer of reality TV programming on such networks as TLC, Discovery Channel and Bravo. Together they developed the show’s concept: put together a group of friends, have them start a nightlife party, and film the process as they navigate the tricky waters of mixing business with pleasure.
Agnew and Babich centered that first season on a spirited young woman named Charlene, who worked for Agnew as a promoter. Being an up-and-coming star in the nightlife arena herself, Char knew plenty of people who wanted to learn how to throw parties, so she rounded up four of her most fearless friends to fill in the rest of the cast. From then on, the women were set loose.
The show was a hit: while making countless judgment errors in planning what turned out to be an unsuccessful business, the ladies also exposed their egos and insecurities in an honest portrayal rarely seen on “reality” TV. Jumping head-first into the nightclub industry takes guts, but allowing the world to watch you fail takes it to another level.
Logo ordered up Season 2, but this time Agnew and Babich shook things up, bringing the show to Miami and asking Char to start a new event in South Beach. In this hard-partying resort town, nightlife events are a way of life; but unlike in Los Angeles, lesbian-themed events are very rare, with the scene catering more to a tourist crowd. To make matters more complicated, Char—once the toast of lesbian nightlife—knew no one. In an industry built on personal connections, she was starting from square one.
“Season 2 is different from Season 1 because I came down here alone, to start a new venture,” says Char. “I came to start fresh, to bring Truck Stop [the party she promotes] to Miami, and
I don’t know anybody. In LA I know all the girls, I knew every single person who came into the club. I knew my comfort zone. In Miami, I don’t have a comfort zone.”
Char says her challenges with the new season were two-fold: before beginning to make a name for herself in the cutthroat nightclub scene, she had to establish a home in this unfamiliar world on the opposite side of the country. That started with finding a place to live, an adventure that ended with Char sharing digs with Miami Beach local Hilary, a 21-year old aspiring journalist.
Splitting the rent wasn’t the only reason Hilary welcomed Char into her home. Having watched all of Season 1, she was eager to make her mark on the Gimme Sugar story. “In this day and age, a lot of people can say they’ve been on reality TV shows,” says Hilary. “But who can say they’ve been on one that is all lesbian and bi-women? That’s my main reason for being on, to show what our lives are really like.”
The success of Gimme Sugar is based on more than the typical reality TV recipe: assemble random collection of pretty people, add alcohol, let loose. Rather than shove strangers together to “see what happens,” the show picks up with cast members who were friends before the cameras began to roll. Besides Hilary, Season 2 includes Angel, a 24-year-old beauty whose butch demeanor contrasts sharply to her glamazon looks. Then there’s Jaz, Angel’s 23-year-old hipster BFF who works as a hairstylist; and Gaby, a bubbly 22-year-old aspiring fashion designer who is also Jaz’s girlfriend. Rounding things out is Maisi, 24, from Colombia, a charming and level-headed Gucci sales rep. In a group rife with the expected “lesbian drama,” Maisi is usually the neutral peacemaker—except when she doesn’t get her coffee, apparently.
The Los Angeles cast all worked together on promoting their party, but that was not the case in Season 2. Char mainly worked on her events by herself. As a result, breaking into the industry proved to be a tough task, and the separation from her friends felt overwhelming.
“In the first season, everyone saw me as the mamma bear, the care giver,” says Char. “But leaving Los Angeles and leaving my family and friends, and starting this new job out here,
I don’t have anybody to play mama bear with. In Los Angeles, everyone knows Charlene
is the one we go to for advice, but out here I needed someone else to be my mama bear.”
Char solved both problems with a phone call to her friend and Season 1 castmate Davonee, who packed up and flew across the country for a “surprise” mid-season return to the show.
“Charlene was lonely out here, so I figured I would come and help her,” says Davonee. “She’s like a sister to me. I don’t know these girls from Miami; they might chew her up alive. So I wanted to come and help her.”
This isn’t to say Char couldn’t fend for herself—despite her claims of having difficulty finding her place in the Miami scene, she has undeniable charm. Befriending Char is easy, and her friendships with castmates quickly solidified into something very real.
“She’s totally a bonding kind of girl,” says Jaz. “Everything is always cool with her…she’s very flowy, like waves and s-shapes, you know? I did see her as a bit of mom figure because of that.”
Players on the Playa
With the diverse mix of personalities in the cast, the show touches on a variety of social issues, and butch/femme dynamics come to the forefront in Season 2. Davonee proudly boasts her butch-ness, with a tough guy image that belies her tiny stature. And, although she claims she can glam it up in a dress, she rarely ventures out in anything other than her trademark tank tops and pants. Davonee also polarized the fans with her lustful ways during Season 1—she appeared to man-handle every pretty young thing who crossed her path. As a result, she was vilified on the Internet by critics who labeled her as a “player.”
“Everyone hated me, everyone thought I was a player,” Davonee says. “If I was a player
I would be dating five girls at a time. But I’m just looking for the right girl. And there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Fellow castmate Angel performs at local clubs as a drag king named “Ace of Hearts,” who she describes as “very masculine, very flirty.” Viewers will get to meet Ace in Season 2, when the Gimme Sugar cameras pay a visit to one of his shows. But Angel’s daily persona recently received a makeover of sorts; she dropped her former butch image, and now dresses in a more feminine style.
“I had gotten out of a long term relationship, and I just wanted a change,” Angel says of her choice to glam up her image. “I thought I’ll just try this for a while. I’m still butch, I just dress girlier.”
The Gimme Sugar team defends the rights of women to create whatever image they so desire for themselves. The castmembers recognize the fact that the show’s power lies with the exploration of range in expressions of masculinity and femininity within the lesbian community.
“I think some of us are an example of the different kind of lesbians that you can find, and you don’t necessarily have to look like a lesbian,” says Maisi. “I love the way obvious lesbians look, but I am a good example of a non-lesbian looking person.
“I love boi-looking girls. I love bois. I love the short hair, and the baggy clothes. But there are many different types.”
Don’t Forget the Drama
Gimme Sugar still focuses on exploring the female experience within the LGBT community, but fans are in for a surprise twist this season: the presence of (gasp!) a man. A Miami nightclub promoter named Omar works with Char on her fledgling events, serving as a mentor of sorts. Omar, well-known throughout town for both his gay men-oriented parties and for his swarthy good looks, helps Char navigate through the politics of Miami nightlife.
At the mention of Omar’s name, Char draws a long breath, sits up in her seat and squares her shoulders. “Omar is a very nice person,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “He is very friendly, and he is very smart about what he does.” Then she pauses.
What Char isn’t saying is that her relationship with Omar, although friendly on a personal level, was riddled with professional conflict. Omar did not have experience planning women’s events, but he understood the local scene; Char did not know the city, but she knew how ladies liked to party. From there, the head-butting ensued.
“Coming here, being new, I had to learn the hard way how Miami parties,” Char says. “But no matter where you are, the drama is the same.”
For all its exploration of gender roles and male/female politics, Gimme Sugar would be nothing without a heavy dose of old-fashioned lesbian drama. And with such a tightly-knit group of friends, the fights and tears are as plentiful as the laughs. At the end of the day, however, they all agree the experience has drawn them closer.
“I loved doing the show. I’ve met new people, I got to know even my own friends a little bit better,” says Hilary. “It’s given me a chance to hang out with them more. We’re all friends, we’re all going through drama. I think lesbians are just dramatic. Why, and how, I don’t know, but it happens. We’re just crazy.”
Gimme Sugar premieres on Monday, June 22 on Logo.
Dan Renzi is Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Blade, the largest LGBT newspaper in Florida. He is a veteran of reality TV, having appeared on The Real World Miami as well as various “challenges.” He lives in Miami Beach.