Finding LGBTQ love in the heteronormative ‘Bachelor in Paradise’

LGBTQ love overcomes environment that lacks resources

playa-escondida

The most recent season of "Bachelor in Paradise" saw the franchise's first gay couple find love at the Playa Escondida Resort in Sayulita, Mexico. 

Robin Schwartzkopf | Original image courtesy Migdoniodiaz

As the sixth season of “Bachelor in Paradise” came to a close this Tuesday, the show was forced to handle a situation which had not previously occurred —  a gay couple. This unique situation centered around Demi Burnett —  a previous contestant on “The Bachelor” and a current “Bachelor in Paradise” contestant — who came out as bisexual at the start of the show. After expressing lingering feelings for her girlfriend at home, Kristian Haggerty, the producers brought Kristian on the show to see Demi.

Traditionally, “Bachelor in Paradise” participants consist of previous contestants on “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” and if a contestant were to pursue an outside love interest, they would be asked to leave the show. However, Demi and Kristian’s romance called for the producers to bend the rules and allow for a non-“Bachelor” contestant on the show. The producers allowed the couple to speak privately, already granting Kristian the option of staying in Paradise. While the producers certainly put in some effort behind-the-scenes to allow for this couple’s connection to shine, their overall handling of the couple turned somewhat problematic.

For example, at the rose ceremony, the men and the women rotate positions, each time choosing the contestant that they would like to pair up with. When Demi and Kristian attended their first rose ceremony, host Chris Harrison announced dramatically that he would change the rules, and indicated that Demi would choose first, grouping her with the men and Kristian with the women.

This situation clearly highlights the show’s heteronormative approach to romance, as the constrictions of gender were so rigid that to accomodate the same-sex couple, the producers effectively labeled Demi as “the man” in the relationship, and grouped her with the other men on the show. While this seems to be a logical solution to the only LGBTQ couple appearing in the show’s 17 years of airtime, it appears problematic to anyone who is remotely aware that these identities cannot be placed into neat boxes. By perpetuating conceptions of the “dominant” as a masculine quality and “submissive” as feminine, the show failed to take advantage of the opportunity to increase their diversity and appeal to the LGBTQ community.

Although the handling of the issues that came up was a bit troubling, “Bachelor in Paradise” did effectively provide a background for Demi and Krisitian to explore their relationship, complete with concerns of jealousy, fidelity and romantic needs. In an honest heart-to-heart, Demi opened up to Kristian about her discomfort with public displays of affection, revealing that she was uncomfortable expressing her new identity in front of such a large audience. 

While their discussion centered on their unique situation in terms of physical touch and affection, Demi seemed to be struggling with overcoming an internalized stigma against same-sex relationships. As Demi, who became known for absolutely owning her own identity and feelings, broke down with shame over her own love, the public may have gained a better understanding of the public shame members of the LGBTQ community must overcome everyday. 

As Kristian comforted her, voicing that Demi is enough, the couple won over the hearts of Bachelor nation. While their love was able to transcend their environment, Demi and Kristian’s situation can represent the experience of many members of LGBTQ community who must continually reconfigure societal norms to fit their needs and desires. Whether or not the producers intended for their environment to mimic the everyday world, full of subtle discriminations, they lucked out in finding a couple strong enough to break down these restrictions to make room for their genuine love and connection.

related stories