If the Bachelor franchise supports LGBTQ partnerships, why do they need to bring in a queer person from outside of the franchise instead of building same-sex romance into the foundation of their shows?
Last week, Demi Burnett came out as queer on Bachelor in Paradise. Her courageous act was followed by an admission: She dated a woman before the show and couldn't stop thinking about her. Her predicament received mixed reactions from fans. The most extreme compared Demi to Jed Wyatt— the dishonest contestant who got engaged to the former Bachelorette, Hannah Brown, after lying to her face about having a girlfriend. In contrast, Demi was honest with her on-island love interest, Derek Peth, who was extremely understanding.
However, Tuesday night's episode did reveal a double standard between how the show deals with straight relationships and how they deal with queer ones.
This past week, Demi opened up to host Chris Harrison about her difficult situation: She was still thinking about the girl she dated, Kristian, and felt conflicted about being away from her.
The following day, Harrison explained that he'd thought about their discussion and invited Demi to walk up the mighty Bachelor in Paradise entry steps. When she made it to the top, she gleamed with joy. Kristian was in Paradise! Immediately, Demi hugged her girlfriend. The moment felt genuine. They kissed, embraced, and called one another "beautiful."
Demi's Girlfriend Kristian Arrives! | Bachelor In Paradise www.youtube.com
"The more time I was away from you, the more and more I thought about you and the more time I spent with him, you just came to the forefront," Demi told Kristian. "The second that I saw you, I knew it's you, and it's always been you, and I want to be with you."
Afterward, Demi had to reconcile with her place on the show and make a clean break from Derek, having finally obtained clarity.
During their "break-up," Derek broke down. In tears, he lamented that he's always been told that he's a "nice guy" but continuously feels like he's not enough. Demi had him sit down with Kristian to acknowledge their respect for one another and ensure they'd be okay on the show together.
Then Demi took Kristian down to the famous Paradise deck to introduce her to the cast, proclaiming that they would explore their relationship on the show. Demi's friends cheered in support (yes, in front of Derek).
The reality is that no one would be clapping if she'd done the same with a man. Double standards never seem to escape The Bachelor franchise. In fact, the whole incident sheds light on how complicated sexuality fluidity can be, and how the feelings of a bisexual person's partner can fall on the back burner as they come to terms with their identity.
Unfortunately, as happy as I was to be represented on screen, I couldn't help but feel forced into the production. The couple's admissions of love indicated the pair were more involved than Demi ever alluded to on the show. She led Bachelor Nation and Derek into believing her connection with Kristian was less serious.
Furthermore, Demi didn't handle the situation well at all. She made her relationship with Kristian seem much more casual than it was. Kristian even told her that she didn't appreciate being taken for granted as a second option. During their date, when Demi finally committed to her, Kristian giddily professed, "I love you." Demi shockingly returned the proclamation, saying, "I love you too."
Demi & Kristian's First Date In Paradise | Bachelor In Paradise www.youtube.com
Despite being elated for Demi, viewers like me were upset, conflicted, and confused. Not only did Demi lead on both Derek and the audience, but ABC packaged it as celebratory of the LGBTQ+ community. If anything, it felt demeaning.
And let's be honest. A network reality TV show like The Bachelor would never allow a bisexual man to explore his sexuality with both sexes in the same way. Sadly, in 2019, that's still a harder pill to swallow than two blonde women making out.
But if the show seriously wants to be celebrated as "groundbreaking television," then it should incorporate queer people into the system and foundation of the franchise, instead of going out of its way to "produce" a queer relationship by bringing in an unknown contestant unrelated to their show.
In spite of all that, Demi and Kristian's love and commitment to one another is still moving and necessary for mainstream audiences to see. The Bachelor production allowing both of them to stay and pursue their relationship, despite its odd break from regular formatting, presents a significant opportunity for the brand to actually take advantage of the praise it's receiving to create meaningful, if not questionable, LGBTQ+ representation.