• 'The Bachelor' as a concept hinges on heteronormativity. (Channel 10)Source: Channel 10
The struggle to produce queer relationships as one-hour episodes on TV is something to be proud of.
By
Samuel Leighton-Dore

30 Aug 2019 - 9:31 AM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2019 - 9:46 AM

Since Osher Günsberg and his impressive quiff first brought The Bachelor franchise to Australia in 2013, members of the LGBTIQ+ viewing public have wondered whether or not a queer version of the popular reality show would be feasible.

For what it's worth, Günsberg is all for it, telling one eager fan: "If you can find out a way to make the sexual tension and jeopardy work, I'll produce it and we'll make squillions."

However, as Günsberg highlights, it's not that simple.

That's because, as a concept, The Bachelor is anchored in both heterosexuality and monogamy; it relies on the understanding that the women in the mansion won't develop feelings for each other - that the chosen Bachie is the one and only desire. Proof? Just look at the fallout from this week's episode of the show, when contestant Rachael allegedly handed her phone number to one of the production's crew members. Bachie Matt Agnew was visibly unimpressed, confronting the young woman on camera and asking her to leave the show.

Of course, there have been some anomalies to The Bachelor's unrelenting straightness - most notably the two women on Bachelor Vietnam who fell in love and left the show. There have also been attempts to make the genre itself queer - such as Courtney Act's The Bi Life and US show Finding Prince Charming. While fun programs in their own right, both failed to capture the essence of what makes The Bachelor work with audiences around the world, which is, essentially, the competitive nature of it.

More recently, the US version of Bachelor In Paradise featured openly bisexual Demi Burnett and her girlfriend Kristian Haggerty, who became the first same-sex couple to be included in the local version of the show.

On the first episode of the season, Burnett came out to Hannah Brown, the franchise's most recent 'Bachelorette' in the US, saying: “I have been seeing someone. Plot twist: It happens to be a woman." While shocked, Brown was ultimately supportive of the news - which was soon lauded by LGBTIQ+ organisations as "groundbreaking".

“'Bachelor in Paradise’s' inclusion of Demi Burnett’s coming out story and her journey to accepting her queer identity is groundbreaking for the series,” GLAAD Head of Talent Anthony Ramos said in a statement.

He added: “Tens of millions of people around the world watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette franchises and this move to include a same-sex relationship in an honest fashion has the power to upend preconceived notions of LGBTIQ+ people like Demi who are attracted to more than one gender.”

Ramos is right. It is great that mainstream audiences are getting an insight into the nuance of sexuality and attraction - and this is something The Bachelor could certainly incorporate more of in future seasons. However, it would need to do so within the structural confines of the show's premise. That is, queer contestants would still need to be fighting to win love with the same person.

That's because The Bachelor exists within - and indeed hinges on - the somewhat formulaic binary of monogamous, heterosexual relationships; one man and one woman overcoming the odds to commit themselves wholly to one another; the importance placed on hometown visits and gaining the approval of family members (something not always possible for members of the LGBTIQ+ community).

If you were to replace all the women on The Bachelor with single gay men, there's every chance the men would develop attractions and connections with each other during their extended downtime, rendering the Bachie a total afterthought and potential third wheel. It would essentially undermine the show's very premise and become a different show altogether - one that I'd 100 per cent watch, mind you. But a different show.

None of this is a bad thing. In fact, I'd argue that the struggle to produce queer relationships as one-hour episodes on TV is something to be proud of.

None of this is a bad thing. In fact, I'd argue that the struggle to produce queer relationships as one-hour episodes on TV is something to be proud of. Our willingness to engage in conversations around consensual non-monogamy; our ability to form lasting friendships with ex-partners, our increasing non-acceptance of gender binaries in romantic and sexual relationships, these things make it harder to fabricate, document and ultimately exploit relational tensions.

And, as Hannah Gadsby so brilliantly expressed in Nanette, audiences need tension.

Instead of pushing to adapt mainstream TV show formats for LGBTIQ+ audiences, which can feel a bit like trying to push a triangle through a circle, we should celebrate the increased visibility in these prime time shows and forge ahead with other, equally exciting formats - those born from the uniqueness of queer experience.

Give me an insight into queer polyamorous households; the unique challenges of starting a rainbow family; the thrill of navigating one of Australia's dwindling beats; the unspoken hierarchy of our illegal nude beaches. Let's make a sex-positive show about hookup culture and dating apps, one about trans men and women finding and enjoying love and sex and friendship - let's unpack why we categorise gay men as bears, twinks, jocks or otters and challenge them to look for love beyond their 'type'.

Then, who knows, maybe we can hit up Osher to produce and rake in our squillions.

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