On Wednesday, former Bachelor Colton Underwood sat down for an intimate, revealing interview with Good Morning America to get something big off his chest.
“I’m gay,” he told anchor Robin Roberts, shaken though visibly relieved. “I came to terms with that earlier this year and have been processing it … I ran from myself for a long time,” he said. Now, he feels “the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been in my life”.
I’m hesitant to frame Underwood’s coming out as some kind of significant “gay first”, given how such narratives often end up portraying LGBTQ+ people as new, as if we haven’t been here the whole time. “The media that make us visible simultaneously obscure our presence in history by continually framing trans people [and, in this instance with Underwood, gay people] as new, as a modern, medicalized phenomenon only now coming to light,” writer and artist Morgan M Page wrote in 2017. And being “the media” in this scenario, I, uh, don’t want to do that!
That said, this is kind of a big deal in the Bachelor-verse, which didn’t even feature an openly queer person until bisexual contestant Jaimi King in 2017. Other contestants have, similar to Underwood, publicly come out after filming wrapped.
With all that in mind, it feels like it would be a real missed opportunity for the Bachelor powers that be to not recast Underwood for the franchise’s first-ever Actually Gay season with an Actually Gay star.
What would the first gay season of The Bachelor look like? Well, if I had to guess (and I have to! or what else would I write about?!), I imagine that it would look a lot like Boy Meets Boy, which aired on Bravo in the summer of 2003. That was one of the first major attempts at giving gay guys the gay version of The Bachelor so many longed for, though it greatly hindered itself by secretly adding a bunch of straight men to the cast without informing its starring bachelor first. Drawing on stereotypes about gay people being deceptive and untrustworthy? Yay, fun! When Fox’s Playing It Straight deployed a similar (cruel, uninventive) twist in 2004, they were at least upfront about it.
Thirteen years after Boy Meets Boy aired, Logo premiered Finding Prince Charming, sans any unnecessary, sensationalist twists. Though for all the ways that Finding Prince Charming provided better representation than its spiritual predecessor, it was also boring – seemingly more concerned about proving to viewers that gay men’s romantic aspirations were every bit as normal as their straight counterparts than with depicting gay men on their own terms.
If The Bachelor portrayed love in deeply heteropatriarchal terms (multiple women compete for the attention of a single man, looking for monogamy and, of course, marriage), Finding Prince Charming simply gave the long-running series a fresh coat of homosexual paint. Could the first gay season of The Bachelor offer something different from what the aforementioned derivatives it inspired gave us in years past? I’m not super hopeful, but hey – there’s always a chance!
If I were a Bachelor producer (And I could be! Please hire me! I love drama and employer-sponsored health insurance!), I’d want its hypothetical first-ever gay season to look something like MTV’s sexually fluid 2019 season of Are You the One? That show was honest and messy in a way that felt authentic to queer dating and hooking up with little concern for what straight viewers might think. There wasn’t a single bachelor at its center, or throngs of contestants competing for his affections, under threat of elimination. Instead, the series’ eighth season featured 16 singles hooking up and flirting in the hopes of figuring out their “perfect match”, as determined by unseen matchmakers. “It’s weird and complicated and intriguing,” wrote New York Times Magazine staff writer Jenna Wortham of it, “sort of like it feels to date in real life”. There wasn’t any of the respectability politics we saw with Boy Meets Boy or Finding Prince Charming, just a bit of mutually pleasurable sex, collective joy and debauchery, and the occasionally toxic couple and group processing seshes. In other words, an insanely queer show.
I’d love to see a Bachelor season do new things like acknowledge the probable sexual tension between the contestants, and a gay season of The Bachelor seems as well poised as any to explore that territory. Why not let contestants explore relationships with their fellow suitors in addition to going on dates with the titular Bachelor?
Something tells me that we wouldn’t see that kind of sex-positive change of format on the first gay season of The Bachelor though. (I, for one, can already hear the cries of “No!” from every person out in Provincetown who simply wants to show the world how normal queers are.) So, maybe I don’t really want a gay season of The Bachelor after all? I guess what I want is another gorgeously queer, sexually fluid season of Are You the One?, which I would pick over another sedate, staid and traditional season of The Bachelor in a heartbeat.