Viewers of The Bachelorette—ABC’s long-running reality show in which one generically attractive human sorts through (and makes out with) a harem of potential (usually half-drunk) partner-humans in a highly contrived context in search of true love—were treated to a particularly titillating bit of television on Monday night’s episode: It was strongly suggested (especially before commercial breaks) that two of the men vying for bachelorette Kaitlyn’s affections might be more into each other than they are into her. This “shocking” development was introduced in a “Brokeback Bachelor” promo teaser online late last week, in which competitors Clint Arlis and JJ Lane were shown getting cozy around the compound grounds with a cutaway to a breathless Clint: “I never thought that I’d meet somebody like that … Falling in love with a man never crossed my mind.”
Given that such a thing has crossed the minds of actual gay and bisexual men around the world, The Bachelorette’s producers no doubt received the modest queer ratings bump—in addition to the larger “ew gross!” one—they were clearly after in concocting his narrative. Though TMZ and other outlets asserted Clint and JJ’s super-masc heterosexual cred (and complete comfort with online expressions of homo- and trans-phobia) over the weekend, many viewers undoubtedly still tuned in hoping to see the first same-sex connection in the show’s history. After all, when you lock 25 men with soap-star looks together in a closed, sexually charged space that’s more wet-bar than house, the statistical probability for such a match, however fleeting, is on your side.
And fleeting is indeed what I expected—a bit of drunken cuddling, maybe a kiss, ultimately blamed on the alcohol and dismissed under the absolution-granting sign of “bromance.” (Tellingly, the bachelorette herself has deployed that conceptual paradigm in her recap blog this morning.) Such experimentation would have been fine and fun, if a little annoying for being presented as so salacious, given the trashy reality show context. But that’s not what happened. Instead, viewers were treated to two-hours in which, save for a separately troubling case-study in America’s sexual education crisis, much of the action depended on the tired, offensive notion that bisexual people are villainous tricksters out to mislead and hurt poor monosexual innocents.
While JJ and Clint were both assigned amorous energies by the show’s editors, Clint was characterized most strongly as a bisexual deceiver. Fairly early in the episode, he admits that Kaitlyn is probably not the girl for him, but confesses that JJ is holding his attentions because “he’s a sweetheart” and has a beautiful jawline. From there, we proceed through a string of scenes in which Clint appears to be pursuing a flustered JJ, all while the other guys watch with plucked eyebrows raised. “You own me now … I will be your bitch,” Clint rasps, after JJ wins some kind of game. “That’s not going to happen, not on camera,” Clint winks, after JJ makes a joke relating to oral sex. “I love JJ. I feel like I’ve connected with JJ more than Kaitlyn,” Clint confesses to the camera, eyes a-sparkle.
Leaving aside for a moment the strong possibility that they were probably all staged, these effusions are not in-and-of themselves a problem—it’s hot for Clint to be into JJ’s jawline! It’s a very fine jawline. What’s not hot is how Clint—or more accurately, the character the show has him playing—is figured as a kind of mustache-twirling deviant who, fully aware of his “real” attractions, is more than happy to lie to a woman to stay close to the man he really wants. “I love JJ; he has made my time in the house insanely enjoyable—so I need to get a rose from Kaitlyn, yeah,” says Clint, referring to the token one needs to remain on the show from week to week. Bisexual desire here is not a natural variant of human sexuality that you might expect to emerge occasionally in what amounts to a cashless bordello; rather, it’s a character deficit coded as being fundamentally dishonest.
Bisexuals will be all too familiar with this nasty trope, of course—it’s one they hear constantly, from both heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. The Bachelorette is by no means breaking new ground by wallowing in it, but in this episode the show—a wildly popular fixture in homes around the country—has certainly provided one of the most clear-cut reinforcements of the thing I’ve ever seen. At the end of the evening, it appeared that Kaitlyn was poised to excuse Clint from the house on the advice of the other men. If that happens next week, The Bachelorette can check another classic trope off its list—after the queer has been revealed for the snake he is, he must be banished. Only then can “true” love bloom.