Last night’s episode of Bachelor in Paradise had me weepy. Why? Because the franchise's first same-sex storyline is underway. Admittedly, I’m one of those people who started watching Bachelor in Paradise to make fun of it, and then got sucked deep into its vortex. There’s so much to poke fun at (watching straight people trapped on an island, bonding with each other over “sunsets," is gay schadenfreude.) So when I heard that former Bachelor contestant Demi Burnett would be coming out as bisexual on this season of Paradise, I was terrified that the show would screw it up so colossally, so offensively, that I would have to stop watching once and for all. But somehow we’re living in a universe where Bachelor in Paradise produced a heartwarming coming-out story.
The first episode of this Paradise season worried me. Demi came out to Hannah Brown, the most recent Bachelorette, and Hannah—while ultimately being supportive—was shocked, but immediately pivoted to pretending to be chill about it, as if we could watch her remember she was on camera in real time. Luckily, last night’s episode was infinitely better.
First, Burnett came out to her friend and co-contestant Katie Morton by telling her that she’s been dating a woman back home. “Being here, I'm figuring so much out about myself,” she told Morton. “I am tired of being tough Demi. I'm tired of being 'Demi God.' Demi God is like a shield. There's another person in me, there's layers to me, and I've been so embarrassed of them for no reason. My whole life, just wanting to be strong and tough, and this is about me embracing that side of me and showing that side of me and knowing that it's okay."
Morton was immediately supportive, responding, “It’s more than okay,” and embracing Demi. As someone who has come out as queer to numerous straight friends, I found it anxiety-inducing to watch. I was waiting for Katie to say something ignorant or minimize Demi’s attraction to women. But she didn’t, and it was so heartwarming to see. And both fans and contestants showed their support on social media.
What I’ve been most afraid of, in watching a queer Paradise storyline, is that the show wouldn’t treat Demi’s situation delicately or give it the emotional space and depth it calls for and deserves. Just two years ago Paradise featured Jaimi, an out “fluid” woman, but depicted her as an unpredictable sexual deviant, reducing her bisexuality to harmful stereotypes. But so far on this season, they’re totally doing Demi justice.
Demi also came out to Tayshia Adams last night, and Tayshia offered, “I hate that you feel you have to hide behind such a strong shield and not be who you really want to be.” Obviously, we should be at a place where queer people shouldn’t have to worry about straight people blanching at the notion of same-sex love—but clearly, we’re not, and Demi was justified in being nervous to open up.
The show’s host, Chris Harrison, spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about Demi’s storyline and acknowledged, “I’m not exactly sure how we would have embraced Demi’s situation in year's past.” He added, “I am not so naïve as to think that dealing with a same-sex relationship is going to be this happy rainbow conversation and all of America is going to rejoice.” But ultimately, Harrison said they’ve “leaned on” the queer producers behind-the-camera to tell the story “properly.”
“I felt that I owed it to them and to everybody else in that community to do this right and to make it respectable,” he said. “To tell this story properly in their honor. I leaned on them and we all leaned on them to make sure they felt like this was being fairly and respectfully portrayed.”
In the episode Demi also opened up to Derek Peth, who she’s been casually seeing on Paradise, about the woman she’s been dating—and still has feelings for—back home. He, too, happily surprised me. He never made any gross or reductive comments, something I always fear in telling straight men that I date women. Instead, he was so purely human in his response, fearing that Demi’s heart was somewhere else, regardless of the gender of that other person.
Peth asked, “How can you both consider that and me simultaneously? And have this be just as meaningful, if not, you know, potentially more?” Any BiP love triangle would’ve raised the same question. Derek’s no hero for treating a queer person like a person, but he did do his part in normalizing queerness on this show.
So far, BiP is nailing Demi’s storyline. However, I have to say I’d be interested to see what the reactions from both male and female contestants would’ve looked like had a man come out as bisexual on the show. Regardless, it’s a start—and I can’t wait for Demi’s girlfriend to show up and burn this heterosexual island to the ground.
Originally Appeared on Glamour