Perfect Match’s bisexual representation reminds us fetishization is not acceptance

perfect match’s bisexual representation reminds us fetishization is not acceptance
Perfect Match’s bisexual is a mixed bag at bestNetflix

Bisexual representation in reality TV has come a long way since the days of Tila Tequila’s Shot at Love (google that one, Gen Z) - but shows like Perfect Match are a reminder that we still have a long way to go. (FYI: if you’re unfamiliar with Perfect Match, it’s sort of Love Island meets The Hunger Games; couples that are deemed most compatible in fireside ceremonies are given the option to bring a new person into the mansion in the hopes of breaking up other couples. The other twist is that all the contestants are from previous dating shows).

Recently, Perfect Match has been hailed as an example of how dating reality shows can better represent bisexuality, and there’s no denying that it certainly does a much better job than its counterparts. But even this, the apparent high point of the TV genre, is still without its flaws – namely in the form of bisexual women still appearing as a punchline, or prop for the straight male’s sexual fantasies.

Luckily, in amongst that, there are some touching moments and the fact that Perfect Match even features several openly bi constants to begin with, including Kariselle Snow, Francesca Farago, and Abbey Humphreys, is a win. In one touching scene, viewers are also shown a moving conversation between Francesca and Abbey, as they discuss how they discovered their sexuality and the difficulties they faced coming out as bi.

The show also featured a same-gender pairing in Francesca and Abbey, who date after Abbey enters the mansion, while Francesca is still coupled up with male contestant Damian Powers (yes, the same guy from Love Is Blind) and after Francesca and Abbey’s date, the girls encourage Kariselle to come out to her Perfet Match pairing Joey Sasso too. To his credit, Joey is very accepting, telling her "I accept you for you, because it's who you are – it's literally who you are," after she confides that she worries marrying a man might invalidate her sexuality.

This felt like a huge moment; conversations about bisexual erasure and bi people’s experiences in different types of relationships are pretty few and far between (particularly ones by real people that don’t come across as gif bait), especially when you factor in that other dating shows have even been accused of actively erasing bisexuality by editing out conversations by contestants (*cough* Love Island *cough*).

Unfortunately though, the good bi vibes couldn’t last. As, in a later episode, Joey tells Kariselle, “If you want to bring another woman into our relationship that's great”, immediately reminding us of the ways in which women’s bisexuality is seen by men as existing for their pleasure (and threesome opportunities), rather than as a neutral aspect of their partner’s identity. The other boys also make several comments about how “hot” bisexuality is, including Zay Wilson, one of Francessca’s earlier matches, telling her “it’s honestly attractive” that she’s dated girls previously.

Given that bi women face higher rates of sexual violence than straight and gay women, with fetishization being one of the driving factors, it’s important not to confuse sexualization with acceptance. Comments made by the boys re-enforce notions that women’s bisexuality (and by extension, bisexual women in general), exist to satisfy their sexual desires. Later on, Francesca and Kariselle share a kiss by the pool despite both being coupled up with other people – behaviour that Francessca's match Abbey described as “frat-like”.

So, it’s fair to say the show’s bisexual representation is a mixed bag at best, and fans certainly seem to feel the same way.

Was it too much to ask for Perfect Match to challenge the stereotypes bi people still face? The show’s very special bi episode certainly gives it an admirable try – and while it’s important to show the less-than gold star allyship bi people often face from their partners, leaving comments made by the boys undisputed could mean viewers go away thinking this is an unacceptable – perhaps even positive - way to talk to their bisexual partner.

Dating shows have always been a straight person's game. The mechanics – including Perfect Match’s - nearly always revolve around the creation of heterosexual couples. Because of this, Love Island producers even once claimed that the possibility of same-gender couples would cause ‘logistical difficulties’ (despite one happening organically in 2016).

Given fans' constant pleas for bisexual dating shows, still only a few have ever put it front and centre. There was Courtney Act’s sweet but short-lived The Bi Life, whose wholesomeness may have been it’s downfall, and on the other end of the spectrum was the deeply chaotic bi and pan series of Are You The One? (another American dating show where constants have to pair off in algorithmically predetermined ‘perfect matches’ and if they do – the entire group wins $1 million between them).

Outside of these though, dating shows tend to enforce cultural stereotypes about bisexuality; that it’s the domain of cis, thin, white people only (bisexual men are still one of the most underrepresented groups on TV). That it’s salacious and sexy a side plot to the real deal. That is to say, bisexuality is a brief fling before ultimately settling into a comfortable male-female monogamous relationship.

Fat, trans, non-white, gender non-conforming, neurodivergent, disabled, boring bisexuals are not going to get a look-in on shows like Perfect Match or Love Island (despite the bi community having some of highest proportion of trans individuals, people of colour, and disabled folk), because fat, trans, gender non-conforming etc people are rarely given a look-in on these shows. Often contestants can only be one of these things, and when they are, their identity is tokenized by the show.

Dating shows which revolve around heterosexual ideals can only ever portray bisexuality as something that must exist within the confines of heterosexuality – not as something separate and heaven forbid – certainly not as a challenge to it.

The bisexual revolution will not be televised.

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