Former Bachelor, Colton Underwood, came out as gay during an interview on Good Morning America today. Between him being the lead on one of the most heteronormative shows on TV, people tweeting that they “knew all along”, and his relationship from the show which ended in a restraining order, there is a lot of unpacking to do here.
Colton was a huge part of Bachelor Nation. As a refresher, he was the lead on season 23 of The Bachelor after being a contestant on the 14th season of The Bachelorette and season 4 of Bachelor In Paradise. Colton’s consistent participation in the show is what makes this such a major news story. The show is all about the lead finding their perfect match, who also has to be someone of the opposite sex for the show’s structure to even work. Being named the Bachelor is almost like being named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (there has yet to be a gay SMA), but for reality TV. It’s the (increasingly archaic) stamp of what society says is masculine, strong, and wanted by all the women. This has left a lot of people wondering how Colton’s coming out story plays out alongside his time on the show.
During his season as the lead, the show put heavy emphasis on his virginity. I remember watching it and being really annoyed for him because it felt exploitative. Yes, reality TV always comes with a level of exploitation, but the constant jabs seemed to encourage a toxic environment online surrounding Colton as a person, his sexuality included. It’s never a good look to assume someone’s sexuality (or someone’s anything, for that matter). During his GMA interview, Colton said that he has known since the age of six that he was different, and came to terms with the fact that he was gay in freshman year of high school. The negativity surrounding being gay from his church and football was what deterred him from wanting to live life as his authentic self. From what I gathered, it seemed like his experience in the franchise might’ve further entrenched those obstacles, but in a different way. For Colton, he said the day he found out he was going to be The Bachelor was the day he thanked God for making him straight. Of course, looking back, he realizes that couldn’t possibly be the case, and it’s another example of how much power a show like this can have on the psyche of participants, let alone the audience. Although the show doesn’t speak negatively towards the LGBTQ+ community, the show’s structure is grounded in straightness.
Colton was also known for jumping a fence after his frontrunner, Cassie Randolph, eliminated herself from the show. Despite her leaving the show, the two ended up reconciling in the finale and were dating until May of last year. After the breakup, it was reported that a restraining order was put in place against him. Cassie accused him of putting a tracking device on her car, and there were also reports that he was harassing her and her family with constant text messages. He also allegedly stood outside of her place at 2 a.m. For Cassie to be so worried about her safety that she sought out a restraining order says a lot. And I believe her. Colton later said in a statement that they resolved their issues privately and the police investigation was dismissed.
So when I saw the headlines today, my first reaction was relief for Colton. As a straight cis person, I will never truly understand what it’s like to come out. I’ll never know what it’s like to be terrified to love who you love because of what society is going to think. So I can only imagine the pain he has gone through for so many years, and I am happy he didn’t give in to the suicidal thoughts that came with his journey to accepting himself. However, I am also uneasy because of the pain he has caused the people around him. I am so happy that he is able to live freely, but I don’t think that should excuse the horrible experience he allegedly put Cassie through.
Still, I struggle with whether or not it’s harmful for me as a straight person to write these thoughts, especially since the LGBTQ+ community has been through so much. There are so many layers that come with understanding your sexuality when society shows you that it isn’t the “right” way to go. At the same time, stalking and harassment is also wrong.
And being in the closet does NOT cause violent tendencies towards intimate partners. This is the most harmful stereotype that allies are now pushing on us queers in defense of Colton.— Harry Styles Hate Account | Busy Bi | ðŸ’›ðŸ (@biguyreviews) April 14, 2021
It’s awesome that Colton has gained the courage to come out in a bold and unapologetic way. However, like I said earlier, Cassie and her family have gone through so much because of him. I’m coming to terms with the fact that sympathy for both Colton and Cassie can be present at the same time. Colton’s toxic behaviour throughout all of this is not something that all people in the closet do, and pinning that on all of the LGBTQ+ community is a dangerous stereotype. It is also true that Colton experienced a lot of anxiety throughout this, and maybe wasn’t in the right headspace to understand that his actions were hurting people. He mentioned in the GMA interview that he saw The Bachelor as his way of making the heteronormative life he thought he should lead. Maybe Colton was desperately trying to hold onto the woman who he thought would give him that. But Cassie is a person too. His pain doesn’t justify hers.
There are now reports that Colton will be filming a Netflix reality show about living life as a gay man. Some believe that he shouldn’t have been given a platform because of the restraining orders, and that a show like this could’ve been an opportunity to platform BIPOC LGBTQ+ individuals instead.
As for The Bachelor, Colton’s story is another reason why the franchise should look at how the structure of the show can be harmful to those in it. There are multiple instances where virginity and toxic masculinity were main storylines, which contributes to a harmful discourse online and to harmful stereotypes that have an impact on our communities overall. Yes, they have a show to make. But exploiting people in ways that further promote bias and narrow worldviews is dangerous for the contestants and the culture. The show needs to be responsible with their platform. This has also opened a discussion (another one!) on why The Bachelor is so stuck in its ways and hasn’t offered a show that features inclusion when it comes to sexuality. Even though the structure of the show has always been the same, it doesn’t mean they can’t adjust to be much more inclusive, to make a show about love, for everyone.