New Netflix original dating show, “Love is Blind,” has garnered attention for many reasons, like the quick meeting-to-engagement timeline, one contestant’s “sexy” baby voice and questions about dogs drinking wine (poison). But these kitschy moments should not be the only aspects viewers notice. More importantly, the show reinforces cisgender conceptions of gender and heterosexuality as the norm.
The dating show features a group of men and a group of women who are kept separate while they seek to get married. “Love is Blind” aims to be a progressive “social experiment” by having contestants speak to each other only through small, connected rooms where they cannot see their potential future spouse, prioritizing emotional connections over physical attraction. The heterosexual pairs can only see each other after proposing, which is an explicit attempt to push back against the focus on appearance in dating that apps like Tinder promote.
Though the idea seems novel, similar dating shows have aired in the past. “Blind Date” aired in 1949 on ABC, when virtually no one had a television set, though it had previously been broadcasted on the radio. ABC had a different show in the ’60s called “The Dating Game” with the same concept. Most recently, Lifetime’s “Married at First Sight” which ran in 2014 uses matchmaking techniques to pair couples that first meet when walking down the aisle.
Much like these other shows and dating shows in general, “Love is Blind” is extremely heterosexual. Only recently, with shows like MTV’s “Are You the One?,” the genre has expanded to include members of the LGBTQ+ community. This is where “Love is Blind” gets complicated because one of the contestants, Carlton, has dated men and women in the past even though he is now solely seeking a wife.
Early on, the show positions Carlton’s sexuality as a point of conflict.
“At one point in my young adult life I found myself attracted to just hearts, period,” Carlton said in episode one. “I dated guys and girls, but I want a wife now because I feel like women bring a certain nurturing love and affection to the table that I don’t get from a guy. My biggest worry is that I will find someone that I am super in love with, and then at the last minute, she won’t be able to walk down the aisle because she just can’t be married to someone like me.”
Carlton is valid in his fear, citing past experiences of rejection from heterosexual women. However, the way the show frames his sexuality is harmful. Even though he is attracted to women, by not admitting that he is attracted to men from the beginning he is portrayed as being untrustworthy. The show also underscores the belief that men who are attracted to men cannot be completely satisfied in heterosexual relationships.
Carlton does not tell his fiancée, Diamond, about his sexuality until the fourth episode.
“In the past, I have dated both genders,” Carlton said, which reinforces the idea of gender being a strict binary, which the show brings to reality by physically separating women and men from the beginning.
Diamond at first supports her fiance’s admission but eventually judges him for “not being honest” from the beginning. This tarnishes her trust with Carlton, even though his sexuality does not alter the fact that he intended to marry her. Ultimately Diamond and Carlton did not make it to their wedding day. Unsurprisingly, they were not alone as only two couples decided to go through with their marriages, Lauren and Cameron, and Barnett and Amber.
Beyond just how the show portrayed Carlton’s sexuality, “Love is Blind” is fundamentally heteronormative and cis-centric by design. The pairing of two groups of men and women reasserts the gender binary and heterosexual partnering as the norm. The people who occupy the space also reaffirm this false ideal.
One of the contestants, Lauren, received unsettling comments about her race as a black woman. A white man, in one of their initial conversations, commented that he believed her to be African American based on his stereotypical assumptions. Lauren was justifiably put off by his remark, but responded in a way that centers her cisgender identity and marginalizes trans women.
“Who cares what my complexion is? I’m a woman, that’s all you need to worry about, that I don’t have a penis,” Lauren said.
Despite its reaffirming harmful tropes towards the LGBTQ+ community, the show has been popular amongst this community. This may seem odd to an outsider, but we love anything ridiculous and kitschy. Plus, it serves as a fantastic opportunity to make fun of cisgender heterosexual people.