Even with Bachelor Nation™ continuing to pump out slightly delusional heterosexual couples, there was never any disguising of the latent homo bonds between same-sex competitors rooming together as they vie for the grand prize. Indeed, there have been many Bachelor stars who have come out as queerish, including Becca Tilley (The Bachelor season 19 and 20) who since 2018 has been famously dating musician Hayley Kiyoko, Colton Underwood who was the first openly gay Bachelor (The Bachelorette season 14 and The Bachelor lead on season 23; though as reader comments aptly point out below, he stalked and harassed his ex-girlfriend and winner of The Bachelor season 23, Cassie Randolph), Minh Thu from The Bachelor Vietnam who fled the show with Truc Nhu, and many others. Most recently, one of the two leads from The Bachelorette’s season 19, Gabby Windey, announced on Instagram she was dating comedian Robby Hoffman. Since then, the two have been posting very tender updates on Instagram that have included reading bell hooks’s All About Love, doing fancy rich girl stuff like sailing on a yacht, and just seeming to be really into each other in what appears to be a very caring relationship.
Gabby’s season was branded as special because it had two female lead bachelorettes rather than just one: Gabby and her more annoying counterpart, Rachel Recchia. What developed over the season that was perhaps actually special was that Gabby and Rachel formed a caring, tender, and supportive relationship with each other, subtly refusing to be in competition over the flock of men. Throughout the season, they often talked about how they supported each other, and they would hold each other’s hands, tenderly cuddling and embracing while engaging in “girl talk” over their men. It became eerily clear watching this season that the true relationship with staying power was not the toxic hetero relationships Gabby and Rachel had with their men — many of whom were pushed to the brink in trying to get in touch with their emotions and face their toxic masculinity — but the relationship the women cultivated with one another. The femmeship, if you will, drawing on femme scholar Andi Schwartz’s formulation. Gabby and Rachel formed a Bachelorette version of femme friendship — or a “political alliance and network of care.” The season became an unintentional suggestion of other ways of forming love and intimacy, forms not only not heterosexual but also not necessarily romantic or sexual either, tender queeerplatonic femmeships that included hair touching and refusing to be downplayed by the multitudes of men seeking their attention.
Yet in the face of this unintentional femmeship queerplatonic subversion, the show — not surprisingly — remained committed to heterosexual visions of love grounded in an affixation to romance, sex, monogamy, and toxicity. Now, do keep in mind that The Bachelor has long been a site for displaying and celebrating toxic masculinity, racism, and rape culture. For example, you might recall that the former host, white Chris Harrison, left the franchise because he made offensive and minimizing comments in an interview with former Bachelorette lead Rachel Lindsay (The Bachelorette lead of season 13), in defense of a contestant who attended an Antebellum plantation themed party. It was so white supremacist that even The Bachelor franchise was embarrassed.
In many ways, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette remain invested in what Jane Ward has discussed as the tragedy of heterosexuality in a book by the same name. Ward argues that heterosexuality is “erotically uninspired and coercive” with “punishing gender roles” and that it is “outright illogical as a set of intimate relations.” For example, Ward points out that while cishet men’s identity relies on them loving women, instead of loving them, men tend to exploit and objectify women, often using women to get closer to other men in homosocial bonding practices. As queers and feminists well know, heterosexuality does not often benefit heterosexual women, but rather decreases their quality of life, increases their workload, and puts them at increased risk of harm, abuse, and sexual assault. And yet, heterosexuality continues to be dressed up as a goal, a dream, a lifelong quest, linked intimately to happiness and commemorated with countless rituals that become the unseen fabric of society. (And, of course, Ward acknowledges that not all straight people are in toxic relationships nor all cishet men are misogynists but that straight culture emphasizes, promotes, and nurtures these values even when there are exceptions).
The Bachelor franchise in many ways traffics in all of those things, suggesting hetero monogamy as an ideal and dream. For example, it undertakes gender segregation and the gender binary as a seemingly natural and obvious part of the dating process, whereby the men and women are kept in separate homes and interact only at specific times and in specific places. In this way, it is suggested that men and women are opposing and separate teams that must be strategically managed, must be made to like, love, and get along with each other through highly scripted dating protocols, extending what Ward names the “heterosexual-repair industry.”
And yet, despite the intense heteropropaganda Gabby was put through, both as a contestant on season 26 of The Bachelor and as a lead on The Bachelorette’s season 19, she remained what appeared to be tender, kind to her “competitor” women, and astoundingly queer. Is it possible that Gabby’s tender queerness is a resounding sign to all Bachelor Nation fans and contestants — past and present — that another way is possible? Is Gabby showing the high femme Bachelor women they too might indeed be queer or pre-queer and that a tender, nerdy, non-cis-dude love match might also be on their horizon? I like to hope so. Yet, Ward ends her powerful book by suggesting the way out of toxic heterosexuality is not — or not only — queerness. She argues that in order for heterosexuality as an orientation to be better, cishet men need to be better at heterosexuality, to be in other words less misogynist, less exploitative, and less toxic. Ward argues that cishet men shouldn’t seek to queer heterosexuality but to instead go deeper with their love of and attraction to women — what she calls “deep heterosexuality.” While shows such as The Bachelor ask women to compete for one man and The Bachelorette promotes men’s “erotic competition among men for women’s bodies,” Ward asks that we imagine a heterosexuality for itself, where cishet men actually like women, with a “powerful longing for the full humanity of women” and their collective bodily freedom.
What Gabby offers viewers is the compelling tender queer suggestion that women do not have to put up with toxic cishet masculinities and the heterosexuality they have on offer. In an interview with The View on August 2, 2023, Gabby not so much as came out as “gay” as reflected on her personal history with heterosexuality. She shared that she’s “dating a girl” and in response to The View’s host Joy Behar’s as always invasive questioning — “so is it girls now, just girls, that’s it?” — Gabby pushed back, eluding labels, and offering instead a subtle tender critique of the tragedy of heterosexuality, outlining how she came from “a very heteronormative world … like my whole world was kind of like male gazey” in which “my story has been told for me.” Dating Robby Hoffman, who “makes me feel so safe so loved. Like a love that I always wanted going on these dating shows,” Gabby follows the “whisper in her,” honing a queer critique of toxic heterosexual culture and remaining open and true to her own queer softness.
Author’s Note: I was introduced to Gabby’s season of The Bachelorette by a group of new friends who were watching the season with a feminist gaze. Big thank you and shoutout to Ashton Wesner, Jen Rose Smith, James Taylor, and Kate Altizer.
Additional Author’s Note: Apologies from the author for omitting and misrepresenting the important details of Underwood’s harassment of Randolph in the prior version of this piece, and thank you to readers for pointing this out.