This review contains mild spoilers for the queer storyline of Love on the Spectrum season two.
I received my autism diagnosis last year, but I’d suspected it for a long time. And, like many autistic people with fewer visible support needs, I’d spent some time working with adults with disabilities, including autism, who had a diversity of support needs. We had a saying we’d repeat to new trainees, that “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
Autism’s a spectrum disorder, and really, is a cluster of symptoms and characteristics that can manifest in an individual person in any endless unique permutation. And, of course, everyone is an individual with their own personality on top of that. So, I went into the new season of Love on the Spectrum with no expectations or ideas about what its promised queer subject might be like — just excitement.
And I was a little disappointed! Not because Journey — a bubbly, bright and caring young Black woman of 18 — was anything but a sparkling delight. She’s a highlight of the season! I was disappointed because there was so little time spent with her. That, and the logic behind the matches producers set her up with was difficult to parse.
Journey doesn’t appear until the fourth episode, by which time we’ve seen a lot of other dates where participants have had various levels of success. As soon as I saw Journey, I said to myself this has to be the queer person. I’d certainly been waiting! By the time Journey appears halfway through the season, the only queer representation had consisted of two gay uncles and a hair stylist (who were all cool in their own ways, but they weren’t the stars).
Journey is an aspiring pastry chef with ultra high femme style. She has an array of pastel pink decor, shows us her love for Hello Kitty, and wears a baby pink top with delicate white polka dots and frills around the collar. Her aesthetic is the height of a femininity distinctly not for the male gaze. Journey’s known she was a lesbian longer than she’s had her autism diagnosis (only one year at the time of filming), and, on both counts, her family’s been supportive.
Journey says she never had to come out — she just talked about her attraction to girls and no one in her family ever had an issue with it. She’s affable, but inexperienced — she hasn’t been on a date before — which isn’t at all surprising considering her age. Plenty of neurotypical queers also haven’t had their first dating experience by 18, so she’s certainly not alone. But Journey seems excited by the prospect of dating. “It’s finally my turn,” she says.
We learn that her dad tried to set her up on a date with a boy in the past. When her mom tells her that “boys gravitate toward you romantically,” she blithely responds, “Well that’s embarrassing for them, isn’t it?” To which, everyone laughs. She is funny, which is why I have to ask, why is that all we get from that scene?
Before Journey heads out on her first date, we catch a glimpse of her sister Stevie coaching her on the in’s and out’s of flirting. It’s cute, but much like my fellow viewers over in the Love on the Spectrum subreddit, I’m curious as to why we don’t see a professional coach step in to give her more dating advice, especially considering her inexperience.
From a conservatory to a cute-as-heck picnic, Journey goes on a total of three dates this season, with two separate women. On the one hand, her dates are cute and friendly and Journey gets along well with them despite her nerves. The show even managed to find two different gothy bisexuals, leaning into the Princess Bubblegum/Marceline the Vampire Queen queer relationship dynamic that occurs just often enough to make for a cute meme.
But you can see the problem with the creators’ decisions almost immediately. When Journey tells her first date, Kara, that this is her First Date Ever, Kara’s voice goes high-pitched with a surprised “Ooooh!” She vows to make it an “awesome date,” but as time goes on, it becomes apparent that the two are mismatched when it comes to their experience and maturity level. Kara’s been in multiple relationships before, and though she says that she would be open to seeing Journey again, they do not go on another date. Oddly enough, there’s no real explanation given.
With other contestants, we get a phone call or a discussion about the dynamic of choosing to continue or not continue pursuing someone, but if those scenes exist, they were left out of the final edit. At least we know Journey was delighted to have finally gone on her first date, which, at minimum, is going to be a confidence builder.
Journey goes on two more dates, this time with Talia, who is also more experienced and who, like Kara, also appears to be somewhat older than Journey. While I was happy for Journey to be able to date, it felt like she was denied the opportunity to have age and experience-level appropriate encounters with someone who felt more like a peer, someone she could mutually explore with.
Still, there are some sweet moments. When Talia pulls out Journey’s chair for her at a restaurant, it leads to a brief but welcome discussion about queer relationships, roles and making your own rules. I just wish we had more of that.
We don’t get a lot of follow up with Journey, which is truly saddening, because I’d have loved to spend more time with her and her family. I wanted to see more discussions and to watch her really unpack her dates in the way that other participants do. The last time we see Journey, she and Talia are taking a lakeside walk. The camera zooms out, and that’s it. No post-date interview, no scene back with her family, no analysis or assessment of where she could work on growth.
Journey’s not the only queer on the show — Dani shares that she’s pansexual and heteroromantic — but she is the only one shown to be interested in queer dating. She’s also the only Black participant.
While perhaps schedules or other factors may have played a role in how much of Journey’s story is shown, it feels like it was given far less time than either Journey or Netflix’s queer audience deserve.
Love on the Spectrum season two is now streaming on Netflix.