BBC Three's latest flagship series, I Kissed a Boy, has caused a stir in the UK as the first-ever gay dating show. The format takes ten pre-paired men who meet for the first time by kissing, but they are not obliged to stay in their pairs. As eyes wander, frantic poolside confessions and multiple utterances of “it's nothing personal, hun” are sure to ensue. The show follows the ingeniously awkward format of the likes of Love Is Blind and Married at First Sight, but with a queer twist.
Contestant Gareth explains that it has taken a long time for a gay dating show to happen in the UK, saying, “to the heteronormative audience, there is still a view that homosexuality…it's all just promiscuous and sinful, and that has stopped it from happening until now.” Fellow cast member Subomi adds, “It's important to remember what brought public perception to its current state – and this is down to all the trans and queer people, who continue to advocate for visibility and resist the discomfort of those trying to push us back into the dark.”
The show's diversity is a refreshing change from typical reality TV, with contestants like stylist Gareth and Subomi, a model and athlete from west London via Nigeria, and sweet couple Jake and Kailum. Ben from Scotland, who says he likes cheeky chappies, is paired with Brighton lad Ollie, who exclaims, “Oi, oi!” when he walks on screen. Josh from Rhyl, who has never kissed a boy (allegedly), is paired with Bobski from Essex, who absolutely hates being tall.
While same-sex kisses are still rarely seen on television, the show's concept of having the contestants meet for the first time by kissing is a nice touch. Gareth describes the intimate moment as “very heightened – strange, but exciting.” The show also cleverly navigates the increasingly toxic and tricky landscape for reality TV by casting genuinely nice young gay men who are looking for love.
The flood of gay and queer dating shows may be due to a shift in mainstream culture, as Gareth suggests. “Social media and shows like Heartstopper have softened the blow,” he says. “It's made viewers understand that the gay community has stories, hardships, and the want for love. A lot of people up until now have embraced the ideology of the nuclear family – gays can be gay but just ‘not in front of my face'.”
As with any reality TV dating show, drama is expected, and I Kissed a Boy delivers. The contestants seem to enjoy themselves, with Gareth describing them as “all really nice boys.” He adds, “Gay comedy's like a clique, so we all knew all the same references and we were making jokes straight away. We were referencing hun culture – Gemma Collins and Megan McKenna…”
Overall, I Kissed a Boy is a groundbreaking show that breaks down stereotypes and provides visibility for the LGBTQ+ community. As Subomi says, “Their discomfort shouldn't be a punishment we have had to bear, but that is how it's been.” With shows like this, we can continue to advocate for visibility and representation in mainstream media.