Married at First Sight Australia spoilers follow.
As much as we're continuously sucked into the drama and moreishness of this show, there is also that familiar simmer of disappointment when it continues to succumb to a more 'traditional' (for want of a better word) view of relationships, at the expense of LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Sex, love and marriage all flourish outside of the assumed gender binary and male/female couplings, so why does Married at First Sight (a show based on finding the perfect partner) barely ever acknowledge this across its different territories?
It's also worth noting that queer inclusion doesn't necessarily hinge on having same-sex partnerships – although we're still here wanting that, please! – as those who are not straight (whether bisexual, pansexual or otherwise) can still enjoy a perceived "heterosexual" relationship without it invalidating their identity.
But what's prompted this discussion in the here and now?
Married at First Sight Australia series six matched Lauren Huntriss and Matthew Bennett, and their relationship seemed to get off to a good start. Lauren had some initial reservations about Matthew's shyness around intimacy, but once they'd broken through that boundary on their honeymoon they seemed to go from strength to strength. That was, until the second commitment ceremony which saw both of them choosing to "leave" the experiment.
This decision had followed a conversation between the pair, during which Lauren opened up about her previous relationships – some of which, she explained, had been with women.
The trouble is, Married at First Sight Australia amped this moment up and presented it to the audience as a 'bombshell' revelation, a huge reveal that could shake the foundations of their romance.
By making this narrative choice, the show framed it as something that was out of the norm and removed from what's expected in a relationship. It also veers into the realms of structural biphobia, whereby it is falsely perceived that those attracted to more than one gender identity and/or sex are somehow evasive or deceitful in not sharing this information.
The exact scene that was aired showed Lauren telling her husband that she "used to be a lesbian" – words that, in and of themselves, have sparked quite the discourse online about how people identify. It's worth remembering that sexuality can be fluid, and that some people may change how they see or experience themselves over time. On the other side is the fact that queerness is not a choice or something you can just decide on at the snap of a finger.
As you can see, it's a complex and nuanced conversation that Married at First Sight Australia lacked sensitivity and care in handling, appearing to choose ratings and juicy storylines over everything else.
What adds another, even more troubling, dimension to this, is the fact that it's since become apparent that these were not even Lauren's own words. The former cast member revealed that it was something that came about after some cajoling from the producers.
"No, I was not a lesbian. I hate titles. I hate labels," she said in a video post on Instagram (via Daily Mail).
Lauren went on to explain that, in answer to Matthew's question on the show, she had started to tell him about a time in her life when she had "started experimenting with girls and had crushes on girls" when a producer interjected.
According to Lauren, she was asked to repeat what she had said, using the word "lesbian" in order to keep it 'short and simple.'
"I argued back and forth with him and said 'I don't label myself as a lesbian nor was I... I don't feel right about that'," she told her social-media followers.
Lauren then alleged that the producer had told her that if she said it, they could finish filming for the day.
This really highlights the need to have widespread representation behind the camera, both on set and in the editing rooms – particularly when themes like this are being depicted.
Tash Herz and Amanda Micallef became the first lesbian couple to appear on Married at First Sight Australia, as part of 2020's series seven (it has not yet aired in the UK).
After their marriage fell apart during the experiment, Tash spoke out about her wish that queer experts had helped her because they "would have done a better job matching" and she and her partner "would have been happier" as a result.
Not only did Tash and Amanda have a difficult time on screen, but the reception from audiences was not always a welcome one either. When news of their inclusion on the series made headlines and was about to air in the United States, they were hit with homophobic trolling on social media.
While audience responses say a lot more about the attitudes of society than anything else, they don't happen within a vacuum. A show can help shape its own audience's expectations, by the way in which it presents things.
If a series is only going to have the occasional flicker of representation, or place that responsibility unfairly on the shoulders of one or two contestants alone, then it can't remove itself from complicity when viewers treat it as something 'different' or 'other.'
Instead, embracing that inclusivity as a seamless and organic part of the format – and a natural reflection of the homes tuning in to watch – would welcome the change and progress that so many of us crave.
Married at First Sight Australia airs on E4 on weeknights, and is available on All 4.
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