Spilling the Tea: My Experience as the First Black, Openly Queer Femme on a “Reality” Dating Show
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always had a strong penchant for dating television shows. From growing up on programs like ElimiDate, Blind Date, Joe Millionaire, and one of my all-time favorites — the I Love New York series — watching the dating triumphs and woes of complete strangers became my secret vice.
And while I enjoyed living vicariously through other people’s romantic dalliances, never in a million years would I have ever considered putting my own love life out for millions of viewers to see — until this year, when a little show called Love Connection came-a-knocking.
“Well, you’ve just never had good dick in your life.”
Before the opportunity with LC presented itself, my dating life could be described as pretty much nonexistent. I’ve done the online dating profiles, swiped left and right on the dating apps, went on a plethora of speed dates, been an active member of many of the LGBTQ-centric Meetup groups that can be found in Southern California, volunteered in my community, invested thousands of dollars on “lesbian relationship” coaches guaranteeing they could help me find love, actively searched and also stopped actively searching. And in my 31 years of existence, I have never been close to being in a long-term relationship — with anyone. I’ve averaged about one or two dates a year since I came out to myself at age 21, and have gone over two years straight without scoring a single date (talk about a medical emergency!). Women don’t ask me out. They scoff when I ask them out. They don’t swipe right on my profiles. They rarely message me first, but will message me after I have messaged them, to say they’re not attracted to black women. And on the rare instances I do manage to snag a date, they end up declaring their undying love for their ex, or they display some level of emotional ambivalence, or they exoticize my black body and express a desire to only want a physical relationship with me. FML. Conversely, I can’t seem to beat straight men off with a stick. When I reveal I’m gay, they don’t believe me (because I don’t “look gay”) or make ignorant statements like “well, you’ve just never had good dick in your life.” SMDH. Everywhere I went I would attract what I didn’t want, and fail to attract what I did want. It felt like the Universe was playing a cruel joke on my love life. Consequently, I grew increasingly frustrated and defeated.
In 2016, I became inspired by the first all-gay male ‘The Bachelor-like’ dating series that aired on LOGO TV. I very much admired one of the more spiritually-minded suitors (whom I had met previously in real life) and really identified with his innocent desire to have “a love adventure.” Knowing how powerful expressing one’s desires can truly be, I started 2017 by writing out on a sheet of paper an intention to have my own “love adventure” and taped the note to my bathroom mirror so I could see it everyday. Just weeks after I did that, the casting call for a revamped Love Connection series fell into my lap. If you remember the 80’s version with Chuck Woolery, the premise of the show involved a dater choosing from three video profiles of potential suitors, then going out on a date with their selection and discussing it in front of a live studio audience. Well the 2017 version, is basically the same, except the dater actually goes out on dates with all three suitors. The producers were very adamant about wanting to cast a diverse group of suitors, and were particularly interested in seeing lesbians apply. I submitted my 40-question online application without hesitation, and received a call back within five minutes.
The casting process for LC, while initially daunting, was actually overwhelmingly positive. All applicants go through a rigorous video interview where producers ask numerous questions about your relationship history, characteristics you look for in a partner, your ideal first date, and more. They were astounded when I admitted that I had no relationship history. In addition to the interview, applicants are required to take an hour-long psych test, sit with a psychologist (to make sure you’re not crazy), as well as submit to a drug and STD test. I passed it all with flying colors and was soon after notified that I would be cast as one of the three lesbian suitors. The process took less than a month.
Fast forward to the day of the date — as a suitor you are given $500 by the show to plan an enjoyable blind date, while a producer follows you around and documents the entire process. You are tasked with selecting three activities for the date, and I chose drinks, an escape room, and a nice Italian dinner — all in the city that I love — Long Beach. I anticipated that my date and I would be a bit nervous, and thought having drinks would be a nice way to calm our nerves and get to know each other. When my date, who introduced herself as Liz, finally arrived I was simply amazed at how much her physical characteristics matched what I told the producers I wanted. Liz is a very beautiful woman, and as the date went on, she showed herself to be just as beautiful and kind on the inside.
“My decision to go on Love Connection was not to get famous… I was genuinely interested in finding a woman to share my life with.”
I won’t go into the minute details of the actual date or the studio taping (most likely you have already seen the episode or can watch it on demand). I do want to underscore a few things: First and foremost, I believe the whole “ratings system” that was added to the modern-day version of the show was morally wrong. I felt extremely uncomfortable participating in it and had absolutely no clue why the producers were asking me to rate this woman I barely knew during the date, until the day of the taping when the cameras rolled, and all of a sudden Andy Cohen is asking the producers to reveal to the audience how we rated each other. Rating someone based on perceived physical attractiveness is not only an antiquated, patriarchal system of measurement, it’s also extremely problematic because it’s traditionally based on unrealistic, conventional, heteronormative, and racist standards of beauty. I thought the aim of casting same-sex daters was to get viewers to step outside of the heteronormative, patriarchal hegemony, not give them a front-row invitation to it. *Sigh.*
Secondly, I was quite disappointed to read from a recent Huffington Post blog that us four femme-appearing lesbians were selected to be on the show because Fox believed it “would go over better on network television” according to Liz (the dater) who contributed to the blog post. Whether you identify as femme, butch, boi, gender-queer, trans or any of the other countless ways those in the lesbian community choose to identify, our diverse identities are ALL beautiful enough to be seen, heard, and valued. Had I known that the reason I was cast was because my gayness was palatable enough (i.e. I looked straight enough) to be on network television, I would not have agreed to go on the show.
Third, I want to make it unequivocal that my decision to go on Love Connection was not to get famous. I am not an actress — I am a high school dropout-turned doctoral student, a financial planner, an ardent lover of one of the best cities in the world, and a leader in my community. I didn’t have an agent or publicist who encouraged me to go on the show for exposure (as other contestants did), and I’m not trying to make it into “the industry.” I was genuinely interested in finding a woman to share my life with. I still am.
“Coming out is an extremely personal decision… It’s a continual process that deserves some sensitivity and compassion.”
While I’m grateful to the producers and the entire LC team for giving me an opportunity to go on a real date, and especially for giving the lesbian community increased visibility on network television, it was not my intention to use the show as a platform to come out to my mother. That is how the producer’s decided to spin the episode. Ironically my mother will most likely never even watch the episode — she hates dating shows. Coming out is an extremely personal decision, and it is not a one-and-done life event. It’s a continual process that deserves some sensitivity and compassion. No one deserves to be judged or shamed for being selective about who they feel safe coming out to. That doesn’t make them unworthy of a loving relationship.
“To all my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, especially QPOC and trans folks… please know that you are so incredibly loved and adored.”
Do I regret my decision to go on a dating show? The answer is a resounding no. While participation in reality dating shows are not for the thin-skinned, Love Connection was an adventurous, emotional, once-in-a-lifetime experience that not everyone is brave enough for, nor has the opportunity to have. I’m honored to be one of the first queer women featured on a dating show for network television, and proud to represent diversity. When all is said and done, my intention was fulfilled, and I had a lot of fun while meeting some pretty dope people along the way, especially other contestants (shout out to my LC Sister Wives!). I do hope my episode inspires those looking for love, whether gay or straight, to take risks with their dating life, get off the iPhone/computer screens and the dating apps/sites, and step out of their comfort zones. I also hope the Love Connection producers do better next season by casting trans, butch, non-binary, and other types of queer folks who are also looking for love, not just the femmes you view as eye candy or as heterosexual male-fantasies for threesomes. Also, please stop elevating whiteness and cast more QPOC as the daters (choosers), not just the suitors anxiously vying to get chosen.
And to all my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, especially all the beautiful QPOC and trans folks: whether you are out or not, struggling with your sexuality or gender identiy, or are just trying to find your place in this world, please know that you are so incredibly loved and adored.
Peace and blessings to you all! ❤