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The Bittersweet Experience of Watching 'Love Island' When You're Gay

The Villa: a constructed world determined to uphold the gender and sexuality norms of yore? Or a bit of harmless fun?

by Amelia Abraham
19 July 2018, 10:47am

At around 10PM last Thursday, one message – then several more – landed in my inbox. Friends and family were thoughtfully alerting me to the breaking news about footage of Love Island's Megan Barton-Hanson almost-kissing new-ish housemate Alexandra Carr. Not in The Villa, unfortunately, but in a Giggs video from 2016.

If you know nothing of this almost-kiss, you would be forgiven, because when third Alex entered the show she and Megan did not acknowledge it, or indeed that they had ever met before in their whole lives. And they haven't since. This is part of a bigger conspiracy at play – that some of the juiciest parts of Love Island are not shown to us; Frankie and Samira's entire relationship, possibly a second kiss that took place between Jack and Georgia in another take, Dani Dyer getting her hair dyed.

In other words, the 51 minutes of your day that you are giving up six days a week to watch this godforsaken programme will never, ever be enough. You are basically treading water. You will never know The Truth.

Anyway, back to the kiss. As someone who is as straight as Georgia is loyal (so, like 35 percent to begin with, slowly declining to 5 percent) I was extremely excited by Megan and Alex's almost-kiss. The fact that so many people sent it to me is a testament to how hungry they thought I would be for homoerotic Love Island content. And they were right. But as I watched the almost-kiss for maybe the 45th time, I had a realisation. Not that this was a pseudo-lesbian moment pretty much solely constructed for the titillation of men (don't care), but that this was probably the most girl-on-girl action we are going to get from Love Island, maybe ever. And, moreover, the fact that it wasn't mentioned on the show at all, not even once, might have something to do with the show's weird obsession with upholding straight culture.

Watching Love Island when you're gay is a strange, bittersweet experience. I love it deeply, so much so that sometimes I still catch myself thinking in Eyal's voice, the anguished intonation of a suburban princeling who got mugged off more times in three weeks than ever before in his life. I love it for the exact same reasons as everyone else loves it. Who wouldn’t be obsessed with a show that is Magaluf meets the Stanford Prison experiment? Why wouldn’t I be compelled to watch Wes, a man so small and chiselled he looks like a toy from a Happy Meal, graft Megan, who is so robust that, like a cockroach, she could probably survive nuclear disaster? And what else would I be doing all summer if I wasn’t so deeply invested in Jack and Dani's relationship, maybe more so than any of my own to date?

But there is another reason I love Love Island: it is a glimpse into a parallel universe I am rarely privy to, a world that exists only in branches of All Bar One or Gourmet Burger Kitchen: The Villa is a pure, unadulterated straight space, a breeding ground of militant heterosexuality. For six weeks now I have gaped wide-eyed at this Blue Planet of straight culture, watching girls clambering over one another like they're in an actual Lynx advert for men who peacock around in spray-on jeans while declaring themselves "definitely petrol heads", and who lick their lips as they tell girls they’re "gorgeous" with about as much interest as you would give a supermarket cashier.

'Is this what you people get up to?' I have thought to myself thousands and thousands of times, as I ingest every minute of this heterosexual Hunger Games.

"But straight culture is everywhere!" you argue. Yes, it is. But consider that 50 percent of young people in Britain define as something other than totally straight, and then ask yourself why Love Island – our biggest dating show; arguably our biggest TV show – insists on being the truest, purest distillation of heterosexuality and gender norms.

The whole concept is predicated on a kind of cartoon straightness. It is so straight that the first thing that happens is the girls have to pick a boy (in what the producers undoubtedly thought was some kind of radical feminist plot twist). The binary is set up as it means to go on: everything is divided into not just the weird categories of blonde and brunette, but girl and boy. And these are the the ultimate, exaggerated versions of girl and boy, too: The Girls portrayed as increasingly hysterical as their dye jobs grow out, The Boys as carefree jack-the-lads, always happily doing bits to lighten the burden of their loads.

The internet has been awash with criticism about the show's lack of diversity (body type, race, sexual orientation) since the first episode. The creators of Love Island have tried to appease this audience with talk of a gay Love Island, with Caroline Flack herself hinting at a same-sex version. I just worry that it wouldn’t work. Not only because they'd need to rethink the ENTIRE BASIS OF THE SHOW (or would we just categorise everyone into tops and bottoms/butches and femmes?), but because when you put a minority group on television, the behaviour of a few inevitably comes to represent the whole. When Idris dead-stares three girls in a row like a serial killer and feeds them the exact same lines, we don’t take it as a representation of the behaviour of all straight men (although, actually, I guess it is?), but if a gay man fucked his way through four contestants like Adam did, Britain would almost certainly take it as a sign of gay promiscuity.

Perhaps most worryingly, I wonder whether Britain is even ready for gay Love Island. A recent government survey found that 40 percent of LGBTQ+ people in the UK have experienced homophobia. Does that suggest a guaranteed ratings drop? That too many people would be too grossed out by same-sex relationships to watch them unfold over eight weeks of reality TV? That as much as I like to peer into this zoo of straight people, it's not always a two-way street for gay people, especially when it comes – specifically – to intimacy? Let us consider further that the same survey found two-thirds of LGBTQ+ people in Britain are too scared to hold their partner’s hand in the street. Who, then, would even go on this show? If we can’t hold hands in the street, how comfortable would be feel copulating on television?

And so, you see, this is the catch of watching Love Island when you’re gay. As much as I love watching it because it is a divine parody of straight culture that makes it seem more old fashioned than if Megan was literally churning milk on the lawn, when it comes down to it, my life – or anything like it – is totally invisible in the show. Mark my words: I will watch this season to the bitter end, even if it means the continued destruction of my social life. But when it ends I will be left thinking: if I can get ~obsessively~ on board with a relationship as preposterous as Ellie and Charlie’s, why can’t more people get on board with mine?

@millyabraham