On Sedgwick’s ‘Homosocial Desire’

Is Bachelor in Paradise just really gay?:

Eve Sedgwick’s 1985 treatise, ‘Between Men’ centralises an idea of male “homosocial desire”. The term is something of a paradox: referring to both the tendency for our society to be structured around male relationships, and the demand that these relationships be characterised by “intense homophobia, fear and hatred of homosexuality”.

What Sedgwick proposes is that there is a “potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual”, whereby homosocial desire will often come to the fore through male/ male/female love triangles. What I’m proposing is that the Bachelor in Paradise is not only really good, but also really super gay, and totally full of the sort of homosocial desire that Sedgwick is talking about.

Bachelor in Paradise achieves most of its drama through love triangles. These love triangles are most commonly situated in a male/male/female configuration; whereby two men will fight over one woman (think Davey/Jake/Flo, Jarrod/Mac/Ali, etc). The men actually spend little time with the objects of their obsession; in reality, spending their days in gender segregated groups, discussing their love interests, until permitted to participate in a mandated “date”, set up by production.

Sedgwick believes that the tensions inherent to homosociality (whereby close male bonds are required for the maintenance of male power/ patriarchy, but these bonds must carefully avoid treading into male sexual desire) are commonly expressed through such “love triangles”; whereby “women serve as the conduits through which these bonds are expressed” and that “ this triangle may portray as rivalry what is actually an attraction between men”.

Episode 8 of Bachelor in Paradise centres around a love triangle between Michael, Luke and Lisa. Luke and Lisa have been seeing each other since the beginning of the show. However, in this episode, Michael decided that he too was interested in Lisa. He didn’t express this to Lisa, but instead spoke to the camera about how he needed to “man up” and give Lisa a rose at the next rose ceremony (expressing romantic interest in her). When Michael did eventually speak to Lisa, directly before the ceremony, Luke watched the conversation from afar, appearing increasingly confused and distressed. The tension between Michael and Luke was palpable.

Immediately after electing to give Lisa the rose, Michael returned to being totally preoccupied by Luke – beginning to cry, and shouting “I’m a dog mate. I dogged my mate”.

Diana Sargentin writes in “American Masculinity and Homosocial Behavior in the Bromance Era” that the ‘bro-code’ of popular Western culture, exists in reality to “… situate male relationships in a rule-oriented context and to uncover a male identity that is based in terms of appropriate codes and conducts of masculinity”. Was Michael crying because he just felt bad? Or was he crying because, as Sam commented later, he had “decimated the bro code” — i.e. he had decimated his own male identity?

The ‘bromance’ or ~homosocial desire~ is important to patriarchal systems, as it allows men to maintain strong bonds with one another – which are essential if they are to dominate political, corporate, social spheres etc. However, these homosocial bonds must be carefully ‘policed against the feminizing and homosexualizing influences of excessive heterosociality’ (Flood 2008) (i.e. men can’t be just friends with women). Homosociality is therefore commonly formed through ‘competition and exclusion’ (Hammarén and Johansson 2014), whereby “achieving sex with women is a means to status among men, sex with women is a direct medium of male bonding” (Flood 2008). I literally can’t think of a show where there is more weird gendered segregation than the Bachelor in Paradise: right down to the intense low-angle shots of them being separated for the rose ceremonies.

(To conclude: Bachelor in Paradise is the gayest show ever, and if you like it you’re probably gay)

This article appeared in the autonomous queer edition, Queer Honi 2018.