'Couples are matched by 'experts' and meet for the first time with a kiss before entering the Masseria'CARLO ALBERTO BURATO ON UNSPLASH

When Eastenders aired the first gay kiss on British television in 1989 the show was met with complaints and protest. Five years later, in 1994, Brookside depicted the UK’s first lesbian kiss on screen, significantly before the watershed. These landmarks have been followed by increased visibility for queer people on our screens, but there is undoubtedly a long way to go before our presence is fully normalised. The latest development in this timeline of queer kisses is the BBC’s groundbreaking new reality TV series I Kissed A Boy. Series one finished airing last month, and its overall reception has been a strongly positive one. It has made history as the UK’s first gay dating show, offering a generous serving of queer joy that embraces the beloved chaos and drama of the Love Island formula.

“A generous serving of queer joy that embraces the beloved chaos and drama of the Love Island formula”

I Kissed A Boy is a bold, vibrant and exciting new reality TV show. Couples are matched by ‘experts’ and meet for the first time with a kiss before entering the Masseria (an Italian farmhouse). As the series progresses, they participate in ‘kiss-offs’ where Dannii Minogue appears and tells the contestant that they must decide whether to turn around and kiss their match, or to hold back and give their kiss to another boy. The aim is that, at the end of the series, the men will decide whether or not they want to publicly commit to their partner in front of their families and friends.

I was initially concerned that the premise would feel like too much of a gimmick, even conveying a sexualised image of gay culture. However, these fears were soon abetted after the first episode; despite the forced nature of this initial meeting, the couples seem to fall into step quickly. This sense of authenticity partly comes from the diverse line-up of contestants; whilst there is always room for more inclusion, it is clear that I Kissed A Boy has worked to counter some of the recurrent criticisms of representation lobbied at other dating shows. Subomi deascribes his experience of coming out in Nigeria, where homosexuality is still illegal, whilst Josh, who was raised Mormon, enters the Masseria having never kissed a man before. The premise of the dating show is far from true to life, yet this is also part of its appeal - putting a group of gay men in a Masseria creates a unique queer space not often found in real life.

The show allows for queer people to be presented as diverse and individual, avoiding the one-dimensional portrayals that tend to overpopulate their representations in mainstream media. Viewers of Ru Paul’s Drag Race are no stranger to vulnerable moments in the Werkroom, where tales of growing up queer, navigating gender identity and experiences of trauma bring contestants closer together. I Kissed A Boy also features such moments of rawness and honesty; Mikey feels able to open up about a testicular cancer diagnosis, whilst Ollie discusses the mental toll of body image and beauty standards in the gay community. He discusses how dating app culture can desensitise experiences of sex, dating and romance - it’s a moment of sensitivity that balances out the chatty and confident persona he otherwise projects. During a game of Truth or Dare, Gareth, easily one of the boldest and most likeable contestants, chooses to discuss his difficult experience coming out in Northern Ireland. Flirtatiousness and fun is allowed to coexist with true honesty and vulnerability.

“Flirtatiousness and fun is allowed to coexist with true honesty and vulnerability”

More than anything the show has brought a refreshing sense of excitement to our screens, embodying everything that is so great about BBC Three. It’s not been done before on British television, and it certainly raises the question of where we will go from here when it comes to queer representation. With its overwhelmingly positive reception the show has proven that there’s an audience for more reality TV shows that centre queer people. Audiences have relished the drama, but also, it seems, have valued seeing people like themselves participating in the beloved reality TV show format. Whilst watching with my flatmates we questioned what a Sapphic dating show would look like, and sure enough, a season of I Kissed A Girl has recently been announced and is currently in the casting process. The trail has certainly been blazed and the future is exciting.


Mountain View

Gender Wars: Where are the trans voices?

Queer people need and want to see themselves in the messy, drama-filled reality TV show format, and I Kissed A Boy certainly delivers. There is plenty of indecision and rejection - but it’s also flirty, fun and provides much-need escapism from the stress of Easter term. If you missed it during exams it’s about time you caught up.

I Kissed A Boy is currently available on BBC iPlayer