Down-Low Culture Is Dying. The Next Step Is to Grow Up.
Carlton Morton in “Love is Blind.” Photo: Netflix

Down-Low Culture Is Dying. The Next Step Is to Grow Up.

‘Love Is Blind’ could have changed the…

Like any great trash reality show, Netflix’s Love Is Blind knows how to trumpet its unique brand of theatrics. Every three minutes, it seems, one of its many love seekers describes the show’s process — 10 days of speed dating, followed by engagement, without the betrothed ever actually seeing each other — as an “experiment.” They’re not wrong, though “mess” might be more accurate; that’s what happens when you drop 15 men and 15 women into a contest where getting engaged is the only way to guarantee screen time. Explosive moments abound, from drunken bachelorette parties to folks reneging at the altar.

Yet, the grand messperiment also produced one of Netflix’s more cringeworthy moments in a long while — a clash that cast a rare light on the unique challenges bisexual men face in the dating world, how their ongoing stigmatization perpetuates some truly vicious cycles.

In Love Is Blind’s fourth episode, Carlton Morton and Diamond Jack (the show’s lone Black couple, which tells you something else entirely about dating shows) celebrated their engagement by taking a premarital honeymoon in Mexico — at which point things began to implode. Carlton revealed to Diamond that his dating past includes both men and women; given that he’d proposed to her days earlier, she felt blindsided. The shitshow that followed the next day was disappointing not just for what it was, but for what it wasn’t: a frank conversation about how to own your full sexual self, and how to love your partner’s.

Things really escalated when Diamond attempted to express the pain of being deceived and asked for clarity around the situation and Carlton’s sexuality. “I feel you weren’t honest with me from the get-go,” she said. He responded with aggression and defensiveness, culminating in the grand finishing move of calling Diamond a bitch and hurling her discarded engagement ring into a pool that might as well have been an ocean. She was visibly taken aback by the whole scene — so embarrassed that she could only shakily spit Beyoncé lyrics, holding back tears while leaving her fiancé behind for good.

It was awful to watch; no question there. What could have been a model for Black bisexual men coming to terms with their sexuality devolved into a deluge of stereotypical male fragility. But while some of that can likely be ascribed to editing (reality shows — where nuance goes to die!) the torrent of biphobia and sexism that Diamond and Carlton received in the aftermath speaks to a larger issue. “I’ve been called so many names,” Diamond told People in a recent interview with the former couple, more than a year after the show’s taping. “Calling me a disgusting human being. It’s crazy.” (In the same interview, Carlton claimed that the slur “slipped out,” and that it wasn’t “a direct jab.” To which: okay, fam.)

It’s simple to understand both sides of the dispute. Carlton felt he had to protect himself against a biphobic world, so he waited, perhaps too long, to reveal his romantic history. “I don’t feel like you’re going to want me after this information,” he said. The body language here is powerful: Carlton turns his back to Diamond, while she reaches out and places a hand on his back, seeking to comfort him.

After retiring for the night to gather her thoughts, Diamond, who has since said she doesn’t have much familiarity with bisexual men, sat down to talk with Carlton about keeping things inside for so long. In a confessional filmed just before the blowup, she seemed willing to love him through the relationship roadblock. She was trying to ask questions to further her own understanding of the situation and to figure out whether moving forward was feasible.

That’s all well and good, but let’s not get it twisted: The best way to address someone coming out is through gratitude. That revelation can be a beautiful moment between people who are actually interested in loving in totality. Appreciating someone for sharing their full self with you is as easy as thanking them for their trust, and doing your best to keep that trust sacred. Instant and incessant questioning implies selfishness.

Of course, the show’s intense time constraints put Diamond behind the eight ball — she got engaged to Carlton within days, long before he felt comfortable opening up about his past. Most of us aren’t in this situation. And while Diamond may not be the perfect model for this conversation, she hardly ever got the chance to be.

It’s not hard to imagine that for bi Black men the closet is an existential quagmire. Yes, it’s safe — but the walls are burning, ashes gathering around our feet as the reality of who we are seeks to be free.

Still, the scene highlights some necessary growing pains in grappling with biphobia. If we really want the end of down-low culture — to tear the closet door off its hinges for good — that means we all need to be sensitive to one another, and to the unique struggles that every sexuality experiences. And we must recognize that the closet only offers a degree of safety that is contingent upon so many other factors.

The closet is still, tragically, packed with bisexual people — especially men. Earlier this week, the hashtag #BisexualMenExist began trending on Twitter, an aftershock from the Love Is Blind dilemma. Yet a recent Pew poll found that, despite the fact that bisexual people constitute the “invisible majority” of the larger LGBTQ+ community, only 12% of bisexual men have disclosed their sexuality to loved ones.

It’s not hard to imagine that for bi Black men the closet is an existential quagmire. Yes, it’s safe — but the walls are burning, ashes gathering around our feet as the reality of who we are seeks to be free. It’s sanctuary, purgatory, and hell all at once.

What viewers witnessed on the fourth episode of Love Is Blind speaks to the insecurity that emerges when the closet and its comforts dissolve into dust. Carlton hadn’t done the work necessary to free himself of his own real inner conflicts. In some ways he was both too early and too late. But it doesn’t disqualify him from love.

That’s one of the most unfortunate aspects of this whole debacle: Diamond was ready to try if Carlton could’ve gotten out of his own head, stopped projecting, and allowed himself to be loved. He talked a big game about freeing himself to be himself, but he was still immured by the potential of Diamond not being able to see and love him fully. The biphobia he’d previously experienced didn’t allow her the space to prove him wrong and for her to learn and embrace him for the pain of his past.

Perhaps that’s the most unexpected finding of the Love Is Blind experiment: that biphobia for Black men is still very real. And if we want to move past that, we’re going to have to help each other clean up the mess.