There’s finally a lesbian relationship on “90 Day Fiancé.” Let me say that one more time: THERE’S FINALLY A LESBIAN RELATIONSHIP ON “90 DAY FIANCÉ.”
In case you haven’t seen the best reality show on TLC, allow me to break it down for you. “90 Day Fiancé” follows U.S. citizens as they venture to move their long-distance romantic partners from another country to the U.S. on a K-1 visa, which requires the couples to get married within 90 days in order for the non-American to remain in the country. The couples have usually been long-distance dating for a while, complete with FaceTime dates and risqué texts. Throughout the show, they upgrade to meeting in person for the first time, move in together, and then (if it all works out) getting married.
Some of these couples are deeply in love and determined to make it work, despite the physical distance and cultural differences. Other couples appear to be in thinly disguised sugar mama/sugar daddy arrangements. As you can imagine, catfishing occasionally takes place, and there is all the contrived drama and suspense that one expects out of a reality show. Every couple always has one person with a ~deep dark secret~ that they, for some reason, never admit until they’re being filmed for TV, like a secret prison record or a long lost husband.
But throughout seven seasons of “90 Day Fiancé” and a whopping six spinoff shows — including my personal faves “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” and “90 Day Fiancé: The Other Way” — every single couple on the show has had one thing in common: They are very, very straight. Heterosexuality seems almost built into the show’s DNA, which is strange when you think about it, because long-distance longing, grand leaps of faith for love, and committing to each other way too quickly are all quintessential parts of lesbian culture. (I feel the same way about Netflix’s “Love Is Blind.”)
And now, TLC has finally caught up with the times. I was in the middle of watching the premiere of the latest “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” and pining about how there should totally be a lesbian cast member when a preview montage showed two women having an argument. “IS THAT A GAY COUPLE?!” I screamed.
Indeed, it was. Season four of “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” features the series’ first-ever same-sex couple.
Stephanie Matto, 29, is a YouTuber and social media influencer who lives in Yonkers, New York. Her girlfriend Erika Owens, 24, is a rainbow-haired photographer who lives all the way in Australia. As viewers find out in the first few episodes of the season, Stephanie and Erika are both bisexual, and Stephanie’s not yet out to her parents.
As if that doesn’t make her relationship with Erika loaded enough, Stephanie has aplastic anemia, a rare bone marrow disorder that makes it risky for her to travel by plane — but she’s planning to fly to Australia to meet her girlfriend anyway. As she says on the show, “Erika is worth this big risk, because we have this intense connection I’ve never felt with anybody before.” The couple met after Erika slid into Stephanie’s DMs, and they’d been talking for about a year when the show began filming.
Stephanie and Erika’s storyline is still just getting started, and I don’t want to spoil too much of it for you, but they’re the BEST COUPLE BY FAR in this season’s otherwise-very-straight cast (okay, maybe I’m biased). The show doesn’t shy away from Stephanie and Erika’s sexualities and coming-out journeys, and their struggles are relatable to closeted or formerly-closeted queers.
Stephanie explained her decision to come out on national TV in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “I felt like this was a way of doing it that was so gutsy and just so crazy that there would be no possible way for me to go back because I’ve had one foot out the closet and one foot in the closet for so many years,” she said. “I almost came out so many times.” Viewers see some of these false starts on the show when Stephanie, who was born in the Czech Republic, struggles to tell her mom that she might not marry a man as expected. “We are treading uncharted waters,” she added to New York Post. “Erika’s my first serious female relationship.”
Look, it’s not like I needed queer representation on “90 Day Fiancé.” This absolutely absurd and definitely problematic reality show is not where I go to see myself reflected. It’s where I go to escape. I want to yell at the couples on-screen about all the things they do wrong, and for that purpose, the show’s dysfunctional hetero couples are *chef’s kiss* perfection.
But then, where can I go for queer representation? Not very many places. I’ll take it where I can get it, and sometimes, representation is even more meaningful when it’s completely unexpected. It’s one thing to see queer women on “The L Word” — it’s an entirely different thing to see them in a random reality TV show or a cheesy romantic comedy. When queer women pop up in media spaces that have always been presumed straight, it can feel like a special breed of representation, because it’s a more truthful depiction of real life. Queer women don’t live off on an island all by ourselves; we live regular lives among regular people doing regular things. Yet, in most TV shows and movies, we’re utterly nonexistent. Because so many of the most addictive reality shows revolve around dating and sex, this invisibility is especially glaring.
In that sense, it’s really great to see a lesbian relationship on this season of “90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days.” Now I can yell at the gays on-screen, too!!!
Also, visibility is always helpful. Stephanie says she hopes to encourage others by sharing her story. As a YouTube personality, she has plenty of experience doing that. “I’m a storyteller, and I like being open and honest and vulnerable because I want to make people feel less alone,” she said. “There’s a lot of stigma in the LGBTQ community, but there’s also a lot of stigma for bisexuals. For a lot of people, it’s not taken seriously — even within the LGBTQ community, it’s like, ‘Oh, why can’t you just choose?’” She added that there’s “lots of issues tackled this season” on the show.
On being the first same-sex couple on “90 Day Fiancé,” Stephanie said, “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure; you don’t want to let anybody down. You don’t want to let down the LGBTQ community and a part of me wants to be like, great representation for this community, but also I think we all just need to realize we’re just like any other couple. We’re gonna have just similar problems to all the other couples on the show.”
If that means either Stephanie or Erika are going to unveil a ~deep dark secret~ halfway through the season, well, frankly, I can’t wait.
“90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days” airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. EST on TLC.