Demi Burnett came out as bisexual on TV. When cameras stopped rolling, a ‘life-changing’ diagnosis helped her heal

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In the 20 years since The Bachelor first premiered, there have been hundreds of singles joining the show in search of love. But few have left a mark like Demi Burnettthe bubbly Texan who competed for Colton Underwood’s heart in season 23 before starring Single in Paradise 6 in 2019. It was during the last series set on an island that Burnett revealed that he had been dating a woman, Kristian Haggerty, who ended up joining the series. Although they have since parted ways, the two women made history as Bachelor Nation’s first same-sex relationship to appear on air and become engaged during the show’s season finale.

While Burnett, who returned to single in paradise In the past year, she’s proud of her sexuality and the barriers she’s broken, telling Yahoo Life that “coming out on national TV” also took a toll on her mental health. “All this embarrassment was in the back of my mind during filming,” the 27-year-old says of the “disgusted” response she predicted her family would have to her bisexuality.

“[I was] so paranoid about what my family thinks,” she recalls of the experience of filming. “I’m thinking about my grandfather and my grandfather watching me kiss a girl and him thinking about shooting me for it. Like, I’m so stressed and so scared and so ashamed and guilty and just [having] so many feelings.”

Drinking helped the now-sober Burnett “mask” those emotions, but their relationship suffered, she says, because the stress and embarrassment she felt made her “constantly cranky” and uncomfortable showing affection to her partner. Once she left the show, her fears of being disowned by her family proved to be justified.

“I walk out and everyone comes up to me like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so brave. How did you do it? This is amazing!'” she says, adding, “I wish my family would see that.” I wish the people I was forced to love and loved me in a shitty way, I wish they thought that. I wish they would celebrate me. They still don’t. world is like ‘Demi rocks. We love Demi. And, like, my own family still doesn’t.”

Demi Burnett on autism, coming out, and the pressures of reality TV.  (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Demi Burnett on autism, coming out, and the pressures of reality TV. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

In February, Burnett announced on Instagram that he had undergone a psychiatric evaluation that determined he was autistic. More specifically, he identifies himself as “100% PDA” or pathological demand avoidance, a profile of the autism spectrum disorder characterized by resistance to the demands and expectations of others. Burnett says that he has difficulty when he perceives a lack of autonomy or control in a situation.

“Autonomy, for me, is not [that] I love you; it is [that] my nervous system is activated if I don’t have it”, he explains. “I get to fight or flight if I don’t have it. So it seems like I’m that person who always has to win the argument, who always has to say something, who just can’t let it go or whatever. That’s because my nervous system won’t let me stop until I win, until I feel like we’re balanced.”

Learning about PDA helped her clear up her long-standing mental health issues, dating back to her teens. Be in The Bachelor put those fights in the background and made her forget “how bad I was and how bad I felt because [was] so consumed with the current moment.” She began self-medicating with alcohol, using alcoholic beverages to numb any feelings of anxiety or awkwardness around others. But even after sobering up, she was still “asking for help,” she says.

Increasingly anxious about social situations, Burnett spent the beginning of the year isolated from the world at large. Desperate for answers, she turned to Google, where she stumbled across research on autism in women. For Burnett, the information she uncovered reinforced something she had long suspected.

“In college, I suspected I was autistic, and I told people in my life, because I had always been asking for help with mental health, always begging to go to therapy, begging for help, and no one would help me.” she says. “Then I thought, ‘I figured it out. I think I’m autistic’. And everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, no, no, no, no.’ And they made me feel ashamed and stupid for thinking that and finding this out about myself: I should have been commended for finding out. And so he ended up shutting me down. I doubted myself, I hated myself and I drank and I drank and I drank. “

His revelation, almost a decade later, has been “life changing” and “healing”. Burnett has come to find a community of women who can relate to her feelings and experiences. She now feels less alone and says that she no longer wonders “what’s wrong with me?” It has helped her anxiety levels.

These days, Burnett focuses on self-love, something she describes as treating herself as kindly as she would someone else, and leaning into her most authentic self. The latter is especially hard to come by after her long stint in reality TV, an industry where a lack of mental health support and relentless editing can create “a toxic relationship with yourself,” she says.

“I’d say reality stars have it pretty rough, and anyone who’s not a reality star will laugh at that, but that’s what happens,” Burnett maintains. “You take people who are not in the industry, who have no idea what the industry is like, who have fantasized and glorified the industry in their minds. It’s like Disneyland to me, baby. And you take me and you use that naivety. You use that curiosity and that excitement and all of this to get some good TV out of me… And you’re just going to show it to millions of people and never, ever, ever worry about how any of it’s going to affect me.”

While Burnett considers that “it’s gone easy” in terms of his own portrayal, he says reality show producers will generally “throw us to the wolves” by misrepresenting situations or “manipulating” cast members.

“It’s just not healthy,” she says. “And all the while, people are telling you how thankful you should be and that no one feels bad for you because you had the chance to be on TV. ‘You signed up’. And it’s like, ‘I didn’t sign up for all this deception. And I didn’t sign up for all this betrayal.

—Video produced by Jacqui Cosgrove.

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