Given this history of invisibility for butch lesbians, the fact that Top Model includes an openly gay contestant who is not traditionally feminine in appearance is nothing short of incredible. This is one of the first times that Americans will have the opportunity to have a woman who actually looks queerâ€”and who openly expresses her sexualityâ€”in their living rooms every week.
Even more importantly, Tyra Banks and the other judges on the show are openly supportive of Kimâ€™s non-traditional appearance, and have consistently praised her â€œmasculineâ€ look from the first time she appeared, during a first-episode posing challenge when Kim and another contestant are asked to give a â€œsupermodel sexyâ€ pose. In a side-by-side contrast that must have been planned, both Kim and the other contestant wear neckties, but Kim wears pants while the other girl wears a miniskirt.
When openly queer judge J. Alexander assesses their poses, he approvingly describes Kimâ€™s pose as a â€œvery masculine sexy.â€
During the finalistsâ€™ first judging panel, all of the judges criticize Kim for attempting to be feminine rather than relying on her masculine appeal. Tyra Banks tells her, â€œYouâ€™re trying to be something that youâ€™re not. Youâ€™re trying to be so sexy and so girlie and you look like a man in a dress, girl. Go with your strong masculinity. Thatâ€™s what brought you here.â€
The judgesâ€™ acceptance of Kimâ€™s masculineâ€”or at least androgynousâ€”look is not surprising, given the past winners of the show. Other than Adrianne from the first season, all previous Top Model winners have been somewhat androgynous in appearance. In season two, Yoanna won after having her long hair chopped off into an edgy, moldable fauxhawk during her makeover. In season three, Evaâ€”also short-hairedâ€”won the competition, and has since been dogged by rumors of a lesbian relationship with Missy Elliott (repeatedly denied).
Season fourâ€™s winner, Naima, entered the competition with her Mohawk already in place, and is arguably the most queer-looking winner to date. If we go by hairstyle as a predictor of Top Model success, then Kimâ€”and Lisa, the edgy 24-year-old from L.A.â€”currently have the best chances of winning this season.
The show's first openly queer contestant, Ebony Haith from Cycle 1, was not exactly super-feminine, but she didn't really have an androgynous or masculine look. Cycle 4's Michelle Deighton, who came out as bisexual on the show, was on the more conventionally feminine end of the scale (at least in appearance).
Whatâ€™s more surprising than the judgesâ€™ support of Kim is the fact that the other contestants seem to be fascinatedâ€”and titillatedâ€”by her sexual identity. Nineteen-year-old Kyle, a former Dairy Queen manager from Dexter, Michigan, says to the panel during the first episode, â€œI met a girl, Kim. Sheâ€™s a lesbian. Iâ€™ve never met a lesbian before.â€
As Kyle says the word â€œlesbian,â€ J. Alexander gives a thumbs-up, and Tyra responds, â€œYou have, you just donâ€™t know that they were,â€ helpfully underlining the fact that lesbians exist everywhere.