“America’s Next Top Model”: the Queerest Place on Primetime



Later at the Top Model house, Kim gathers with several other girls around the swimming pool, where she is asked, “Are you a full-on lesbian? Like, you’re not bi?” Kim admits that she only dates girls, but that she has a girlfriend (with whom she’s in an open relationship) and that “I’m not gonna hit on anyone here, that’s crazy.”

Eighteen-year-old Sarah, from Boonville, Missouri, immediately offers, “I’ll make out with you, Kim.” And in her videotaped confession Sarah adds, “Being from a small town, I don’t know any full-blown lesbians. But I’m open about everything.”

She shows just how open she is when, in the limo on the way back from a disastrous runway show, she launches herself at Kim and begins to kiss her. Though initially taken aback, Kim is quick to respond, and after their makeout session (lovingly captured on camera for several lingering seconds) Kim announces, “One down, 11 to go!”

There are likely many reasons behind the contestants’ acceptance of—and even desire for—Kim as a “full-blown lesbian.” First, Kim appears friendly, and does not seem to be defensive or confrontational about her sexual identity. This sets her apart from the first season’s Ebony Haith, whose lesbian identity was worn more defensively (although she also faced more homophobia).

Second, Kim’s boyish good looks place her in a sexual category that teenage girls understand and are not threatened by: the cute boy next door. This distinguishes her from both Ebony and bisexual Michelle from last season, who was less certain of her sexuality and lacked Kim’s confidence.

This means that for the first time ever on broadcast television, we have all the dynamics in place for a show in which lesbianism is portrayed with much more of a genderqueer sensibility than ever before. Kim’s masculinity is accepted and embraced by both the judges and the contestants, and that masculinity also makes it easier for the other contestants to think of her as a sexual being.

Let’s face it: When straight girls do fall for lesbians, they’re often likely to fall for a butch or genderqueer lesbian, because they’ve been raised to believe that masculinity is attractive. Why do heterosexual women everywhere thrill to the sight of Shane on The L Word? Because Shane kind of looks like a man—but there’s the added thrill of knowing that she’s a woman. That’s a decidedly queer thrill that involves transgressing gender boundaries.

It’s too early to make an accurate guess about whether Kim is likely to win the competition. She’ll have to do more than have short hair—she’ll also have to learn to walk in high heels, something that seems to seriously conflict with the judges’ demands that she focus on her masculine identity. But while Kim is on the air, Top Model will be one of the very few places on primetime television where it’s not only okay to be queer, it’s supported and even celebrated. That’s certainly rare.

America's Next Top Model airs Wednesdays at 9pm on UPN. Find more articles, plus recaps, polls, and links, in our America's Next Top Model section

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