Interview with Kayla Ferrel from “America’s Next Top Model”

AE: There are the violent psychopaths on The Bad Girls Club who, you know, punch each other in the face and get drunk and don’t wear pants or whatever. It’s nice that you were there, on TV, saying yeah, I’m gay and I’m a normal person and this is me.
KF: I’ve caught a couple of episodes of The Bad Girls Club and yeah, they don’t represent us well.

AE: I watch it and I’m not sure how I’m the same species as them sometimes. If I was on that show, I would just sit in a corner and cry while they threw stuff at me.
KF: [laughs] "You’re weak!"

AE: Yeah, and I’m cowering, like, "I’m just trying to read a book, why are you hitting me?" But anyway, visibility is super important, especially positive visibility. I think it’s terrific that all season long you were very open. Even at the end, you talked about going back to your girlfriend. Then there was the photo session about "bullying," where you had a word written on you that had been used in the past to make you feel bad about yourself, and a "power" word to use to counteract that. [Kayla's words were "queer" and "free."]
KF: Like I said, there are a lot of things that are behind the scenes and honestly, the word I had chosen was not "queer." It was a more offensive word, you know what I mean? They felt like it was too strong for TV and they wanted to edit it and give me one that would be better for television. Apparently "queer" is okay to say. I just felt like, you know, it isn’t fair. We need to raise awareness about gays, bisexuals, transgendered, lesbians … about how we’re all really treated. We deserve the same rights, we deserve to be treated as people, not as if we’re just our sexuality. So the fact that I was taking this step to come out and do this and say all this, and then I felt like I was being put back a little bit because of it was frustrating to me.

AE: Was it "dyke"? Was that the word?
KF: Yeah. And that was offensive for TV.

AE: Oh, so they don’t want people to really know how offensive it is, and what the realities of homophobic bullying are. They wanted mild offensiveness, so they wanted "queer."
KF: Yeah, exactly, because that’s not too offensive.

AE: They didn’t want to offend straight America.
KF: Exactly, that’s what it felt like.

AE: You talked a lot about what a hard time you had in school when people found out you were gay. What was your coming out like? What about your friends and family?
KF: Gay people probably say this all the time, that there’s never any "right" time to come out. I had my first serious girlfriend when I was a freshman in high school. I would go out and hang out with my girlfriend outside of school and I’d be gay, but then when I went back to school, you know, I was straight with all my friends because I’d known them since middle school or elementary school and I was afraid of how they’d react to me. It started getting out there — you know, you can’t hide for too long without people who know you finding out. They started making little comments like "Oh, there goes that gay girl over there" or "There goes that dyke over there" and things like that, and it just got to the point where every friend that I’d had, I no longer had.

I felt really alone at school, so I ended up transferring schools. People started to want to fight me because they felt like I was lying about who I was, which I felt was none of their business. So for my senior year I went to a new school and was completely out. My family knew … well, my mom knew. Everybody knew. To me, my mom is my family, so …

AE: Was she cool with everything? How did that go?
KF: Oh no, she kicked me out. She got comfortable with it over time, but it took her some time. My mom’s religious and she had a hard time accepting and a hard time understanding it. But she’s come around, you know, she’s watched me be gay on TV every single day, and at the end of every episode she still says, "Oh Kayla, I’m so proud of you." Whereas two years ago she would’ve hidden under a rock.

AE: Has she met your girlfriend? Have you gotten to that point?
KF: Umm, we’re not that close but we’re getting there. We’re talking about it for Thanksgiving so we’ll see how that goes.

AE: That’s really cool that she’s coming around. You’d hope that everyone’s parents would — that even if at first they think their kid being gay is the end of the world, they soon forget all that and realize it’s wrong and love their child regardless.
KF: I read something that came out when I was filming Top Model, about how most teens who commit suicide … it’s because they’re gay and they’re simply not accepted. That’s why … well, originally … what you didn’t see is that my initial word was "Big Bird." My uncles and people like that used to call me Big Bird because they said I had a big nose and I needed to grow into my nose. That was my word I used, how I was made fun of. Then I started thinking to myself, there’s a way bigger picture that I need to be … I realized at that point what my whole reason for being on the show was, and that was to be an advocate for my community.

I’m really passionate about my community and I said it a million times to the girls on the show — they probably got so sick of my spiel about how my dream would be to be Top Model and to also be able to speak at Prides and other places, to speak to kids and gay-straight alliances in high schools. That would make me feel like the most successful person on Earth, to be able to do things like that. That’s why I chose that word.

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