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Classic Curve: America's Next Top Queer Model

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 Interview with Out Lesbian Michelle Babin

Written by: Diane Anderson-Minshall

Her queerness certainly wasn’t a Top Model first, but before she came out as a lesbian on prime time, b-baller turned model Michelle Babin was still two of the show’s firsts: She and her twin sister, Amanda, were the first siblings to make it to the finals and the first twins in Model history. For Babin, the show was a turning point, leading the self- professed tomboy to a new career and worldwide fame. The babes, we assume, will soon follow. While making it to the final five was exciting for the novice, the fun for fans was watching her squeak by the competition one week (as when she expertly recreated both halves of lesbian couple Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi) and falling flat the next (as when she had to canoodle with hunky male model Fabio). Though an angry bull couldn’t take down this Cypress College athlete, some self-doubt finally did. CURVE caught up with Babin for a quick one-on-one about confidence, bi-curious girls and coming out.

I was actually secretly hoping to see you and Amanda would be the first siblings to win Top Model together.

I think a lot of people were hoping that. That was kind of cool.

Was it hard leaving while your sister Amanda was still there?

Yeah it was hard. I was definitely disappointed to leave. But I was glad she got to stay and represent us, so that was cool.

It seems like the judges thought that you sabotaged yourself so that Amanda could stay.

I don’t think I purposely sabotaged myself; maybe a little subconsciously. I might have been worried about how she was doing and how her performance was, because I know Nigel and Jay didn’t give her very good critiques on her photo shoots, so she was kind of in jeopardy coming into it. But I don’t think I went in there purposely thinking that I was going to sabotage myself so she could stay. Every time it came to final judges, final challenges, I didn’t do that well. I would just be honest and apparently they didn’t like that.

I think they want people who are extremely self-confident, and it’s hard to be self-confident when you’re not sure of things.

Yeah.

When the judges asked you who had the most potential, you didn’t say Amanda though.

My sister was kind of struggling with second-guessing herself and so, at the time ... she needed to pick herself up. And CariDee just kind of won the hearts of the judges through her personality, and in today’s world personality means a lot.

Was that an area you didn’t excel at?

I don’t think they disliked my personality, but I didn’t have that bubbly, attention-grabbing personality like CariDee or Melrose.

On the show, and I’m sure in real life, you and Amanda got compared a lot. Do you have parts of your life where that isn’t the case?

Actually yeah, basketball is kind of my thing and then theatre is her main thing.

I was reading your stats. It’s amazing; you’re like a six-foot tall basketball MVP with a state champion team. I was wondering why you weren’t thinking about the WNBA instead of modeling?

I’m not the star player. I’m just kind of one of the background players, so I’m OK, and I enjoy it, but it’s not something that I’m probably good enough to keep going on to the next level. But I do it for fun, and I enjoy it.

You came out on Top Model, saying that you didn’t know if you were gay or bisexual. Was that spontaneous or planned?

Yeah, it was kind of random. The directors were talking about Megan and stuff, and they brought up the question of my sexuality, and I just answered honestly. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me. I mean I guess it is a big deal, but to me it was like, it’s who I am, it’s part of me, and I don’t really care who knows.

Was it a weird experience having those conversations initially with people on camera? Many people struggle to have them in real life.

It was interesting, but it just happened. And it just wasn’t that big of a deal. I was kind of worried about how the girls would take it, but they all seemed pretty cool and they took it really well, so it was. I got lucky.

Megan Morris, another lesbian contestant, told me all the girls in the house had curiosity about lesbians and bisexuals.

Yeah, there were a couple of people who said they weren’t opposed to experimenting or whatever, but they definitely still thought they were straight. But they weren’t opposed to experimenting a little.

Do you think that’s it’s different for your generation than it was for girls your age 10 or 20 years ago?

Well it’s getting a lot more accepted in today’s culture. So it’s kind of talked about a lot more than it used to be. In the past it was like a hush-hush thing like, if you’re [gay]… don’t talk about it — kind of like the military.

Don’t ask. Don’t tell.

Don’t ask, don’t tell. Now it’s something that’s talked about. It still sets off a bad light in certain people’s eyes but, for the most part, people are getting a lot more accepting about it, so it’s kind of easier to talk about it.

One thing that’s interesting is how often message boards that just start out as fan boards about you generally can turn into debates about sexuality.

Oh yeah. I have read some stuff, like on LiveJournal and CW. And it seems like for the most part a lot of people are OK with it.

Any time someone has a problem there seem to be a dozen other people who reply with, “I like Michelle! Leave here alone. It’s OK no matter who she is.”

Yeah, it seems like some people are like, oh I would never do it, but it’s OK if someone else does. Some people are, oh hell no! I’d never do it, but it’s OK if someone else does. Which is kind of cool.

Have your feelings about sexuality changed since you made that proposition on TV?

No it’s much about the same. I’m kind of shy when it comes to relationships so I haven’t done a lot of exploring since. I don’t know, I get shy when it comes to relationships.

So, no dating yet?

No, not really.

That’s amazing in a world where there are thousands of women dying to meet you right now.

Yeah, I know, I get shy I don’t know [laughs]. I’m really a friendly person when it comes to being in a friendship. It’s really easy for me to be outgoing with friends, but when it comes to someone I like, I just get shy or something.

Is your sister shy, or is she outgoing?

Uh, no. She’s pretty outgoing. We’re both pretty outgoing, but she’s a little more outgoing than I am.

Were you a fan of reality TV before you were on Top Model?

Yeah, I like reality TV. I think some of the shows are pretty entertaining. Some of the dating shows are kind of funny.

It seems like with your skill set that there are other reality shows that you may have been better on, like Survivor or something more physical.

Oh yeah, I like Survivor, too. Survivor would have been cool to go on.

So is Top Model your last foray into entertainment or are you Hollywood bound now?

We’ll see. I haven’t really decided. I’m not going out searching for the next reality TV show that will take me, but if something comes my way I would be open to it. Right now, I’m in school playing basketball.

Since you grew up in Anaheim, Calif., the TV industry must not be too foreign to you.

No, it’s not that new. My oldest sister actually graduated from [the American Film Institute] in set design.

What does the world not know about Michelle?

I’m actually pretty basic. I’m a lot younger than Megan, so I haven’t experienced a lot in life yet.

As a tomboy being on the show, did Top Model make you rethink masculinity and feminity in any way?

No. Before Top Model, all through high school, I was a complete and utter tomboy to the end. But as I got to my senior year and in college, well, I still dress like a tomboy but I’m cool with wearing some girly things. I wouldn’t say I’m a full-on tomboy anymore but I’m still tomboyish. I won’t wear the really short skirts or the spaghetti straps, like never. I’ll go outside with a tight pair of jeans and a wife-beater. It’s not like I’m a full-on tomboy, but I still got the tomboy style.

I think that’s more popular right now, actually.

Yeah I do too.

I think girls are lucky in that way because they can wear more masculine clothes and get away with it, and men can’t ever wear feminine clothes.

Yeah, it’s looked down upon.

Back to TV. Do you think it’s doing a good job of reflecting diversity and modern women?

It still is TV. I mean some of the times we’d get into great conversations on the show — I remember during casting we got into a great political debate and ... of course, they [only] showed the drama. A lot of the girls had many more sides to them; they had opinions and they had things they would love to talk about. We’d get into arguments about random things and they were all interesting things and I was like, oh, I’d like to see that on TV. But most people would rather see Monique crushing chips and talking on the phone for hours.

That’s definitely a sad statement about our culture.

Well, it’s entertainment. They definitely showed people accurately — their personalities — but editing is a big part [of Top Model]. I think they’re doing an OK job.

I’m interested by how fascinating Top Model is to queer women and feminists who would never be caught dead reading fashion magazines. Have you noticed that?

Yeah, a lot of people who I wouldn’t expect are fans of Top Model. Like some guys who are totally straight, hard-core guys are like, oh yeah, I watch it with my girlfriend, it’s pretty entertaining.

Why do you think it has that universal appeal?

Um, I think it appeals to girls because of the fashion aspect and guys because they like girls.

Because they like hot girls. Maybe that’s the appeal for lesbians as well.

And it is real people so I guess that’s kind of a cool aspect.

How does it feel to go from just months ago saying, “Gee, maybe I think I’m gay or bisexual” on TV to being featured in the largest lesbian magazine?

It’s pretty cool. I guess I’m an inspiration to some for coming out on TV, but to me it wasn’t a really big deal. It was just me being honest. I’m glad I could do that.