Another Shot At Love

Dani Campbell was America’s first lesbian girl next door

America loves reality television, but when MTV’s Shot at Love premiered, giving viewers the first bisexual reality dating show, well, shock and awe was a more apt description of their response.

Each week as Tila Tequila, a woman whose claim to fame was being the No. 1 girl on MySpace, put a host of girls and guys through rather degrading tests like pudding wrestling and bull testicle eating, lesbians were alternately compelled and repelled.

Either way we were glued to the set. Clearly, we were rooting for the girls—after all, MTV had split the show up by gender (lesbians vs. the boys)—but within a few episodes it was clear we were rooting for one girl: firefighter Dani Campbell.

A sweetly soft butch (who uses the word “futch” to describe herself), Dani is the country’s first lesbian girl next door. Everyone from little girls to middle-aged men to aging grandmothers adore her. Even her own grandmother, Pat, who died after the show aired but is forever immortalized for getting a lap dance from Tequila, was a fan.

“Grandma had the best couple of months after the show,” she says. “All she would talk about was the show and how she couldn’t believe that so many people liked her. She cried with joy when she talked about some of her fans.”

No fan base is more fiercely devoted, of course, than lesbians. After the finale, in which Tequila chose Bobby, a boy from Boston, over Dani, we were ready to pull her into a warm embrace known as lesbocelebrityhood. No need, though, as Dani was already a superstar.

Today, Dani plays up her suave side for CURVE (think big car, fat stogie and a fly suit) but remains the girl everyone wants to love.

I’ve watched the show from the beginning, half fascinated and half repelled. Did you watch it in playback, while it was airing?

Yeah, that’s the first time I see it too, every time it comes on Tuesday night.

Has watching it play changed your feelings about the experience for you?

No, it didn’t really change. It was just fun to see how everyone’s character played out, you know? Just to see how it plays on TV. It didn’t change the experience, but it kind of brought it together. It turned it into a story, so that was pretty cool.

The butch phobia that was happening at the beginning of the show so perfectly represents what we actually see in our culture. I was wondering, how much of that did you feel? How was that experience for you?

I train myself. When I first came out as gay, it wasn’t as comfortable—I wasn’t as comfortable as I am now. So, when I meet new people—and some people tend to judge right off the bat—I’m just used to that. I’m just used to people being like “Oh, what are you, a lesbian?” It’s okay, because I know once this person learns a little bit more about [lesbians]…once they get to know you and see what you are and you’re just a regular person…all those stereotypes are broken. They don’t judge anymore. They don’t judge as much as they did in the beginning. It got different toward the end.

It was kind of interesting in those situations where the guys would treat you like “one of the guys” and the girls would treat you like “one of the guys.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah [laughs]. That’s usually how it works.

Initially, Tila said, “I don’t know about dating a girl who doesn’t wear high heels and makeup.” But by the end of the series she was saying that you were the best of both worlds.

And that just goes to breaking down stereotypes, you know? Tila was basing it off of what she sees about somebody, but then she realized it’s a combination, mentally and physically. I broke lots of stereotypes about butchier lesbians.

When you were going into the final decision, how were you feeling at that point?

I was feeling good. I was always confident during all of the eliminations just because I felt like I had a lot to offer and I felt the connection that Tila and I had even though the cameras weren’t always on us. We had a different connection than anyone else did. I just had that confidence, and it just kept me there until the end. When it was just Bobby and I left, there was a 50-50 chance. Either I was going to get it or I wasn’t. I knew it was one or the other. At that point there were only two options.

I love how absolutely outraged fans still seem to be that Tila chose Bobby over you. At this point, how do you feel about her decision?

I have to respect her for her decision. Do I think it was the right one? No. I think Tila picked Bobby thinking that I was too “settled” in my life. You know, a good job, a tubby dog, a house, blah, blah, blah. She obviously didn’t spend enough time really getting to know me. I like to live by the seat of my pants. I love traveling and getting into all sorts of crazy fun. She said she thought my life was settled? I like to think of it as stable.

I think a lot of lesbians were shocked. Were you crushed?

I was totally blindsided by the ending. Even Bobby was in shock. We both thought Tila was going to pick me. I wasn’t crushed though. I was sad, but I wasn’t crazy in love or anything. I try to approach every obstacle I face with optimism. I believe that if you’re in a relationship with someone and they don’t choose to be with you, then you should walk away with your head held high and let go. You can’t make someone feel something they don’t. No need making yourself unhappy trying. Instead, spend time with yourself and begin the healing process. That’s what I do.

Did you feel foolish for pouring your heart into it and then getting rejected on national TV?

I had absolutely no regrets about this show. I chose to be on TV, so I knew what could happen. My dirty laundry out for everyone to see. Whatever. I don’t see it as being rejected. I know she had a tough decision to make. It’s like picking your favorite dessert, molten chocolate cake, or tiramisu. You like both, but you can only have one.

You couldn’t talk with anyone about it. How did you cope?

I like to believe that I’m a pretty headstrong kid. I like to say “kid” ‘cause I’m getting up there. I used to have this thing as a child where I wouldn’t talk to anyone about my problems. That led me to do a lot of problem-solving myself. As I got older and wiser I learned that talking to people is much healthier. Unfortunately, I signed a huge contract stating I wouldn’t open my mouth to anyone until the end of the show, or I would be working for MTV until I was 127. It was pretty difficult at first, but it actually became a little fun teasing my friends every time the show would come on. It was doubly difficult because I couldn’t date either. Oh, the price we pay for love.

When they announced that they had broken up, was a part of you vindicated? Did you secretly think, yeah, that wouldn’t have happened if you had picked me?

I was a little shocked that it happened so quickly. It just seemed strange to me. One minute Tila is in love and the next, she has another show already. Whoa. I know I said earlier to move on if someone doesn’t like you, but geez, that’s fast, Tila! Sorry, Bobby.

There have been a lot of debates over this. Why do you think Tila picked Bobby?

Bobby was a really sweet guy. There was this childish innocence to everything that was new to him, and that happened to be a lot. Like sushi, for example; he hadn’t eaten sushi ever before this show. I eat sushi every day so I guess that’s why that sounds absurd to me, but Tila found things like that endearing. Whatever. It seems she enjoyed the fact that Bobby was this big kid that she could show the world to. I guess he’s like that for a reason though, because look what happened when it came time to deal with her “crazy” lifestyle. Poor Bobby ate all that bull cock and balls for nothing.

There was a lot of debate off-screen about how real the show was, which happens with all of these dating shows. How real was it to you? Was it an act for you or were you living your emotions the way that they seem on the screen?

When I got there you can see how I’ve changed, as a viewer. You know at the beginning I wasn’t trying to be all out there, making myself look crazy, trying to get attention. It wasn’t there for me in the beginning. It was like, I don’t really mind, whatever. I don’t really care if you pick me. And then once I got to know her, I started changing my ways. I moved in, I put a kiss on her on the camping trip. I just stepped it up a little bit because I realized I really did like her. So, it’s not scripted. Everybody thinks it is, but it’s really not. More or less, the producers are just coaching us, like, stay on track. They know what the viewers want to see.


Dani CampbellWere there people who you think played a little bit differently on TV than they did in real life?

No. Everything that you saw was the way it was. I mean people were as crazy as it looks.

What was your hope going on this show? Initially, what were you thinking?

Initially, I was thinking, “All right, I’m just going to go there and have a great time,” like it was going to be a big party. You know, I’m living in a house with a bunch of women, so whoo-hoo. And then it ended up being more than that. I actually liked the girl.

Tell me about being inside the house, was there more camaraderie or conflict between you and the other contestants. What was the environment like for you girls?

When we first got there, we were all discussing, “OK will we all get bunks, how will we sleep?” and we are thinking we would get our own bed, or maybe even two to a bed. And then we get up there and we see this huge bed and we are like, “Oh, my God.” So that was an obstacle. It wasn’t bad for me, I mean I don’t care that much. To be in a bed with all those people, that didn’t bother me. I kind of paired up with the girls. The girls would kind of sleep together to keep the guys away from us. We all shared bathrooms and showers, but we all got along fairly well, considering.

That’s interesting, because viewers see scenarios on the screen, like Ashley having a tantrum after he got sent packing, and we wonder how much of that happened off screen as well.

Yeah, these were the high moments, the height of all the drama. That makes good TV. But for the most part we all really got along. We were just there and drinking and having a blast in the pool. The only thing—the Brandi and Vanessa thing—they were always bickering away. That was just a continuous animosity between those two.

Now that you’re famous, do you still have time to date? Do you have a new girlfriend? Or a girl in every port?

My schedule is super crazy these days, from the fire station, my clothing line, Futch Apparel, my tubby dog Titan, my house, my family, my friends, my appearances all around the country, my college tours, interviews, but after all that, believe it or not, I still have time to date. Not a girl in every port, but one at home.

How are you going to parlay your 15 minutes of fame? What are you doing with this experience?

I am trying to become more involved in community efforts, through HRC and our fight for equality and rights. It seems like I have a huge 11- to 18-year-old following and they just have a lot of questions. So if I could do some mentoring, that would be great—just to talk to kids and help them with all of their troubles and coming out. And also, educating our community that we need to vote more and we need to become more involved politically to get the rights that we deserve, that we should have been born with. I don’t need the fame to be involved in something like that, that’s just something I’ll be doing now. But also, I’m launching a new clothing line, Futch Apparel [], and this is always something I’ve wanted to do because I have such a horrible time finding clothes. So, I’m trying to make my own clothing line with a whole completely new set of sizes, like for people in between, not femme, not butch, but “futch.” And I don’t want to corner myself just marketing to women either. It’s for women and men—it’s a different size, a more unisex size.

Are you in the beginning stages with that?

Embryonic. It’s just getting off the ground. I trademarked it, so I own it. It has an LLC. We just need to get the clothing out there now. We’re in the process of interviewing designers and stuff like that.

I think there’s definitely a market there for that too.

Oh, yeah. The New York Post did a full-page article on me. People are liking this idea, and I just need to run with it quick and make sure that it happens.

Have you always wanted to move into activism, the way you’ve wanted to move into fashion? Is that something that you always saw yourself doing before this experience?

Yeah. I’ve always loved children, they actually look up to me like a role model. That puts me in a good position to influence them, you know? So they’ll be more apt to listening to what I’m trying to say because I’m Dani from the TV show. It’s crazy. It’s great, it’s a great tool since I’m trying to push something.

So many viewers were compelled by the boys vs. girls nature of Shot at Love. Do you think your fan base broke down the same way?

I think that concept was an awesome idea. It’s about time mainstream TV joined the rest of the world. My fan base is super broad, so I’m not sure how to answer that one. I think everyone enjoyed the show and that’s what matters.

A lot of lesbian viewers regarded all the femme girls as “possibly bi” and you as a “real lesbian.” Was that fair?

Of course it’s fair. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to do what makes me comfortable. For example, I have short hair, I dress in men’s clothes, I’m in good physical shape. To some, these attributes are what makes me “look” gay. To me, it’s what makes me happy. Lesbians can see this and they just assume I’m the real deal. I understand that, but my goal isn’t to be masculine. It’s just that I know what I like. I love purses and pumps, but I would just look ridiculous in these things. As for the other girls, people make the assumption that if you look girly, you must like guys. Wrong!

It seems like lesbians, in general, often have some very strong feelings about dating bisexual women. I think Shot at Love offered a forum for us to have conversations about that. I know how it was presented to the United States like “I’m bisexual and I’m going to decide if I am going to be with a man or a woman.” But, what did you experience on the other side of that?

Just because a woman like guys and girls doesn’t make me any more or less sure about the relationship. If somebody is going to leave me, they obviously don’t love me, whether it is for a boy or a girl. So, I don’t really see it as a problem, I mean, bisexual people, more power to them. They like both sexes. They have a bigger [selection of potential partners]. If anybody’s missing out, it’s me. But you know, I’ve dated bisexual women, and there’s no difference. They just like boys and girls. Whoop-di-doo.

Lesbians were clearly rooting for you from the beginning. There was a little inference that you were the “real” lesbian. We heard that a lot here at the office.