The most surprising thing about Kim Stolz the human being is just how much she resembles Kim Stolz The Concept.
Though out lesbian Kim Stolz didn’t win the chance to live her “life as a Cover Girl” (dashing across crowded intersections while applying matte foundation, attending staged photo shoots while spouting maxims about the importance of lipstick that goes the extra mile), Kim Stolz has strategically parlayed her Concept’s fifteen minutes of mainstream reality stardom into a career which stands to outlast and benefit the LGBLTQ’s common causes far more than all kinds of LashImpact Mascara.
The Concept catwalked onto our teevee screens in 2005 in a tie and cut-offs and told Tyra Banks, “I’m out and I’m gay and I’m really proud of it,” [with trademark missed-the-pointedness, Tyra advised Kim that Tyra herself never walked down the runway yelping, “I’m black! I’m black!” and Kim should be wary of such dangerous/offensive Not Modeling Through It behaviors herself], presenting perhaps the first network-televised image ever of a strikingly beautiful boyish girl who, as Kim told Autostraddle she’s always felt, is “unwavering” in her “comfort with being gay.” And although her own parents took years to accept her sexuality, the woman we saw on teevee didn’t appear to have been rejected for anything, ever.
Kim-on-ANTM wasn’t angry or compromised or stupid. It was like she’d come to earth from some other planet or maybe even from The Future; a place where “ideals” = “laws” and lesbianism was already established as cool & good-looking & seductive and … well … I guess … totally human. To most of America, and to young lesbian women raised on aggressively idiotic & reductive reality television in particular, this Concept was a revelation.
Of course to a lot of women, Kim was important specifically because she wasn’t a revelation; she was a lot like the lesbians they knew, maybe in another liberal arts college they’d been lucky enough to attend. Finally! Someone articulate & reasonable & passionate & funny! with a background that hadn’t hardened her into the understandably furious & defensive lesbian “character” usually recruited for Reality TV shows.
And she was smokin’ hot with the kind of fashionable, consumable androgyny that excites straights and inspires entire episodes of Oprah. Or, you know … Tyra.
Kim succeeds because her approach is unthreatening enough to engage her devoted fandom and the skeptical mainstream but intelligent and uncompromising enough to deter the movement’s naysayers.
Plainly and simply and all irrelevant cattiness aside, Kim knows what she’s doing, she’s really smart, and she’s really good at being .. well… popular. Like Ellen, Kim seems to realize that mainstream entertainment media visibility truly does enable real cultural change, and that when you use that visibility to promote political and social justice and you look good doing it — you’re pretty unstoppable.
The past several months she’s been writing political commentary for The Huffington Post and True/Slant, additions to a resume that already includes MTV News correspondent and MTV-U VJ. She’s modeled for labels and stores including Abercrombie & Fitch, Brooklyn Industries, American Eagle Outfitters and Seventeen (none of which required her to dangle from a suspension cord in a gold-lycra superwoman/bird costume), among others. She reported on the 2008 Iowa Caucus and has interviewed incredibly important people like John Edwards, Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama.
This is the collision of a strong concept, a strikingly lithe & beautiful woman and a hungry, supportive community.
So Robin & I (Riese) spent a fine Friday afternoon in the Monsoon Season of our Discontent with Kim at the Manhattan apartment where she grew up and still lives. While Robin photographed and I interviewed, Alex acted as an athletic supporter, Christina did the makeup and Intern Katrina transcribed like a good little monkey.
We talk about Kim’s hopes & dreams, frustration with the binary gender system and the hostility from the community surrounding her decision to wear a dress, the politics of “outing,” Obama’s lack of movement on DOMA, social networking, being in love, modeling and so much more! She tells us stories about her totally difficult coming out process, gaydar on location, and how she got into all this in the first place … and per ushe, Robin Roemer takes amazing, beautiful photos.
Riese: How do you think you right now and what you want now is different from the Kim that walked into America’s Next Top Model four years ago?
Kim: I always wanted to do politics & international relations and to have a life in journalism, but before ANTM I hadn’t ever conceived of doing that on-air. I never cared about fame or aspired to be a public figure and I still don’t, but I do like that I’ve been able to use my tiny amount of fame to change things in some ways and to speak out for equal rights & other political causes.
The core of me is still the same — I’m still quirky and nerdy and all those things, I’m still a total news junkie. But ANTM has opened a few extra doors.
Riese: So having done a show that positioned you as an out lone lesbian in the pop culture mainstream and now working more directly with political action through your writing and television journalism, where do you feel it’s been more effective — or easier — to break ground or make progress for the issues faced by the GLBT community?
Kim: They both make progress in very different ways — the demographic I was speaking to on America’s Next Top Model is very different in a lot of ways from the people we’re speaking to through MTV News or Fox News any other network I’ve been on.
On ANTM people got to see more of my personality, my voice, who I am and what I stand for ’cause I was playing me, whereas when I write for The Huffington Post or True/Slant or MTV or I’m speaking at a rally, that’s more political & informational. Often it reaches a similar demographic which is a great opportunity to share information with them which definitely furthers the fight for gay rights.
Riese: After America’s Next Top Model, you’d said you wanted to do more modeling and acting, but when you were majoring in International Relations at Wesleyan, you had other plans — how did you get from there to here?
Kim: Well the trajectory of how it happened is actually a very interesting one. I was at Wesleyan doing my senior thesis on exit strategies and US Intervention abroad, and my friends and I were watching television on a study break, and they were telling me that I’d end up buried so deep in Washington and that I had to somehow get out and do something a little bit crazy before going to law school and ending up at a foreign policy think tank or something like that in government.
Basically I ended up losing a bet that meant going to an audition for America’s Next Top Model. Somehow I got on the show, and I did rather well, and from that, one thing led to another.
After the show I started working in a law firm, and it was like getting back to my roots and getting back to what I know. But it was also sort of strange ’cause I’d be working at a law firm by day and watching myself on television at night, and I felt that a door had been opened, and that the smartest thing to do would be for me to walk through it.
I didn’t necessarily want to model; my mom was a big-time model, and I think it’s really cool. I like it and there’s fun to be had but I really wanted to do something pertaining more to my political interests.
But I kept that on hold for a little bit. Elite Model Management found me at a party for a guy from Project Runway, which was totally random. They asked me to sign with them and I did and shortly thereafter was offered a position hosting a music show on MTV-U. I mentioned I wanted to do news and ended up signing with MTV & MTV-U for two years. Now I’m still an MTV News correspondent and MTV-U VJ, but over time I recognized that I wanted to focus more on political writing and network news hosting.
I’m definitely looking around and figuring out what my next step is going to be or what additional steps there will be.
I actually also just switched agencies and signed with Ford Models — their celebrity division and their music division too — which is exciting and fun.
Riese: Do you enjoy modeling?
Kim: I do! I enjoy modeling. It’s a very…different thing for me from what I’ve been used to my whole life. I mean, you can go through an entire day as a model and not open your mouth, which is crazy. At times it’s really stressful, at times it’s very humbling.
It’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of aspects that aren’t easy. The weight thing is very hard, especially for someone like me who likes to eat all the time. But there’s also a lot of perks and I get to meet a lot of cool people and … a lot of models! I like that.
Next … “If all of the gay actors and actresses in Hollywood came out and said they were gay, I’m sure we’d have gay marriage legal in the United States today.”
Riese: Back into politics, you wrote, about two weeks ago, about trying to give Obama the benefit of the doubt despite his lack of follow-through so far on key gay issues. Have you changed your opinion this week?
If President Obama says that these rights and decisions are best left up to the states in every way, then why aren’t we repealing DOMA? DOMA’s a complete rejection of that notion!
Kim: I’m disappointed that Obama didn’t extend full benefits to same-sex partners. I don’t understand his prerogative in limiting these benefits especially ’cause I saw a show a few weeks ago where he said something to the effect of, “I don’t know about marriage, but I want the LGBT community to have full benefits and rights.” He just absolutely went against what he said, and yeah, of course that’s disappointing to me.
If President Obama says that these rights and decisions are best left up to the states in every way, then why aren’t we repealing DOMA? DOMA’s a complete rejection of that notion! I have faith that President Obama will support equal rights for the LGBT community, but I think we might have to wait until a second term.
Riese: What do you think we should do in the meantime besides waiting for bigoted people to die? When you were offed from ANTM, a lot of people said it was ’cause America wasn’t ready for a gay Cover Girl and now Ellen’s signed with them. Do you think things are changing rapidly enough?
Kim: I think there’s a domino effect in terms of states, like Iowa legalizing gay marriage leading to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. There’s a momentum despite the fact that the federal government isn’t willing to step up at this juncture. We need to build the grassroots support in our states & communities that brought Obama into power in the first place.
So I think it’s really about a grassroots effort right now and fighting for rights on a local level, and hopefully the federal will either follow or just let it pass.
Riese: Do you expect people in the public eye to be honest?
Kim: I don’t know that anyone can expect people in the public eye to be honest when there’s so much effort to counter that.
Riese: … in an ideal world?
Kim: Sure. If all of the gay actors and actresses in Hollywood came out and said they were gay, I’m sure we’d have gay marriage legal in the United States today.
Riese: Does it drive you crazy, when you know people are gay, and they won’t admit it?
Kim: You know, it does drive me crazy in a way, but at the same time, I do respect people’s desires for privacy and to make their own choices. It’s not a gay person’s responsibility to come out. I personally think the best choice is to come out, but as much as I’d love to say there’s a social responsibility to come out to further the equal rights movement, it isn’t really actually their individual responsibility to do that.
Intern Katrina: As someone with a journalistic background, what do you think it says about the media now that “outing” someone has gone from being a huge taboo to an open non-publicized secret to now when “outing” is actually done, like with Lindsay Lohan?
Kim: I think that people are being outed in all different kinds of ways now because of the social networking world we live in. Being outed for being gay or lesbian is no different. In a sense it’s good, because it brings a typically silent issue to the table. But at the same time, everyone’s life is in the public eye, and these people may be less willing to feel free when all their actions are publicized everywhere they go. We’re at a very strange and flux time right now where we’ll have to see if this public outing and everything with gossip & Twitter & social networking & even what many news organizations are doing actually ends up being beneficial or not.
Riese: So do you like Twitter?
Kim: I like Twitter a lot, yeah. I get a lot of my news there. I enjoy it, I think it’s fun. It’s a great way to get out the things you’re doing, whether it be just for your friends or for a fan base. I think it’s a totally great tool.
Riese: Do you think that being in the public eye has affected your life negatively at all — has there been any backlash?
Kim: That’s a good question … I don’t know.
I’m not the kind of person who would look at things that way. I’d never say, “These are the bad things about my status right now.”
When I’ve been single and I’m going to a gay bar or something, there’s always the question of if someone wants to ask me out ’cause they liked who I seemed to be on America’s Next Top Model or if they actually liked me, you know? Well, it’s complicated.
Also, it’s obviously hard to read blogs that call me fat or annoying. And everyone says that I’ve given up who I am because I wear dresses sometimes. All of that really bothers me.
Riese: So what do you think about the whole feminine/masculine thing? I saw a Curve headline citing you as the first “butch” top model, which struck me as odd —
Kim: And that’s not even true! Because Ebony in the first season was butch!
Riese: How do you feel about those words, and everyone freaking out about how you have long hair and things like that?
Kim: Since I was five years old, I’ve never really cared about what people thought of me, whether it was how I looked or who I loved or anything.
Today I’m wearing a dress, and my hair is straight and long. Last week I went to an event wearing a tie and jeans that were certainly too low. It just depends on how I feel.
But it’s sometimes disappointing to me how the LGBT community — which I care about and live in — seemed to be pleased with me when I was “butch” and now there are factions of that same community that want to make fun of me or scrutinize me because they see a picture of me on the red carpet wearing a dress. MTV, Elite, Ford — they’ve never told me what to wear, how to look or how to wear my hair. It’s been my decision and being in the public eye hasn’t made me change.
If everyone could go back in my life they’d see that I’ve always fluctuated my look. Yeah, back on Top Model I had short hair and was acting a bit more androgynously, if that’s the word you want to use.
But, are you kidding? Today I’m wearing a dress, and my hair is straight and long. Last week I went to an event wearing a tie and jeans that were certainly too low. It just depends on how I feel.
People don’t seem to criticize famous straight actresses in the same way. It’s not like, “Oh G-d, Charlize Theron cut her hair and she’s all of a sudden a lesbian!”
I think that the LGBT community is very much afraid of losing some of its numbers. And I just wish they’d realize no matter how matter how I dress or look, I will always be really gay.
Riese: I’m really glad you haven’t let the media or whatever deter you.
Kim: I also think it’s important for people in Red States and more conservative communities to see a lesbian who’s not butch but might look just as feminine as one of the football player’s girlfriends.
I don’t even like the word “gender,” I don’t understand the point of it.
Riese: I mean that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do with our website. So how do you feel about this binary gender system?
Kim: I don’t believe in a gender binary. I think that there are probably an infinite number of genders that one can be, and I do mean that in an abstract way. What’s the point in trying to decide if there are two genders or three or three million? However people want to express themselves and however they feel, that’s who they are. That’s their gender, that’s their personality, that’s their sex, that’s who they are. I don’t even like the word “gender,” I don’t understand the point of it.
Riese: Do you ever feel haunted by all the ridiculous things that were said on Top Model?
Kim: You mean like when the girls talked shit about me?
Riese: Or when you’d walk offscreen and Tyra would be like, “She walks like a football player!” You know how with some girls, someone called them fat in 7th grade and they still haven’t gotten over it, what’s it like to deal with that on a national level?
Kim: I mean, I went through middle school being a total nerd, and I dressed exactly how I often dress now, which was in tapered jeans and high tops and flannel, and I wasn’t cool. And I dealt with people talking about me behind my back all the time. So on a television show that makes its ratings on drama, and, I mean, it’s a modeling show, so I certainly don’t care.
Next … “Probably one of my best skills is my gaydar …”
Riese: Give me your most adorable fan story and your most crazy weird fan story. Or something that really made you feel like you were making a difference.
Kim: Every day I get letters and Facebook messages from people telling me that watching me on MTV or Top Model helped them realize who they are and get the confidence to come out, which is great.
One of my favorite stories actually happened while I was at MTV News covering Virginia Tech one year later. Probably one of my best skills is my gaydar [laughs], and I was interviewing a freshman there and thinking, “Man, this girl is GAY!” So she’s talking about her boyfriend so of course, because of who I am, I have to check this somehow.
So I ask her for her number for a “follow-up interview” which obviously we probably don’t need. We start talking and texting back and forth — and I wasn’t hitting on her! I was actually dating someone at the time and wasn’t interested romantically, but I wanted her to come hang out with us ’cause I think everyone on that MTV News production team was gay.
So she didn’t come meet us. She texted me saying, “Oh I’m staying in tonight. Also, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I have a boyfriend,” which is funny because I was like, “Don’t flatter yourself, I’m not interested!” But obviously she knows I’m gay, and, you know, a lot of straight people think that all gay people are hitting on them. So I wrote back, “Haha, I have a girlfriend, no worries there. But I would probably keep an open mind if I were you.”
So I forgot about it.
One year later I get a facebook message; “You probably don’t remember me, but I just want to let you know that you were right.” And I was like, “Who the F is this, right?”
So I write back and I’m like “Who is this?” And she wrote back, “You interviewed me at Virginia Tech a year ago …”
And she tells me that I put this stuff in her mind, and six months later she broke up with her boyfriend, eight months later she came out, completely and totally gay, and is making pretty great changes at Virginia Tech to make them more open.
Riese: That’s awesome. So what about your crazy fans?
Kim: Um, well you know, there have been a couple of stalkers, and I’ve had to sort of…get people involved. But I also have those funny, crazy stories of girls running up to me and asking me to sign their boob, and I’m just like, “Yeah, where’s the pen!” But you know, it’s mostly just cute little stories like that.
Riese: So is there anything you’re working on now that you want to tell people about?
Kim: I’m definitely working with MTV on a couple of projects. I am working with Ford Models. I’m writing for The Huffington Post. I’m writing for a new website called True/Slant!
Riese: What’s their…slant? What’s their thing?
Kim: True/Slant is a great new political website with political commentary, and a hundred something journalists are now contributing. It’s just a nice, big group of people. It’s cool. It’s a very smart website. I like it a lot.
So there’s that, and I’ve been working with some other news networks. Oh, and I’m probably going to also take some law school classes just because I always wanted to do that, and I want to know if it’s something I do want to go into. I was going to go to law school, but I actually got the call from MTV offering me the job while I was in the Columbia Law School admissions office.
Riese: So what’s your dream project right now?
Kim: You mean like right now, or in ten years?
Riese: I guess that depends on whether you want your dreams to happen right now or on ten years.
Kim: [Laughs] Hmm. Well, my dream project changes all the time, to be honest with you.
As of right now, my dream project would be to host, write, and produce a political talk show that both brought the news to the viewer and brought many different opinions and had different pundits chiming in, and could be a compelling show in terms of opinions, but also would be fair and informational.
Riese: Have you pitched that to anyone?
Kim: I mean, I also would like to go out into the field a lot in that show. I definitely have talked to many people about getting to that place and getting to have that kind of show. I don’t think it’s realistic that I’m going to have it tomorrow, but … I think I’ll have it at some point.
Next … “It was an unbelievably hard time, but at the same time, I knew that I was right, and I knew that there was no way that what I was doing could be wrong, and I was in love.”
Riese: So when did your parents come around?
Kim: It was very gradual. I told my parents when I was 16.
Riese: You had already told your friends?
Kim: Oh, yeah. I went to a school called Brearly in Manhattan which I loved. Very open-minded, tons of lesbians, very smart and progressive school, so I was never closeted in any way. I don’t know how to be. I wear my heart on my sleeve as it is.
I knew that I was right, and I knew that there was no way that what I was doing could be wrong, and I was in love so I was okay.
I was always open with my friends. I had a girlfriend I was really excited about — that feeling that I was in love, for the first time! And then I got caught once by my parents and I completely denied it. It was like, “Oh, okay, she’s experimenting.”
They wanted to believe I was straight, so they did … but they did ask me repeatedly over the next eight months if I was dating a girl. Finally I caved, ’cause I was tired of lying. I told them, and it didn’t go as planned. My parents were very, very conservative.
Riese: Did you sit them down and everything?
Kim: Actually no, it was in this room [we’re in right now] actually. I grew up here and I’ve had this place since I was 18 and my parents moved to London.
So I was walking in here, and they asked,“Where are you going?” and I said, “Going over to a friend’s house,” and they asked if I was going to see the girl they thought was my girlfriend — she was, obviously, actually my girlfriend. And I said “Yes, I am.”
And so my dad was just like, “Are you dating her?”
And I said, “Yes I am.”
And they said, “Are you in love with her?”
And I said, “Yes I am.”
And I don’t really want to bash my parents and go into all the nasty details, but I basically didn’t have parents for a few years.
They told me I’d been their best friend and their daughter but I wasn’t either of those things anymore. It was an unbelievably hard time but at the same time, I knew that I was right, and I knew that there was no way that what I was doing could be wrong, and I was in love, so I was okay! But I didn’t really talk to my parents for a while.
Riese: Were you still living with them?
Kim: I was but I just didn’t spend a lot of time here. And then I graduated from high school, and they moved to London ’cause my Dad was changing his job and it was good for them too. They had a blast traveling around all these European cities and we got some space.
When time came for them to watch Top Model, which they did, I think they started seeing gayness in a normal and great light because people liked me for that.
I knew my parents weren’t ready to be good parents yet but I thought maybe they’d be my friends. I’d always idolized my father; I thought he was the coolest, always the life of the party, totally charming great guy. And he totally married this supermodel! My Mom! So like — you know.
The time difference was like five hours, so I started calling them at two in the morning when all of our defenses were down and we just started becoming friends again. So I was talking to them as people who felt like my friends and slowly but surely they started feeling a little more like my parents.
And then I remember on one break, we were all here in this house and my Dad came in with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and handed it to me. And I was like, “Yeah, dad it sucks that you’re so against this, because I think if you weren’t, you’d be like, ‘Wow Kim, way to go, some of the girls you’re getting are really hot!'”
We went through a few tough spots around the Top Model thing because the one promise I made to them was that I wouldn’t tell our family and “embarrass them.”
When Top Model came around, I was like, “Well, [shrugs] I guess everyone’s gonna know now,” and they weren’t happy about this at all.
But when time came for them to watch Top Model, which they did, I think they started seeing gayness in a normal and great light, because people liked me for that on the show. That was an attractive part of me on the show, it wasn’t anything embarrassing or perverted, and it was just a great thing. I think they started seeing me through the eyes of all the accepting people.
Riese: That’s really interesting, it’s like they came around at pace with like — America, how they felt watching it.
Kim: Exactly. And that really changed things for them, it made our relationship a lot better. Now last year they called my girlfriend my girlfriend, not my “friend.” They came when I spoke at the Prop 8 Rally at City Hall — they were right behind me. I said it at the end “and my parents are here too.”
Robin: They were at the rally with you, that’s amazing, that’s like a total come-around.
Kim: Yeah, you know, I talked to them endlessly about relationship stuff now, and I never could before.
Alex: It almost seems like you needed the complete fall-out in order for things to be better now.
Kim: You know, I was like an only child who got a lot of attention, so it was good for me to learn to be independent although it was abrupt. But yeah, I survived it.
Robin: It had to be your comfort with it, too. It must have helped them.
Kim: Yeah, I mean I think that I was unwavering in my comfort with it. There was never a moment when I struggled. I can definitely say that there was not ever a moment in my life when I was like, “Uh oh, maybe I don’t want to be gay, oh no, what does this mean?” For me, I was so lovestruck, it was like, if I was in love with someone, that was enough to make me happy. I was just excited about it.
Riese: I think it’s hard for people to maintain intolerance when they’re with someone who won’t apologize.
If you sit people down ashamed like, “I have something to tell you…” then you open it up for judgment. Come out and say “yeah, I’m gay,” and be confident about it. Then there’s not much room for criticism.
Kim: Yeah, I always tell that to people who ask me about coming out.
Riese: Like Brian Kinney says; never explain, never apologize.
Kim: If you sit people down ashamed like, “I have something to tell you…” then you open it up for judgment. Come out and say “yeah, I’m gay,” and be confident about it. Then there’s not much room for criticism. There can be. There are parents, like mine, who definitely were not psyched about it, but it’s a lot more constructive to be confident in who you are, because other people will be too.
My parents are great. They’ve come such a long way. I don’t know that they’d ever say, “we’re happy you’re gay,” but they’re happy with who I am. And I am gay. So, I guess, indirectly, they are.
Riese: Are they — or you religious? What do you believe in?
Kim: I was born Presbyterian and confirmed in the Presbyterian Church. I feel religious in a spiritual way, not in a go-to-church every Sunday kind of way. But I certainly want to be married in a church. So I’m a little bit religious, not a lot.
Riese: It’s hard right now, because I feel like we’re at a point in culture where we’re between super-organized religion and people trying to find their own way. The super-organized way can be such a put-off, so you have to find a sort of middle ground.
Kim: I believe that those Presbyterian churches that don’t believe in gay marriage will turn around. I mean, all institutions need money. I guess I’ve always been the type to work within the system to change it. I don’t reject the system. And I believe that people will turn around.
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Photography by Robin Roemer