Jenna Lyons Is Here for a More Queer Real Housewives of New York City

feature image of Jenna Lyons by JP Yim / Stringer via Getty Images

Finally, after many years of me declaring that the Real Housewives universe is inherently queer, we are living in a golden age of openly LGBTQ+ Real Housewives. I’m living my wildest Bravo Dyke dreams. The latest entry into this growing pool is Jenna Lyons, set to be a main cast member in the upcoming rebooted version of Real Housewives of New York City, a franchise that has been long in need of an overhaul. Season 14 of RHONY will introduce a slew of new (and absurdly wealthy) Housewives, including Lyons, the queer former creative director and president of massive fashion brand J.Crew. Here’s a quick primer on who Jenna Lyons is, why there was a media frenzy around her sexuality, and what we might expect in terms of Gay Drama from the upcoming season of RHONY.

In the above trailer for RHONY’s upcoming 14th season, a fellow new Housewife asks Lyons if she came out, and Lyons replies: “That was done for me by the New York Post.”

Indeed, in 2011, the New York Post outed Lyons in a tabloid piece about her divorce from her ex-husband and father of her child, Vincent Mazeau. The piece detailed rumors about Lyons falling in love with a woman and caused a flurry of media coverage — including significant conservative backlash. At the time, Lyons was the 43-year-old creative director and president of J.Crew, making her a hugely visible person in the global fashion industry. Her fashion influence at J.Crew was huge, particularly known for its impact on Michelle Obama’s closet.

Tabloids gobbled up the news of her being in a relationship with a woman like it was a capital-s Scandal. And while I don’t really think exceptionally wealthy white women like Lyons are at the top of the list of folks who shouldn’t be outed, it was a veritable shitshow.

A decade later, Lyons has been able to reclaim her narrative and the way she talks about her own queerness. In a piece for The Cut in 2021, she opened up about her journey and the lasting impact of that New York Post piece. She talks about falling for her good friend Courtney Crangi, the other half of all those tabloid pieces from 10 years prior, who was largely responsible for Lyons’ queer awakening, which was sharply interrupted by being outed. “Meanwhile, I had no idea what was going on with me,” Lyons says in the piece. “Was I straight? Was I gay? Was I bi? I was tumbling into love with a woman and it was all new and I didn’t have any guideposts. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t make any definitive decisions for myself around the whole situation.”

She continues:

I was 43 years old. I was the head of a huge company and a very American, classic brand. We had an intercom at the office, and I was running a pretty large meeting. I was standing in front of the room, and I get a call over the intercom. The heads of marketing were on the other end, and they said, “We have a call from New York Post. There’s a report that you’re seeing a woman — should we confirm or deny?” You have to imagine: I’m standing on the phone with a whole room full of people and I can feel their eyes on me. And I’m like, literally six weeks into this totally new relationship. I heard the word “confirm” come out of my mouth. It wasn’t like I was confirming that I was gay or that I was bi. The truth was, I was seeing a woman, so yes, confirmed. I wasn’t going to lie about it. And then it just kind of snowballed.

There’s a special place for the person who took it upon themselves to make that decision. I hadn’t told my mother, I hadn’t told any of my friends, really. I hadn’t told my ex-husband. I had a child.

The story that outed her wasn’t the first time Lyons had received conservative backlash in the media. Earlier in 2011, she had transphobic bloggers in an uproar because of a photoshoot and interview she did in which her son was seen wearing pink nail polish on his toes. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to see the same kind of backlash happening today as anti-trans, anti-gay policing of children only continues to intensify under the current political climate.

While details of Lyon’s and Crangi’s relationship were initially divulged without their initial permission, Lyons publicly acknowledged their relationship for the first time in 2012 when she thanked her girlfriend while receiving a Glamour Women of the Year award. Lyons split from Crangi in 2017 and has been a queer single mom in recent years.

While no longer at the helm of J.Crew, Lyons remains a massively powerful figure in fashion design and business. Now, she’s taking on a whole new role by joining Bravo’s ever-expanding Real Housewives universe. She’s being billed as the first openly queer woman to join RHONY (which I guess is true if we don’t consider Sonja Morgan bisexual, but Morgan has on many occasions implied she is bisexual even if she doesn’t say it in the most explicit terms!), and as the trailer suggests, we’re going to get storylines that touch on her queerness.

In fact, the origin story of how Lyons came to join Real Housewives is very gay in and of itself. According to a recent profile in the New York Times, in 2021 Lyons was being interviewed as a guest on the popular queer podcast Dyking Out (which I’ve also been a guest on — perhaps the closest connection I have with a Real Housewife) when co-hosts Melody Kamali and Carolyn Bergier pitched that she should join RHONY and Lyons replied: “I’m down.”

Then, in February 2022, Lyons reposted a gay podcaster who had photoshopped her face onto a RHONY promo in her Instagram story and wrote “Who do I need to call?? I am available.” In a very “haha jk…unless” moment, she called it a joke but also forwarded the post to Andy Cohen, Bravo’s Daddy in Chief (okay, fine, his relevant official title here is executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise) whose Christmas parties she’d attended before. Fast-forward several months, and Lyons was hit with a call asking her to screen test for the rebooted RHONY. Andy’s official review of her? “When she comes on the screen, you want to see more of her,” he said, according to the NYT profile.

It’s a bit of a surprising turn for Lyons, given that she has been laying low for the past few years. It’s also surprising that someone with as much baggage about celebrity press as she has would step into the realm of reality television, which puts one’s life under the microscope in an extreme way. Gossip magazines cover reality fodder with reckless abandon. But perhaps Lyons sees this as an opportunity to put herself in the public spotlight in a way that ultimately feels on her own terms.

Already, her personal life is in the spotlight again. The official Bravo site published a piece discussing who she’s currently dating, which comes up in the NYT profile. In June, she confirmed she’s dating her prior crush, photographer Cass Bird. The show filmed this past winter, so I’m not sure how much of that we’ll see play out on screen, but I for one am looking forward to the prospect of a single openly queer Housewife in the mix this season. Would love to have some good queer dating-around and flirting storylines! And look, will any of it be relatable? Probably not! The new RHONY cast seems overall even more wealthy than previous iterations of the cast. A moment in the trailer includes a fight about flying commercial.

RHONY returns and Lyons makes her Queer Real Housewife debut on July 16, and you better believe I’ll be covering all the juiciest tidbits right here on Autostraddle.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 842 articles for us.

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