Jenna Lyons Opens Up About Being Outed on Real Housewives of New York

Hello Bravo Dykes, and welcome to another recap of the new Real Housewives of New York. I figured it was only a matter of time before we delved into Jenna Lyons’ dramatic coming out story, which involves being outed by the New York Post, and sure enough, it’s only episode two and we’re going there!

The episode takes place in the Hamptons during the off-season, Erin having invited the other Housewives to a three-night girls trip. Resident gay Housewife Jenna Lyons is immediately perplexed by the concept of a girls trip. She has never really been on one, has never had a “sleepover” with other adult women who she was not sleeping with. But girls trips are a staple of Real Housewives life. In fact, they are the locus of most of the homoerotic activity that occurs on these shows. Jenna is perhaps correct to be trepidatious about a weekend away with a crew of ostensibly straight women. I would be, too, even if I would also be fascinated by it from an anthropological standpoint.

Why is it that straight women asking for your coming out story hits so different than fellow queer women? I mean, I know the answer to my own question, of course. Lines of inquiry about “coming out” and “discovering you’re gay” and “what it’s like to sleep with women” that come from straight mouths — even the most well intentioned among them — from a place of voyeurism and exotification. When queer people ask queer people the same exact questions, it comes from a place of relation and connection. I know the whole point of these early girls trips on a Housewives show is so the women can get to know each other better. And Jenna does seem to be the most inscrutable of the new cast, overshadowed by her public-facing persona. So it makes sense that her fellow Housewives want to get to know her. But still, I bristled at the ways they asked her about her coming out story and could sense her discomfort as well, even though I do think it’s important for her to be able to tell her side of things after having her own narrative scooped and packaged for her all those years ago.

In testimonial, Jenna says that something clicked in her when she turned 40 and realized just how unhappy she was in life. She was married at the time to her ex-husband, and they had a young son together. She says she knew she couldn’t live another 40 years in the same place she was. Around that time, one of her best friends was a queer woman, Courtney Crangi, who Jenna once asked casually about what it’s like to be with a woman. Courtney told her, and Jenna immediately became hot and bothered.

The RHONY girls ask Jenna if she ever came out, teeing her up to talk about the New York Post story, which the Housewives all pretend not to know about, but surely they all Googled each other before filming?! Then again, maybe not. Reality television attracts famously incurious, self-centered people. In fact, NONE OF THESE WOMEN KNOW WHO BILLIE JEAN KING IS????? Jenna tries to explain that she had no access to lesbianism at all for much of her life. Growing up, she knew men could be gay, but she didn’t even know women could be. Erin is perplexed by what Jenna’s saying: What do you mean? she asks when Jenna says gay women “weren’t a thing.” Jenna responds that the only widely visible lesbian when she was growing up was Billie Jean King, and the women are like who, and yes they’re all about a decade or more younger than Jenna, but WHAT! Yeah, I think Jenna is going to have a hard time explaining the confusing and sometimes illogical aspects of queerness and especially coming out to these women who don’t even know who Billie Jean King is and who also of course don’t even know the right questions to really ask about all these things. They want the juicy details, the same fodder the Post capitalized on when first outing her.

It really is a wild coming out story. Jenna had only been three weeks into her relationship with Courtney and was beginning the process of her divorce when a reporter from the Post called her work at J.Crew headquarters and asked her to confirm or deny whether she was in a relationship with a woman. Jenna confirmed it, and the story ran, thrusting her private life into the public eye. She tells the Housewives she’s seeing someone new but doesn’t want to share details about who they are. Some of the other women don’t like this; it’s always a little controversial when someone on the show starts dating someone who doesn’t want to be a part of the show. It also historically makes those relationships untenable. But it makes sense that Jenna would be wary of sharing too much on camera given her history. Her coming out was turned into a media story, so it never really was her own.

I wish we could have stayed in this conversation long enough for Jenna to be able to get into some of the other details of what it’s like to come out later in life and realize you’re gay from within a straight marriage, but the show much go on. And while cheese was the source of drama in episode one, episode two’s conflict swirls around…lingerie. The thing about Real Housewives girls trips is they’re always GAY AS HELL. I wrote about this recently when Taylor Armstrong came out as bisexual during a girls trip on Real Housewives of Orange County. Take these women out of their regular lives/contexts and place them in close quarters to each other, and they just immediately get horny! Jessel seemingly has wanted to come out the gate this season with the storyline of “I don’t have sex with my husband anymore,” and you know what? Good for her for making this her storyline. She should talk about it! The other women are shocked by the lack of sex in Jessel’s marriage, and Sai uses it as an excuse to get very flirty with Jessel, playing with her ponytail at dinner. Real Housewives franchises really do make it seem like straight women just looooooove to flirt with each other and say extremely sexual things to each other! I want to know everything Jenna is thinking in these moments!

To spice up the trip, Jenna gifts all the girls lingerie, but Jessel hates hers, an opinion she is not at all shy about sharing as she verbally and repeatedly trashes the gift Jenna gave her. It’s very uncomfortable! The social dynamics of this group are cursed! I’m hoping the arrival of Brynn — who missed out on day one of the trip because she was sick — injects a little more fun into this girls trip, which starts fine but could definitely use a little more chaos. I really hope Jenna does eventually come out of her shell a bit, but I know that’ll also require the other women to actually want to get to know her on a deeper level rather than just asking about the drama of her coming out story (though I am glad it’s talked about). I am, at least, pleasantly surprised that the other women aren’t as invasive and presumptive about Jenna’s sex life as the Miami Real Housewives are about bisexual Housewife Julia.

Jenna has existed in a lot of super hetero spaces, so I’m sure she’s used to being one of the only queer women in a room, but I am interested to see how it continues to play out and how often her queerness becomes a topic of discussion among the other women. I’m also fascinated by the slightly competitive vibe that has cropped up in terms of which other Housewife is closest with Jenna, which might have less to do with her being gay and more to do with her being the wealthiest and also most famous. But truly, throwing a gay woman in her fifties into this group of younger straight women is a dynamic I’m very uhhhhh interested in!!!!!! I just think Jenna needs to get a little more comfortable in the group and on camera before we really start to see anything super compelling from her.


P.S. Are any of my fellow Bravo Dykes watching Crappie Lake? I can’t be the only one who thinks there’s something je ne sais queer about it????? I know a core element of the premise is Luann and Sonja picking up younger guys, but there has always been something v gay about the Luann/Sonja dynamic, and I don’t think Sonja has been “joking” all these years about wanting to hook up with Lu! Anyway, maybe I’ll write something about it. But I’ll definitely be touching down periodically on RHONY so long as gay stuff keeps coming up!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

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 837 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Ngl I’ve never watched Real Housewives of anything and I don’t truly know this woman beyond, indeed, seeing her coming out story reported when it happened (probably on here as well) – but I wanted to say, I enjoyed reading your analysis regardless. Something something about relation and connection indeed :)

  2. I finally watched episodes 1 & 2 of this season yesterday-I have not watched the New York ones before, but I was really into RHONJ for a while. Right now Jenna is the most interesting of the housewives to me, I really don’t know who the others are. Hopefully it will be a fun watch, with more drama about cheese, and fashion.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!