More Than Just a Queer Guy
Carson Kressley, who speaks at the AIDS Foundation Houston World AIDS Day luncheon on November 30, may be done with ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,’ but he still has plenty to say—and wear.
By Blase DiStefano
World AIDS Day sidebar (EXPANDED FOR THE WEB)
The fifth and final season for the Fab Five to set their queer eyes on the straight guys ended last month. Though all five guys are talented, Carson Kressley is the breakout star of the Bravo series (though some may argue the point), mainly because of his quick-wittedness and all-around exuberance.
I talked to Kressley by phone while he was in Kentucky seeing his horses. Actually, he was with his horses before he talked to me: he was scheduled to call me at a prearranged time—but half an hour later, nada. Come to find out, he was in “this really crazy little hollow,” where his cell phone didn’t get reception. Kressley then drove some distance so that we could talk. Once we connected by phone, he gave me his full attention, even though he was shopping with his niece.
Kressley is the guest speaker at the AIDS Foundation Houston annual World AIDS Day luncheon on November 30, 2007, 11:30 a.m., at The Corinthian downtown. (For tickets: Julie Eberly, 713/623-6796, extension 249, [email protected]). More info: www.aidshelp.org.
Blase DiStefano: Is this your home…
Carson Kressley: No. I normally live in New York City. I’ve been out in L.A. working on a new project, a new show that we are really excited about. I’ve been working and working and working, and I had a couple of days off, and I came to Kentucky where I keep my horses and we ride, and came to visit my niece, who just turned 10, to celebrate her birthday.
So you’re talking to me on your days off?
I am, Blase, because you’re really special.
[Laughs] I feel really lucky.
Aren’t you from Houston?
OK, we like Houston…anything for Houston.
Is this the gay magazine in Houston?
Yes. We’re a monthly, and we’re slick, and we look good.
Fabulous. I love being slick and looking good.
[Laughs] And this is for our November issue.
That’s my birthday month.
That’s just what I was going to say. So what year and where were you born?
I was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, so I was practically Amish. Not really, but practically. And I think that’s where I got my fashion sense, because the Amish were the ones who really came up with that whole black-with-color thing. It was not Gucci or Prada, after all.
I was born [on November 11] in 1969, which means I’m 38. But I like to say that I’m almost 40.
Why is that?
Because then people say, “Wow, you look amazing!”
[Laughs] What was your childhood like?
I definitely knew that something was up, and I just thought it was normal to have a crush on the Six Million Dollar Man. What I didn’t know was that every other little boy did not have the same feeling for Lee Majors that I did. And then when he moved on to The Fall Guy and the show opened with him taking a bath outside…I was like, Ohmigod, I’m in love. I don’t know where he is now, but I’d still do him.
But I had a great childhood. I grew up in the country. I grew up on a horse farm. I had lots of animals and pets, and I’ve always been an animal person.
By the way, this is also our pet issue.
Yep. So anyway…thus your love for horses, having grown up with them.
Right. Yeah, growing up in the country. And the thing is I wasn’t around a lot of other kids, and I already felt a little isolated, so I was just kind of in my own little world…with me and the horses. I remember having dinner and then going back out to the barn and sitting in the hay trough while the horses were all eating their dinner, just talking to them. It sounds like an after-school special, it’s so pathetic sounding, but it was really a great way to grow up.
Any sisters or brothers?
I have a brother and a sister. They are six years and eight years older. So when you’re 10 and they’re 16 and 18, you’re basically an only child. The last thing they want to do is play dolls with their little 10-year-old brother.
[Laughs] Yes, I played dolls, too.
Oh, loved them, loved them! I was always giving Barbie a haircut though. It was before they had those dolls where the hair grew back. And I would always have the mangled Barbie that looked like Annie Lennox.
[Laughs] That’s great. But it sounds like you had a nice childhood, an enjoyable, relatively happy one.
I did. But I was always kind of haunted by feeling different and not being athletic. But I think that was tempered by being a rider and having horses and being artistic. As far as my school life and everything, that kind of got better as I got older. Seventh and eighth grades were kind of sketchy, as they are for everybody. That was no fun. But I do think that having a kind of rough junior high, you can either…I’m a big fan of saying, When life hands you lemons, add vodka.
I had to figure out some way not to get beaten up and not to get picked on and ostracized, and my way was humor. If I could keep them laughing, then I wasn’t getting hung on the back of the locker. At the time it was kind of a survival mechanism, and now it’s just turned out to be a gift, because I feel like I can put people at ease with laughter, and I feel like I can talk to just about anybody because of having those skills. So I’m really grateful now that that happened.
I just went back to my 20th high school reunion, and I was by far the cutest and most glamorous. [Both laugh ] And I do have access to a world-class dermatologist, so that doesn’t hurt. But, yeah, people were like, “You look great.” I was like, “I know.”
Especially considering you’re almost 40!
Exactly! Did I tell you I’m almost 40?!
Oh, I forgot.
When did you know you were gay? I was always gay, so I didn’t know anything else.
I think I’m with you. Basically, when the doctor slapped me, I was like, “Wow, he’s kind of hot.”
[Laughs] Okay, that’s a little earlier than me.
I guess I always knew. It’s like asking someone when did they know they were straight. I don’t know, I just knew.
Did you tell your parents, or did they already know?
I didn’t have to tell them. I think when my mom would get home from work and find that someone was wearing her Miss Pennsylvania tiara, I think she knew that probably her son was gay. I would also wear her slips and her makeup. This is like in the sixth grade, so I think that was a big warning sign. And I think my dad, like so many dads, probably knew but didn’t really want to know.
This is the crazy part—I didn’t officially come out to them until like two weeks before Queer Eye aired, and I was like, “By the way, you probably already know, but just in case, before you see me on the cover of TV Guide , I’m doing this show, and it’s called Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,”…and it was like [makes screeching sound], and the car almost ran off the road.
But they were actually totally fine. They were like, “We know.” And I went, “Really?”
One of the great things about Queer Eye is that it allowed me to be out to absolutely everybody. When you’re on a TV show as an openly gay person, it kind of outs you to even all of your cousins in Germany or wherever, and that’s a really liberating thing.
I should have been out a lot sooner officially. It allows gay people to live more freely like by six degrees of separation kind of, because when you’re officially out, someone says, “Hey, don’t say that awful thing about gay people, my brother’s gay,” or “My cousin’s gay,” or…. It’s just better for our community.
But also having worked with charities like the Trevor Project and also the Ali Forney Center in New York, you realize that kids are coming out earlier and earlier, because it is more acceptable in our society today, which is wonderful, but there are still parents who freak out and kick them out of the houses. Forty percent of homeless youth identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender.
Although I’m glad I came out, I should have come out much earlier. I do understand why people stay in the closet, and I always tell kids it’s a wonderful thing to come out, just make sure you have the support network so that you’re going to be safe.
That’s why some teenagers still commit suicide…
That’s something that we really need to eradicate, because no kid, gay or straight, should want to commit suicide. We certainly have to reach out to our gay and lesbian family and say that if your family is not there for you, there’s a community that’s here for you.
I think as we become more and more mainstream, we sometimes forget about our community and our family, and we need to still make that an important part of our community.
Changing topics, did you play sports at all? Or were you the last one chosen?
It was basically me and the girl in the iron lung that were the ones that were left standing.
But, no, I didn’t play sports.
When did you become interested in fashion?
I remember being on the playground and being like, Hmm, if only Peter were wearing John’s shoes, and if only Debbie had on Bruce’s slacks, they would be so much better. And then I would be hit in the head with a dodge ball, and that was the last thing I remember.
[Laughs] How did Queer Eye come about?
Basically what happened was…[speaks to someone in background]. I’m out shopping with my niece for her birthday present.
I was working at Ralph Lauren, and a friend of mine in the office said, Hey, you should try out for this show. I knew nothing about it. I basically went in for an audition, and I didn’t really care, because I had an amazing job at Ralph Lauren, so I was completely natural and candid, and I think that’s what they reacted to. I was almost kind of obnoxious…just like on the show!
After that first audition, they kept calling me in and calling me in, and some of the other guys in the room said, “What did they say in your interview?” And I said, “They said I’ve got the job and that you guys can go home.”
[Laughs] So, you’re coming to Houston at the end of November. What will you be doing for the AIDS Foundation’s World AIDS Day luncheon?
Usually what I do is give a talk on 10 tips defining your personal style. It’s about delivering the message that everyone can look great. No matter what your size or shape or income, you can find ways to dress yourself that make you look good and feel good. But since this is a charity and it’s something geared toward the gay community, my most important mission is to raise awareness so that people will come, and hopefully a lot of money will be raised for the AIDS Foundation.
From AIDS to Bush. So, any views on Bush?
I like it when it’s neatly trimmed, but some people like it natural.
I don’t want to bash Bush in Texas, but he was never my choice both times. Thanks, Florida! I just think we have so many issues at home that need addressing that I’m really not sure why we’re fighting all these wars in the Middle East, other than what I think is the obvious reason…that there is some sort commercial interest there in the oil industry.
I’m hoping as a nation we come together and say, Hey, our kids are more important and we need to spend more money on education and bring our soldiers home and just focus on America.
Are you ready to support one of the Democratic candidates yet?
Not yet. I’m a firm believer in waiting it out and seeing who says what. Certainly I’m a fan of Hillary. I like what Obama is all about. And I also like John Edwards a lot. So I think only time will tell. As we get closer to the primaries, we’re all going to have to start doing our homework.
Okay, a couple of short questions. What are you wearing right now?
I’m wearing my favorite jeans which are Levi’s Capital E dark-washed denim, Paul Smith socks that are black and white stripes for the criminal in me, some brown suede Ralph Lauren boots that are my favorite boots in the whole wide world. And I’m wearing the kookiest sweater. It’s a Jeremy Scott sweater and it has a big smiley face on a black background. But the smiley face has been shot in the head and he’s bleeding. I would wear it for Halloween, because it’s kind of quirky. But not a big hit at the airport, let me say.
[Laughing] I’ll bet! Okay, to paraphrase a Miss America Pageant question—if you had only one wish, what would you wish for?
Two more wishes. I’m greedy.
You sure are.
My two wishes then would be world peace and a hot boyfriend. But I’ll settle for either.
Blase DiStefano interviewed Lily Tomlin for the September issue.