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A Beauty Queen Steps Out Of The Closet


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Now we go behind closed doors. That's the part of the program where we talk about issues that people often keep private. And you might think that anybody who's willing to pose and turn on a stage and on live TV in an evening gown and a bathing suit might not have very much to keep private. But that wasn't the case for Djuan Trent. Crowned Miss Kentucky in 2010, she went on to place in the top 15 at the 2011 Miss America Pageant. Still, she felt there was something more to say about her life. And so in a very personal, emotional essay posted on her blog, she wrote these words - I am queer. And Djuan Trent joins us now. We caught up with her in Lexington, Kentucky. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.

DJUAN TRENT: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: I'd like to read just a little bit of what you wrote on your blog, and it's called "Life in 27." You wrote, I have written and rewritten and deleted and restarted this post more times than I care to share. And after all of that, I have finally realized there ain't nothing to it but to do it. So here we go, folks, I am queer. I wanted to ask what it felt like when you finally pushed the publish button or the send button on that post.

TRENT: OK, so at the very end of the blog, I wrote, you know, that my armpits had stopped sweating. But as soon as I hit publish, my pits were back to sweating, and I was just nervous and everything in me was just - I don't know. I wasn't sure what to expect. Like, I felt good about it, but I was still very nervous because I did not know how people would receive it. But I also felt relieved because I felt free.

MARTIN: Why now? What made you want to write this essay now?

TRENT: For the past few years, I have had a lot of people in my life who have kind of speculated but never really asked direct questions. And I felt that there was going to eventually come a time where I needed to open up and speak about this. But really, with Judge Heyburn's ruling there was just a lot of conversations going on. And a lot of people who were talking to me assuming that, you know, I was hetero and that I agreed with their views, and it really lit a fire inside of me.

MARTIN: Djuan, if you could hold on just one second. Just for people who don't know what you're talking about, a federal judge in Kentucky ruled just last month that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, this despite the fact that the state itself has a ban on same-sex marriage. So it was - was it so much the judge's ruling as so much the conversations that people were having around you about it?

TRENT: I believe it really was the conversation that was happening around me. Like, I felt like I was just sitting back and listening to what people were saying, but I wasn't really speaking up for myself.

MARTIN: Well, do you mind if I just ask you about the use of the word queer? I mean, I'm not...

TRENT: Yeah.

MARTIN: Some people consider that a slur, but you don't, clearly, 'cause you used it yourself. But I'm not sure outside of, like, college campuses, for example, university settings, that people often use that term. Do you mind if I ask why you use it?

TRENT: It's a term that I use, honestly, just because I like it. I think that I like the reclaiming of it. I've had conversations with people who are from generations before me, and they hate the word. You know, it's one of those things that just kind of - it does not bring back good memories for them. But I think that now it's becoming one of those words that's becoming more popular. I know it's used a lot more in the north than it is in the south, and I like it. So I just wanted to put it out there.

MARTIN: Well, there you go. It's your blog, and you can use it if you want to. But, you know...

TRENT: Right.

MARTIN: ...I wanted to go back to something else you wrote on the blog. I mean, you mentioned that this is actually the third time you've come out, and that the first time was in fourth grade...

TRENT: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And in college, you know. And what was that like, if you don't mind my asking? I assume you mean to your mom. What was that like?

TRENT: The first time that I came out to my mom in the fourth grade, she caught me watching something. And she asked me why I was watching it, and I said, I'm gay. And she just said, you don't know what that is. You need to go back in room and think about it. And I was like, mom, why can't you just accept me for who I am? And honestly, I have no idea where that came from because it's not like people were coming out so I could've seen it on the news and, you know, have known to, as a fourth-grader, repeat that myself.

But I knew that there was something different about me. I knew that I was attracted to women, and she wasn't really hearing that. And so then again in college, I proposed it to her really more so through a series of questions. I was just kind of really trying to figure out if what I was feeling was normal. Like, maybe everyone does do this and it's just a phase, and I'll be fine once I get through it. And again, it was not really received.

And so a little over a year ago, my mother and I were having a conversation, and she asked me if there was something that I needed to tell her. And I asked her was there something that she needed to ask me. And she just gave me, you know, the mom look. And I just said, I'm attracted to women. And she said, well, I already knew that. So I said, well, what's the question? And she said, well, I just didn't know that that was something that you were actually acting on now. I just thought it was a phase. So my mom has come around. She's been very accepting, and it's been interesting, I think, to see her journey as well with mine.

MARTIN: I was going to ask how things are with you two now. Are things OK - or other friends, family?

TRENT: Things are good with us. My mother is someone who is very strong in her faith, and she takes the Bible literally. And at first, she was not willing to accept that. She was just willing to accept me. But I think that she came around to realize that that is a part of me. My brother - we just had a quick text conversation. And he just sent me a text message, like, hey, can I ask you a question? And I said, the answer is yes. And he said, oh, OK, well, glad we had this conversation. And that was it. And, you know, he's been completely accepting as well. So my family has been supportive of me.

MARTIN: Talk to me, though, about - since you've known for some time that this is part of who you are, I was curious about when you got involved in the pageant world what role it would play in your pageant life.

TRENT: At that point in my life, it was one of those things that I was still suppressing. But one of the first people that I ever talked to was one of my best friends, Polly (ph). She was Miss Iowa with me. And she's like, oh, OK, well, that's fine. I mean, I still love you. It's not any different. And there were a lot of people in the pageant community who, you know, were very open and loving and accepting of it as well.

I think the only reason that we have not really seen more of this in the pageant community is just because it hasn't really been anything that anyone knew about, or there hasn't really been anyone to, I guess, represent in that way because it's not just about coming out and, you know, being the beauty queen who is part of the LGBTQ community. I think it has a lot to do with the personal journey and where you are in that and how open you are to sharing that part of your life with other people along with the rest of this group that can sometimes come from people who are on the outside looking in. And that's just in the world, not just, you know, within the pageant community.

MARTIN: One final thought, though. It's interesting that you are coming out at a time when a number of athletes have also come out, right. So Jason Collins in the NBA. Michael Sam could become the first openly gay player in the NFL. In a way, are you kind of doing in pageant world what they are doing in sports?

TRENT: I think that you could be right in what you're saying. It's one of those things that kind of busts down the walls of, you know, stereotypes and what people think you should or should not be. I think that it's also one of those things that just further proves members of the LGBTQ community, we are everywhere. We just have never really spoken up. So this is not anything new. It's just new to, you know, everyone else because we're speaking up now.

MARTIN: Djuan Trent is the 2010 Miss Kentucky. She wrote a coming-out story on her personal blog "Life in 27." And we reached her in Lexington, Kentucky. Djuan Trent, thanks so much for joining us.

TRENT: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.