Credit: VH1

With devilishly handsome looks, a killer smile, and the chillest attitude ever to grace the America’s Next Top Model set, Kyle McCoy captured the hearts of the curious (admirers regularly profess their affections on Twitter) and the competition (she struck up a steamy romance with fellow model hopeful Marissa Hopkins) across the show’s 23rd cycle. Her tenure ultimately came to an end on Monday night’s episode, however, as the 23-year-old fan favorite was sent packing after the judges almost universally panned her charming (albeit slightly awkward) performance during a music video shoot with Director X — a dance routine that host Rita Ora said she “hated.”

Though her time on the show was brief (she placed ninth overall), as a self-proclaimed gender queer intersectional feminist, McCoy’s legacy lives on among ANTM‘s long line of LGBTQIA-oriented alumni; the reality competition series has long showcased a diverse roster of community participants, including runway coach Jay Alexander, transgender contestant Isis King (cycle 11), out lesbian Kim Stolz (cycle 5), openly gay Will Jardell (cycle 21), and sexually fluid cycle 22 winner Nyle DiMarco.

McCoy, who’s toying with the idea of pursuing a career in journalism now that her run on ANTM is over, tells EW she’s thankful for the visibility the show provided her, ever-enthusiastic about representing her community on a broader scale.

“I want to thank the queer community for supporting and endorsing me the way that they did,” she says. “I was nervous about representing a community I love so much… That was probably the most positive and heartwarming aspect of the entire experience.”

Read on for EW’s full interview with McCoy, including her thoughts on gender discrimination, her relationship with Hopkins, and what she really thinks of people comparing her to Orange is the New Black actress Ruby Rose.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m so sorry about your elimination. I looked forward to seeing more of that face you made on the trampoline last week. I saw that I thought, okay, this is someone making the best of a reality show that doesn’t understand how to use her.

KYLE MCCOY: I feel somewhat misunderstood and misrepresented by the glimpses people got to see of me on Top Model. But, at the same time, I knew what I signed up for. I know a show that only airs 45 minutes a week is not going to be centered around making the audience understand a very different cast member than they saw in past seasons.

Right. I think your look and your brand is a little bit “above” what the show is looking for.

I was, in many ways, forced to embrace a femininity that didn’t connect with my character or my look, but, at the same time, the show sought to find a top model, and I was expected to fulfill every aspect of that. Falling short probably disappoints me less than my fandom. Regardless of what people interpret from my actions, I tried to put my best foot forward.

As a queer model during a time of rapidly evolving political landscapes, did you feel a responsibility to “represent” the queer community on ANTM?

That’s an interesting way of looking at it, because I got a lot of pushback from both the judges and the viewers with regard to similarities they saw between myself and Ruby Rose, who’s obviously a prominent androgynous figure in the media. I was told and have been told online, “There’s already a Ruby Rose; we don’t need you.” That, to me, is silly, because we have so many male and female models who share looks and and other similarities, but nobody says, “We already have a blonde model” or “We already have a male model.” I don’t think we need just one androgynous, non-binary figure. In fact, I think that almost speaks to a lack of understanding. There are so many non-binary people in society, and there aren’t just two generic categories of gender anymore; the spectrum is broadening, and we don’t need one androgynous person; we need as many as are willing to put themselves out there.

Why do you think people are so quick to label and misunderstand queer or non-binary people?

If we take a look at history and the way society has shaped itself across time, people tend to push back at something that’s different, and I expected that pushback. I embrace it because it’s an opportunity to educate people, and I always try to approach any kind of situation with an open heart, and that’s all I can ask of the rest of the world: Be open to change and open to difference as opposed to quickly writing it off.

Do you put much weight on something like Rita Ora telling you she “hated” your video? It doesn’t seem like you’re going to pursue a career as a backup dancer any time soon.

“Hate” is a strong word for anything, especially for a hip-hop music video I got one take to nail. I actually wasn’t that embarrassed by it. I was surprised it did me in, to be honest. I didn’t think it was my worst performance; I do think I put my best foot forward, and I was very far outside my comfort zone. I’m not a hip-hop enthusiast by any means, and I have no training when it comes to dance, which is probably obvious, but, yeah, that was disappointing coming from Rita, and she’s certainly entitled to her opinion.

You do look like you tried your best, but the editing made it seem like you were losing interest, especially with the “distraction” of your romance with Marissa.

I think people are misinterpreting my natural response to a high-pressure situation, which is to be more inward. I am an introverted, private person, and whatever level of stress or anxiety I was feeling, I wouldn’t necessarily express to the general public. At no point did I not want to be there. It’s an opportunity that comes by once in a lifetime, and I was grateful for the opportunity. That being said, I did feel myself slipping in the competition, and if it seemed like I didn’t want to be there, it’s probably because I was noticing I might not be there much longer.

Can we talk about that curiously symbolic bottom two, though? You and Marissa? Shocker.

I saw that one coming. Regardless of how I upheld myself concerning the shoot and on set in general, which, in my opinion, was highly professional at all times, Marissa and I didn’t engage on set, ever. People will infer what they’d like, and I’d like to go on record saying I wasn’t distracted by another attractive model. I find that a little ridiculous. Again, characters are characters on television shows, and it is what it is.

The show teased that there was more to the relationship than what we saw, though. Did it shock you when she said she wouldn’t be sad if you went home?

I was disappointed by the portrayal of our relationship, but I do recall us intentionally trying to be more private about what was going on. She didn’t just say that to the confessional camera. She told me as well. She said, “There can only be one America’s Next Top Model. There are 14 girls in this house, and I need 13 of them to go home, and you’re one of them.” That was understandable, and I came up with that response before her. I thought it was mature and professional on her end and not personally offensive. Regarding our relationship, it carried on after the show. It ended mutually because we don’t live in the same place, but I don’t think it was uneven. I voiced my attraction to her before she voiced hers, but it was mutual.

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