Former reality stars share experiences and advice

An LGBT panel of former reality television show contestants shared their experiences exploring their sexuality with the audience. (from left to right: Ruthie Alcaide, J.D. Ordoñez, Mike Manning and Isis King) (Jess Davis / Staff Photographer)

In the culminating event of PRISM’s Queer Awareness Month, cast members from “The Real World” and a contestant from “America’s Next Top Model” participated in a panel in Kendall Hall on Oct. 28.

“We’re going to take turns speaking about LGBT issues. Actually, we’re going to go in that order — L-G-B-T,” Ruthie Alcaide, cast-mate of “The Real World Hawaii,” said, acknowledging the fact that the seating order of the panel corresponded to the order of the words in the acronym [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual].

An alumna of Rutgers University, Alcaide discussed how there were no gay role models in her Hawaiian hometown.

“I didn’t know I was a flaming lesbian until I found out what that was, and then I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s me,’ ” she said.

She discussed how “The Real World” was one of the first shows to feature openly gay cast members.

“(The show) was very prehistoric, gay-wise. It was gay-storic.” she said.

Speaking of the show, Alcaide said, “I didn’t want to be ‘the gay girl.’ I just wanted to be Ruthie.”

She auditioned because she finally felt comfortable with her sexuality, something she had struggled with as a teen. Before bed, she’d often pray she would wake up and be straight.

Her first experience with another girl occurred at sixteen and was “pure accident.”

While sleeping over at her best friend’s house and sharing the bottom bunk, she rolled over towards her friend.

“I had an overwhelming sensation and desire to kiss her. I went in for the kill … and kissed her. And my head exploded and I died, in a good way.”

The two had a secret relationship until her desire to be straight resulted in external displays of homophobia. She pushed away her friend, while denying her own sexuality.

When she finally opened up to friends and family, she never felt backlash.

“I think it’s because I don’t approach my sexuality with a spotlight — like having to come out. You just have to be yourself. I just approach it so naturally that no one even flinches.”

Next, J.D. Ordoñez from “The Real World: Brooklyn” spoke. Although he’s achieved his childhood dreams of being a dolphin trainer and working with the likes of Flipper, his life hasn’t always been so positive.

Growing up, he was physically abused by his father to the point of hospitalization. After time in foster care, his lesbian godmother, took him under her wing. Her support helped Ordoñez become comfortable with himself as a homosexual male.

“The advice that I give to those who don’t have a support group, find one,” he said. He explained how his passion to be a whale and dolphin trainer gave him self-confidence. According to Ordoñez, he became the world’s youngest dolphin trainer at age 18.

“This showed me that you can come from nothing and make something of yourself. You can come from dirt and not be dirty … It does get better, it did for me,” he said.

He attended “The Real World” auditions in Los Angeles after feeling something was missing.

“I felt like I had a story to tell and I wanted to connect with people my age. I wanted someone to relate to me and to relive my childhood and college years,” he said.

Mike Manning (“The Real World: D.C.”) recounted his experiences as both a jock and bisexual male in high school.

“I had this façade, or front. I dated girls and had friends and didn’t see any need to change that. (In college) I needed to be a serious business student and have my priorities in order. I knew I was different but didn’t accept it.”

It was not until sophomore year, while interning at Walt Disney World in Orlando that Manning first acknowledged his bisexuality. “I worked as a Disney character, but my point is, Disney didn’t make me gay,” he joked.

“My first guy on guy make-out experience was with Prince Charming underneath the Magic Castle,” he said.

During Season 23, he worked with the Human Rights Campaign, lobbying with congress on LGBT issues such as the military and marriage.

“The point is, because I was honest and open about it with America, my family, friends and myself, it was an empowering experience and 99 percent of my fears I had about coming out never happened,” he said.

Isis King, from Cycle 11 of “America’s Next Top Model,” set precedents as the first transsexual or transgender to compete on Tyra Banks show.

“My experience starts with Kimberly,” she said. “How many of you know the Pink Ranger?” Referencing Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, King explained how she often looked at little girls and wondered why she couldn’t be like them.

“When I was a small child, I knew I was different. Not different in a weird way, but different,” she said. She always liked boys growing up and admitted to making out with boys against the wall while in kindergarten.”

“Being trans, I didn’t have anyone to look up to. There were no role models. Some people say there’s Ru Paul, but it’s different. He’s a man,” she said.

It was not until seeing “Paris is Burning,” a documentary about the ballroom culture of the transgender New York City community, that she realized she wanted to transition. This was put off, since her boyfriend at the time was unsupportive and abusive. She attended domestic violence therapy for three months.

“I wasn’t going to allow others to dictate my life. I said, ‘I’m going to transition.’ I’m going to live my life and not care what anyone says,” she said.

As a child she witnessed her mother suffering marital abuse. Having such a strong woman role model aided King in finding confidence. Even when they had to live out of a car, her mother never let her or her brother look homeless.

King once again was homeless while living in New York to undergo the transitioning process. Living in a shelter led to being selected as a background model in Cycle 10 of ANTM.

Her strength in modeling caught producers’ attention and she was cast the following season.

“Follow your dreams, and when it comes, don’t let it pass you,” she said. “My dream isn’t to be a supermodel. My dream is to be a successful artist, to be successful and have stability.”

Speaking of the show, she says, “My focal point isn’t, ‘Hey I’m the trans girl.’ I’m a woman. That’s my story.”

“I thought it was very interesting and motivational and eye-opening, even to people that are straight. It shows how similar we are, and how we all have to go through struggles,” Sarika Williams, senior psychology major, said.