6 min

Gay, interrupted

Xtra’s candid interview with Big Brother Canada’s Kenny Brain

Kenny Brain, the breakout star of TV’s addictive reality-TV soap opera, was already living a fully realized life as a gay man before entering the Big Brother house. Credit: Big Brother Canada

Think you’ve got a unique coming-out story? Well, Big Brother contestant Kenneth “Fear the Beard” Brain probably has you beat.

Imagine having to come out not once, but twice in your lifetime. And the latter in front of millions of people. Talk about gay-ja vu!

The breakout star from TV’s addictive reality-TV soap opera was already living a fully realized life as a gay man before entering the Big Brother house. Once inside, as a novel strategy, the Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, native shook up the game by going “straight for pay” in order to make himself available for any possible heterosexual showmances to further himself in the game. Kenny’s “brainy” yet morally ambiguous charade worked (he even made out with a few of the female houseguests in order to secure votes and loyalty) — despite his penchant for dancing in his wet, white tighty undies around the house, that is. 

Last year’s runner-up Gary Levy, who broke out during Season 1 on the opposite side of the gay spectrum as his crossdressing gay self, tells Xtra he wouldn’t employ the laborious, controversial strategy. “For me, personally, I feel there’s no reason to hide your sexuality in the house, especially [since we live in more accepting] Canada. There’s so much happening in the house and so many secrets you have to keep that keeping yet another secret, especially one that is so natural for you to talk about — well, I could easily see my tongue slipping. But he did a great job hiding he was gay . . . and when he came out, it was a beautiful, emotional moment.”

Indeed. After realizing being in the closet wasn’t helping his game and was only distracting him from winning, the guilty, conflicted 25-year-old came out to his housemates, many of whom he had become very close to, creating one of this season’s most jaw-dropping, emotional moments. Brain was voted out soon after (not because of his sexuality/lie, but because he was the strongest player).

“I’m glad Kenny got to come out to the whole house before he left. His strategy may have work during another season with another cast,” host Arisa Cox tells Xtra. “But,” she points out, “showmances only work in the Big Brother house when they’re authentic. And we’ve got a good track record: some of our couples are still together or married.”

Xtra chatted with the burgeoning hunk, a day after the Big Brother finale aired, about his new gay-hunk status, introducing a more masculine portrayal to the stereotype-riddled reality-TV genre, whom he finds attractive, and that nude selfie floating around the internet.

Xtra: How has your life changed since being evicted from the Big Brother house?

Kenneth Brain: Crazy. I got signed on to another agency in Winnipeg and Calgary. There’s potential for a movie coming up soon. I’ve done a few shoots with my Montreal agency. It’s been wild . . .  I’ve been doing appearances in Edmonton, Newfoundland, Ottawa, Halifax and Toronto. I’m happy because I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived due to my controversial strategy. To experience all the love is amazing and a bit mind blowing.

Any plans to shave the beard? You look like a different person without it.

I’m keeping it around. At least for a bit. I love it . . . and I’ve had it long before Big Brother. I also signed a contract with my modelling agency — and this is how they want me to look. Even if I wanted to shave it off, I would have to consult with them. I’m all for a trim here and there . . . but it’s going to stick around a bit.

The Black Eagle crowd loves you. When did you decide to grow your trademark beard?

My ex hated me with facial hair — well, long facial hair, so I always had to trim it down. So when we broke up when he moved back to Ireland, I stopped shaving! I thought I would grow it a bit, especially when I worked in a Labrador fishing lodge.

Are you still single?

Yes . . . very.

Have you spoken to your ex since being out of the house?

Yes. He was updated with the fact that I went into the Big Brother house. We’re still very close and friends. But he did ask me, “Why didn’t you do anything like this when we were together?”

There are nude photos of you circulating on the internet. Did you want to comment on them? Are they real, fake?

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. Yes, they’re real. I knew they existed. They’re from a while ago, when I first came out. I knew Big Brother would give my life exposure, but it is what it is. We live in the digital age. A lot of people have the same kind of pictures, but I just happened to have been on a TV show that made those pictures a bit more interesting.

Yes, there are many celebrity pictures out there but not as impressive as yours!

Well thanks, man! [Laughs]

Did you always want to model? What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a kid, weirdly, I wanted to be a pediatrician. I went to university to study biology, but I realized very quickly I’m a soft teddy bear. I don’t have a thick skin to deal with stuff like that. So, I switched it up and studied business and marketing. I didn’t think about modelling at all until I moved to Montreal this past October. Three weeks later, I got contacted to do a shoot. I said, “Cool; why not?” That led to another shoot, which led to a contract. I never planned on modelling, so all this success has made it all the more special.

How would you describe your unique fashion style?

It’s a little street/lumberjack-ish. I’ve always been into that kind of look. A dressed-up streeter style; that’s me.

I would ask if you’re a boxers or briefs guy, but I think we know the answer from watching BB . . .

It’s pretty apparent that I like my briefs!

Did you know right away as a kid you were gay? Or was it a journey? I know you said you dated girls before you came out.

I didn’t know at all growing up that I was gay. I knew, sometimes, I was attracted to men, but I thought it was normal. It never crossed my mind that I could be gay until I had an experience. And then, “Lightbulb! Totally gay.” That was only three years ago. I was 22. I know for some people, it’s a huge life event for them, because they’ve had to hide who they are for so long, but for me, it was very small scale. I never had to hide who I was growing up, and once I came out to myself, I immediately told everyone from my friends and family, who were all super accepting. I’m very grateful.

What kind of men are you attracted to?

I love laughter. I think laugh lines are the sexiest thing in the world. I like scruffy, dark-haired, down-to-earth and regular guys. I like a guy’s guy because I’m into hiking and fishing. I’d like to date someone on the same level in that respect. Any small thing that I can find endearing about someone, I’m attracted to.

Which celebrities float your boat?

That guy on HBO’s Looking [Murray Bartlett] — the guy with the mustache. He’s very attractive.

Gay icons you admire?

Rick Mercer. He’s incredibly intelligent, he knows what he’s doing, and I like the way he holds himself. And, of course, Anderson Cooper. Talk about a silver fox, and he’s also incredibly smart.

How well do you know your gay culture and history? I find most gay young adults aren’t well versed in our culture, unlike other monitories, like the black community, mainly because we normally don’t grow up with gay or gay-savvy parents.

I’m not totally, 100-percent well versed in our past yet, but I agree, we should know about our history. And I am trying to learn and do as much as I can. When I go back to Montreal, I’m talking to a youth centre for LGBT kids. I’m going to start to do as much as I humanly can. That’s why I came out in the house because I never want any kind of perception out there that hiding who you are is a good way to get ahead. When I realized me being gay didn’t have any bearing in the house, it made me want to really help people. I’ve received an overwhelming response from young gay men who identify with me. There’s still this image out there that if you’re gay you have to act a certain way in terms of a demeanour or mannerisms. 

Would you play straight if you could do it all over again?

Yes. Look at [houseguest] Adel: he said a few [homophobic] things in the house. Would that have increased had I come out right out of the gate and right off the bat? I enjoyed that I got to give them that surprise that you can never judge a book by its cover when it comes to sexuality. I’m glad I got to help take away from the image the media portrays of this stereotypical gay person.

Fave all-time BB player?

Two different people: [All-Stars’] Britney [Haynes] is my number one because of personality reasons. And, of course, [US winner] Dan Gheesling. They’re both equally intelligent, strategic, well-spoken people who had great social games, who were also very physically competitive.