After skyrocketing to fame last year as the breakout star of Netflix hit show Outer Banks, Madison Bailey felt compelled to address her sexuality on TikTok. As she becomes one of GLAMOUR’s Beauty of Pride Issue digital coverstars, she opens up to Paula Akpan about her journey to realising her pansexuality, the pressures of being a Gen-Z queer spokesperson, the importance of queer representation and her unbridled love for her girlfriend.
Madison Bailey, the 22-year-old star of Netflix teen drama Outer Banks, is irrepressible. That’s the first thought that strikes me as we settle in to chat for GLAMOUR’s Beauty of Pride Issue cover interview. Perhaps it’s the good humour and lightheartedness she brings to our Zoom call from Los Angeles (“I knew I was going to butcher this,” she exclaims ahead of recording the intro for her GLAMOUR Unfiltered video). Maybe it’s even the way she appears on the call, with bright blue eyeshadow on her lids, as bold as the glimpses of her personality. However, as we speak more, it becomes clear that the actress has established a confidence and comfortability regarding who she is and the work she is trying to do.
Hailing from North Carolina, Madison’s acting credits include TV shows Constantine, Mr. Mercedes and Black Lightning. However, her role as Kiara – the calm, warm and measured daughter of a wealthy restaurant owner who has landed a place among a working-class group of friends known as the ‘Pogues’ – in Outer Banks is arguably her breakout role. “Working on the series has been an absolute rollercoaster,” she tells me. “There’s so much newness that I’ve experienced since being on the show. Everything about being a series regular, being on set that frequently and working with people my age was new.”
Taking on Kiara’s character has secured Madison hordes of fans but she has also won hearts for her openness about her personal life: living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and, last summer, sharing that she is pansexual on social media. She took to TikTok to explain that what most matters to her in a partner is “what’s on the inside, boo” and, in another TikTok, introduced her fans to her partner, Mariah Linney, a University of North Carolina basketball player.
“Pansexuality makes the most sense for how I feel, and how I feel is I want to choose somebody based on a soul connection, based on somebody I really have stuff in common with, somebody I really connect with”
“I think I realised I was pan when I was re-labelling all the time. I thought ‘there’s probably just an overall thing for this’ and it’s pansexuality so I just took that and ran with it,” the actress explains. “I was like, this makes the most sense for how I feel, and how I feel is I want to choose somebody based on a soul connection, based on somebody I really have stuff in common with, somebody I really connect with – it didn’t really matter any other details beyond that.”
For Madison, grappling with her sexuality started a few years back when she was in high school. “It was probably when I was 15 or 16 and I was… I don’t know, I was feeling it out.” She pauses to think before adding: “I was feeling it out a little but I was in Kernersville, North Carolina – I didn’t really have this community and, if there was this community, it didn’t feel like the safest place to gravitate towards in that town.” It would be a few years before Madison dated someone who wasn’t a cisgender boy, but for her, that’s when things began to connect for her: “I was like, OK – there’s more to this. I know there’s more to this.”
Understanding her queerness is made even more complicated with her borderline personality disorder. “With being pan and having a personality disorder, I have definitely figured out where I fall into all of that,” shares the actress. “I have a very broad personality and have a lot of identity crises, so then I just didn’t know what part of it was my sexuality and which part of it was just feeling different that day. So I really had to figure out that my broad personality probably plays into it.” She pauses. “I don’t know. I just know that this is who I am, this is what I like and this is what I’m doing. I know I am pan and I also have a personality disorder.”
Having been exploring her sexuality for over half a decade, Madison’s queerness isn’t new, though it may have been perceived otherwise by onlookers. “I feel like people took that TikTok as ‘this is me coming out’ and, really, I didn’t put a ton of thought into it. TikTok felt like a good way to list the information of how I identify.”
As all people who identify somewhere within the ever-expansive umbrella of LGBTQIA+ know, you don’t just ‘come out’ once; you’re often forced to share your understanding of your sexuality and/or gender again and again in the plethora of environments and this was no different for the Outer Banks actress. “The show came out and then I felt like I had to do some type of coming out, even though it was public knowledge to my friends and my 2,000 followers I had before,” she outlines. “But I was like, I should probably tell all these millions of people how I’m feeling.”
It’s little wonder that being shot to visibility and fame – with her Instagram following rocketing to 3.6 million – has entirely shifted her relationship with social media. “I have a love/hate relationship with social media for a lot of reasons,” she says contemplatively. “I love it in the sense that it can really create a community anywhere and I think we all saw that during the pandemic.”
And she’s right: we watched digital spaces, especially queer digital spaces, being built overnight to provide support and resources in lieu of physical Prides and queer nightlife and entertainment. For someone like Madison, harking from a small town without visible queer communities, social media is a godsend. However, it doesn’t come without a downside: “You’re not going to connect with everything you see on the internet and I feel like, if people don’t connect with something, they bash it,” she adds. “I don’t love that about social media – I don’t love that people can’t be like, this isn’t for me.”
Considering that her feelings towards social media change on a daily basis, it leads me to ask her if she feels a pressure to be a queer icon or spokesperson, to which she answers with a resounding ‘yes’. “I feel like, for me, the whole queer discovery was just within myself and I was just figuring out where I fit into that. Then, I immediately had this platform and the pressure was on to know everything about everyone else in the entire LGBTQ+ community, which I didn’t know.”
It’s possibly why Californian singer-songwriter Kehlani – who recently shared that she’s a lesbian and is “definitely on the non-binary scale” – resonates with her so much. “Something I love about Kehlani is that she’s very authentic to herself. There’s not a lot of openly queer people in R&B and there’s a lot of pressure to sing straight romance songs – I like that she veers off from that and she’s just authentic to what she’s doing.”
“We can show queer people without it being a sad queer story – they can just be there, doing their thing; it doesn’t need to be the plot”
It’s a tack that Madison is wholeheartedly embracing with regards to her own career. For example, when we talk about the kinds of future roles she wants to play, she’s after “regular roles” that are also just queer. “Why can’t four out of five of the characters be queer and then there’s that one straight character? That’s a thing, that could be a thing!” she exclaims. Which leads us to laugh over the fallacy perpetuated by Hollywood narratives where there’s always that ‘one gay friend’ added on to a friendship group (“There’s no way you’re willingly isolating yourself with a bunch of straight people!” I can’t help but say).
Additionally, she wants to play more roles that also reflect her experience of exploring her queerness with a supportive environment. While contending with the hardship that queer and trans communities have faced – and continue to face – is critically important, she wants more experiences added to the canon that don’t always centre on pain and rejection. “We can show queer people without it being a sad queer story – they can just be there, doing their thing; it doesn’t need to be the plot,” she asserts. She wants more queer stories that speak to joy: the joy of finding oneself and finding one’s family, whether platonic or romantic, biological or chosen.
Joy has felt so difficult to tangibly grasp onto over the past year, considering the destruction and disruption it has brought globally. For many of us, we have had to focus on the bright sparks and pockets of happiness we have been able to find and cultivate during this time and, for Madison, one of these has been her relationship with Mariah. “When I’m with my girlfriend, I feel the everyday joy of it,” she bashfully shares. “I feel joyful with her every single day. That might sound corny but I’m so serious – the joy is just being who I am with my girlfriend every single day.”
“We have zero chill… Name a queer person who has celebrated one day for their birthday, on the day. Extra, extra, read all about it!”
Madison lights up as she talks about the week-long plans she and Mariah have for their upcoming one-year anniversary, including “romantic hotel, dinner and loving on each other for a weekend”. This naturally leads us to discuss how extra queer people are when celebrating the people they love. “We have zero chill,” I say, to which Madison promptly responds, “Name a queer person who has celebrated one day for their birthday, on the day. Extra, extra, read all about it!”
As I listen to her talk about her love with unbridled joy and excitement, I can’t help but wonder if Hollywood is ready for this young twenty-something year old star who is already so self-assured when it comes to her understanding of herself. As we end the call and say our goodbyes, I think, yes, Madison Bailey, in all her incandescent queer glory, is indeed irrepressible.
Madison on the power of beauty and makeup…
Q GLAMOUR’s Beauty of Pride issue is all about beauty and identity. When did you first discover makeup?
A When I was 14, I was watching YouTube videos, I’d watch an 18-hour makeup tutorial. I would just sit there, and I’m like, OK – I’m going to do this tomorrow when I have nowhere to go. I’m in eighth grade, and I was like, you’re not wearing that anywhere.
Q How has your relationship with beauty and makeup changed over the years?
A My relationship with makeup, how has it changed? Or how has my relationship with my eyebrows changed? My eyebrows have been around the world and back! Ha! But my relationship to makeup stayed pretty consistent. I feel confident when I wear it. I feel fine some days when I don’t. I love putting on fun looks.
Q Why do you think expression through beauty and makeup is so important to a lot of people who are under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella?
A For some people, it’s what makes them want to explore. It’s just so endearing, and it can be a comfort. It can either be a mask or sometimes makeup feels like hiding in plain sight, it really does. And I think it’s so important for people who are exploring, because it is something that you can put on, wipe off and figure out. For some people, it is the distinction between masculinity and the femininity, and sometimes it is what they [use] to blur the lines, or create the lines. There’s no rules to makeup, and I feel like queer people really f*ck with that!