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Becca Tilley opens up about Pride, Hayley Kiyoko, and life after 'The Bachelor'
Dress: Nadine Merabi. Shoes: Larroudé. Earring & Ring: Bea Bongiasca.
The Visibility Issue

Becca Tilley Is Ready to Level Up

A year after coming out, the Bachelor Nation alum knows exactly who she is.
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Becca Tilley didn’t plan on any of this. In 2015, America first met Tilley as a shy, firmly heterosexual Southern girl searching for a husband on Season 19 of The Bachelor—a far cry from the self-assured queer entrepreneur I watch pose for her StyleCaster cover shoot at Cubbyhole, New York’s iconic lesbian bar in the West Village. With Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Beyoncé’s Renaissance blasting behind the bar, the June shoot—held on the very first day of Pride Month—is an anniversary celebration, and Tilley’s ready to party.

Just over a year ago, Tilley confirmed her relationship with Hayley Kiyoko in a not long after appearing in the pop singer’s —a bold move that shocked Bachelor Nation and opened Tilley up to public scrutiny. Today, her coming out story is old news. Now 34, Tilley has evolved beyond the Bach Nation stratosphere, leveraging her 1.1 million Instagram followers to promote her and Tanya Rad’s burgeoning podcast () and lock in social media partnerships with brands like Taco Bell and Kay Jewelers. So yes, she’s very much booked and busy, this week swinging by Manhattan’s Irving Plaza for one of the final stops on Kiyoko’s U.S. Panorama Tour. A cover shoot. Her girlfriend’s show. Sounds like a fantasy.

“Growing up, I never was that person who was like, ‘I knowဣ exactly what I wanna do,’” she tells me over Zoom back in May, dialing in from her cozy Los Angeles home. She’s all smiles in an oversized button-up, her caramel-brown hair washing over her shoulders in soft waves as her adorable Pomeranian, Phoebe, yawns in her lap, unbꦚothered by our conversation. “I always envied people who knew what their path looked like and knew what steps they needed to take to get there.” 

Dress: Nadine Merabi. Earring & Ring: Bea Bongiasca.

As one of five children in Shreveport, Louisiana, life as a full-fledged media personality with a mega-public LGBTQ+ relationship never registered as a possibility in Tilley’s mind. “Being in the South, I thought getting married and having two kids by 25 and being a teacher was the easy next step for my life,” she says. “I don’t know if that was my dream, but in my mind, that was the easy next step.”

In 2006, Tilley enrolled at Louisiana Tech University for a year as a family/child studies major with aspirations to work as a child life specialist—a career path she could see herself returning to “if I feel called back to school.” Apart from a brief acting class stint in middle school, stepping in front of an audience of millions wasn’t on Tilley’s bingo card. But after a friend nominated her for Chris Soules’ season of The Bachelor, she decided to give reality TV a shot. Tilley became Soജules’ runner-up and returned the following year as a contestant on Ben Higgins’ season. The experience turned her into a household name, though she didn’t expect the nation to fixate on her virginity as a result of her portrayal. 

Dress: Retrofête. Earrings: Emma Pills.

It’s a sensitive label she eventually chose to embrace. “Once it was out there, I was like, ‘You know what? Now I feel like I have to own it,’” she says, reflecting on the sudden pressure to represent women who related to her storyline. “We’re so quick to criticize certain things that we don’t understand or choose ourselves, and I wanted it to be an example of showing that if you choose something, you’re confident in it, that’s cool.”

Still, Bachelor fans felt entitled to ask invasive questions about Tilley’s sex and dating life. In one memorable instance, a stranger walked up to her and then-boyfriend Robert Graham (who Tilley dated 💟from 2016 to 2017) at an event and asked her, point-blank, “Are you still a virgin?”.

“It’s weird to be a private person and then go [on] this massive show and have something so intimate and sacred to you out th🍨ere that people feel they have the right to know about,” Tilley says. “After that🥃, there was a part of me that wanted to be more guarded about what I shared.”

Dress: Nadine Merabi. Earring & Ring: Bea Bongiasca.

Tilley speaks about her time on The Bachelor warmly, comparing the Bachelor Nation universe to college, a place where fraternity brothers and sorority sisters immediately bond. (She remains close with co-stars like Jojo Fletcher, whose wedding she was a guest at). Yet for all the national speculation the show invited, Tilley never imagined what graduating from the franchise would lead to: finding love.

As fate would have it, Tilley was invited to Kiyoko’s 2018 Expectations album release party just days after two of her younger sisters (who are also queer) encouraged her to play Kiyoko’s music. Tilley’s expectations? That perhaps Kiyoko would fancy one of her sisters, not the other way around. At the party, Tilley wore a shirt that quite literally read “No Time For Romance.” They me🃏t, and after some “hardcore flirting,” soon became hooked.

Kiyoko speaks of that time fondly. 

“I [remember] watching her season [of The Bachelor and thinking], ‘Oh, my God, she’s so cute, 🌼and she has an amazin💦g energy to her,’” Kiyoko says. “If you were to tell me [back in 2015] that we would be in a relationship, I would be very confused.”

For the first four years of their ‘ship, Tilley and Kiyoko’s coupled-up status was public knowledge within their social circles; Tilley freely introduced Kiyoko as her girlfriend to friends and family, and on Scrubbing In, she referred to her partner as 95p (as in, she was 95 percent certain she would marry this significant other).

Dress: Kelsey Randall. Earrings: NOTTE Jewelry.

But Tilley didn’t rush to share their love with the world for two reasons: Sh👍e already dealt with being scrutinized by strangers for her dating choices, and she had only recently come to terms with her sexuality and que🅺erness. So, Tilley toyed with keeping her relationship with Kiyoko private, but not secret—a distinction the couple discussed early on.

“It was this very delicate line of, ‘I never want you to feel hidden. But also, I have to process this and go through this on my own tim﷽e, without the pressure of feeling rushed,’” Tilley says. “Hayley was so gracious and supportive and understanding. And I feel lucky to be with someone who held my hand, [even] when I maybe walked slower than she wanted to walk.”

Hollywood’s a small town, and so one of the first people to learn about their relationship was, naturally, Taylor Swift. Kiyoko became friends with Swift in 2018, and shortly afterward, she was invited to perform onstage during a July stop on Swift’s Reputation Tour. Tilley met them both backstage after the show, and that was that.

“[Besides] my close friends, even before some family members, Taylor was the first to know,” Tilley says. “It’s a very niche thing to have in my pocket.” (Taylor, if you’re reading this, Tilley’s dream surprise Eras Tour songs are “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” and “Out of the Woods” on piano).

Dress: Retrofête. Shoes: Larroudé. Earrings: Emma Pills.
Dress: Retrofête. Shoes: Larroudé. Earrings: Emma Pills.

Yes, Tilley and Kiyoko may exude glamorous power couple energy—posing on red carpets and hanging with fellow celesbian couple G-Flip and Selling Sunset’s Chrishell Stause—but at home, life is much more low-key. “My favorite days [are when] we go to the park or the beach, and get our favorite sandwiches,” Tilley says, joking that they often consider starting a TikTok sandwich rating series together (which, they should). “At night, we love playing games, like cards or Mario Kart. If you offer to play games with Hayley, that’s her dream night.”

Though they live apart, they share a “quality time” love language, which they’re both eager to enjoy now that Kiyoko’s summer tour has wrapped. “[Becca] is such a light, and she brings so much humor to my li🍨fe,” Kiyoko says. “We’re always giggling and goofing off, which I love. She’s probably even more free-spirited than you would imagine.”

Their joint hobbies also include making vision boards and hosting Bachelor watch parties. “[Hayley] said she didn’t [watch me on the show] when we first met,” Tilley says. “Then I was stalking her on Instagram, as one does after meeting someone, and I scrolled back to when my season was airing. She did this full monologue [where] I’m pretty sure she was reenacting one of my speeches to Chris [Soules], making fun of The Bachelor. So I called her out on it!”

Tilley has grown exponentially since that initial coming out process. While some of her more conservative followers occasionally make jabs at her queerness, she’s far past caring about their opinions.

“A lot of people are like, ‘I don’t get how you can just be with a woman now,’” Tilley says. “My response is that you don’t have to get it. It feels like we’re going backwards, [trying to] encourage people not to hate people just trying to exist. I’m hoping that as I feel more comfortable, the stronger I feel in being in the [LGBTQ+] community, [that] I&rsq﷽uo;ll feel empowered to have those conversations. That’s what I hope for, in having a platform whatsoever.”

Dress: Nadine Merabi. Earring & Ring: Bea Bongiasca.

Shortly after coming out, Tilley was hesitant to participate in Pride campaigns, not wanting to take space from other queer figures as a white, relatively privileged “brand’s dream.” “It was very important to me to be like, ‘We’re not gonna take every opportunity simply because it’s June and I’m out,’” Tilley says. “Companies are gonna show their allyship during June, but what are they doing outside of that month? I’m fortunate that I’m in the position to have choices and be able to say, ‘That doesn’t align with me.’”

“She comes from a very different world, growing up in Louisiana,” Kiyoko says, rooting for the opportunities Tilley chooses to take. “I know that being your authentic self and sharing that with others he🐻lps so many people, especially those that come from similar backgrounds, to be more honest with themselves.”

As for what’s next, Tilley wants to step up her game. “I would love to have something that’s mine, my own brand—beauty products or clothing, whatever it is,” Tilley says. Those successes will come when they come, but for now, she’s just grateful for what her life looks like at the moment. “I know it’s so cliché, but I think a lot of people underestimate [having] health🀅 and people you love surrounding you, and what those things can bring. It all goes back to that.”

But she does have one more goal. “Hayley and I don’t officially live together yet—so finally getting to the point where we merge our lives a little bit more,” she says with a smile. Hopefully, inspo for their perfect place is already tacked onto that vision board.

___________________
Photographer: George Chinsee
Stylist: Samantha Sutton-Fetch
Hair: Jason Linkow
Makeup: Markphong Tram
Shot on location at Cubbyhole in New York City

StyleCaster’s June 2023 Visibility Issue

Visibility issue 2023
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