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Pride

Katy O’Brian is the embodiment of queer joy and queer rebellion

Katy O'Brian
Daniel Prakopcyk

PRIDE’s Grand Marshal opens up on her journey to a Sapphic awakening, keeping the spirit of queer revolution alive, and how she refuses to let her body be policed or politicized by anyone.

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For Katy O’Brian, conformity was never an option. Her adherence to following her passion, bliss, and peace is exactly what has allowed her to excel at everything she does, whether it be acting, martial arts, or bodybuilding. It’s not that she hasn’t had her share of naysayers; she has. It’s the fact that she doesn’t let them dictate who she is — and that spirit of rebellion and, well, pride, is precisely why she’s our Grand Marshal.

“I’ve been told that I’m too buff for certain roles. It’s funny to me; I don’t really care because what gives me confidence are the things that some people seem to police,” O’Brian tells PRIDE. “I love having short hair. It feels great on me. It feels like the way that I feel the most confident. I love having muscles; it makes me feel really confident. I love what my body can do. It’s just one of those things where I don’t think I would be as far as I am if I didn’t embrace those things about myself. If other people don’t want to, then that’s their problem.”

Katy O'Brian

Myles Pettengil

If her resume in the last few years is any indication, her approach is working. She kicked off this year starring opposite Kristen Stewart in the incredible revenge thriller romance Love Lies Bleeding. Prior to that, she took a bite out of two of the biggest properties, Star Wars and Marvel,in back-to-back roles in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and the third season of The Mandalorian. But that’s not all: Next up, O’Brian is starring in two highly-anticipated action sequels, Twisters and Mission: Impossible 8. Yeah, you could definitely say everything’s coming up O’Brian — and we couldn’t be happier to witness her success. In other words, her queer joy is our queer joy.

katy O'brian in love lies bleeding

Courtesy of A24

O’Brian has come a long way from her Midwestern roots. She grew up in Indiana, not closeted but not really sure of her identity either. “I come from a really accepting family. But I don’t know that the topic of queerness came up very often. It certainly wasn’t anything that I was really aware of, until maybe even as early as high school when one of my friends came out,” she recalls. Still, even before she knew she was queer she was hanging out in the creative circles that eventually lead to her awakening in college.

“Girls had crushes on me and I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on,’” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t until college when I saw someone who was very androgynous for the first time where I had this, aha moment of, ‘Oh my god, that person is beautiful. I want to know more about them. Who is that? What is this?’ That’s where I started to really delve into my own sexuality.”

It was a slow process of realization for O’Brian, who began attending drag shows with her queer friends, which proved to be life-changing. “IU Bloomington (my alma mater) had something called Miss Gay IU and Who’s Your Daddy, [which] was a pageant for drag. It was my intro to drag because I was only like 17 or 18. I was like, ‘What is this? This is incredible.’ It was the first time that I saw queer people on stage, having fun being as gay as possible. Slashing gender norms. All the fun stuff, but also everyone just cheering for them, loving them, throwing flowers, and hopefully underwear,” she recalls. ”I love the drag community for that. I think that they’ve always been some of the biggest ride-or-dies.”

PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 21: Katy O'Brian attends the 27th annual SAGindie Actors Only Brunch at Sundance at Cafe Terigo on January 21, 2024 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)Katy O'Brian

Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie

Her biggest aha moment, however, came on a date — with a guy. “The tipping point for me was this guy took me out on a date and we went to get mussels, the shellfish, and I was, ‘I’m kind of more into this shellfish than I am into this guy,” she laughs. “I was always really interested in an emotional or maybe even just bro-y connection with my guy friends. I felt very close to them. But in terms of attraction, it was really not happening.”

What was holding her back, in retrospect, was a stubbornness to not be a stereotype. “I was like, ‘No, I can’t. I can’t be a stereotype.’ But I guess I was. So it got to the point where I literally had friends come up to me and be like, ‘So, are you gay yet?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ And then the joy on their faces when I finally said yes was great,” O’Brian recounts.

The truth is, she couldn’t be further from a stereotype and the secret to her success is her willingness to not only break the mold, but to smash it. To take a risk on herself, even when the odds are seemingly stacked against her. Take, for example, her decision to leave Indiana and strike out to Los Angeles to pursue a dream that part of her was convinced would never come true. Growing up, O’Brian had always aspired to be in the entertainment business. “I always loved performing. Whether that was through music, whether it was through acting, I always loved performing. I do not have the temperament to be a rock star [laughs] and so I was really drawn to acting,” she says.

PARK CITY, UTAH - JANUARY 21: Katy O'Brian attends the 27th annual SAGindie Actors Only Brunch at Sundance at Cafe Terigo on January 21, 2024 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie

The problem she faced was that when she looked at the screen, she never saw herself or anyone like her looking back. “I personally never felt like I connected to a lot of characters, especially female characters, that were written the way they were written; these don’t feel like words that could ever fall out of my mouth. Even when I was in theater, and I was reading classical monologues, I’m just like, ‘I don’t feel represented still,’” she recalls. “I think some of the big roadblocks were not seeing myself but also not knowing if I could be good enough to compete, and especially as I started to come out as gay and I had short hair then, I was bodybuilding and I had muscles.” Yet O’Brian ultimately decided to take a chance on herself. “It was just something that didn’t seem possible, but I was so miserable doing what I was doing that I was like, ‘Well, I might as well give it a shot.’”

“I knew that even if Hollywood wasn’t ready, or if there wasn’t something for me, I could always make stuff for myself, or I could just go out and try,” she shares. As it turned out, not only did she have the talent to compete, but her timing in heading to Tinseltown was perfect. “It’s cringe to read it or to think about it — but everything [casting was looking for] was like ‘ethnically ambiguous’ or ‘androgynous,’ O’Brian recalls. “So I just happened to come into Hollywood at a time where they were trying to start tiptoeing people that look like me into film and television.”

Katy O'Brian in The Mandalorian

Courtesy of Disney

While Hollywood is far from where it needs to be in terms of representation, O’Brian’s skyrocketing career means that now more queer people will be able to see themselves on screen, and that’s a beautiful and powerful thing. She’s also continuing to use her platform to help her community. As we chat, O’Brian is wearing a Protect Queer Youth tee. She shares that it’s from a recent Smile Big convention in Amarillo, Texas, which provides resources including counseling, shelter, education, and mental health support for the LGBTQ+ community.

O’Brian’s message to those who are looking to her as a role model is to find community and services who will embrace and support you. “Anywhere you are, there’s going to be some kind of place to find someone that can love you, except you, nourish you, and help you in hard times,” she says.

Katy O'Brian

Myles Pettengil

In these times, especially during an election year, we could all use that extra bit of support. “I really genuinely feel like a little bit defeated,” she admits, before pivoting to what gives her hope even now. “One of the things that I kind of find a little bit of solace in is the collective action community. Just making yourself heard and difficult. I love a good rebel.”

That’s a great reminder that Pride began as a rebellion. Yes, today it's also a party, because we deserve to celebrate our community and culture. Just like O’Brian did back when she was first embracing her queer awakening at a drag show, but it’s also a time for fighting and collective action. We’re powerful when we come together, and with O’Brian leading the charge, we feel pretty invincible, too.

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Rachel Shatto

EIC of PRIDE.com

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.

Rachel Shatto, Editor in Chief of PRIDE.com, is an SF Bay Area-based writer, podcaster, and former editor of Curve magazine, where she honed her passion for writing about social justice and sex (and their frequent intersection). Her work has appeared on Elite Daily, Tecca, and Joystiq, and she podcasts regularly about horror on the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network. She can’t live without cats, vintage style, video games, drag queens, or the Oxford comma.