Cover Guy: Jaymes Vaughan

Yes, we know: He works as a Chippendales performer. He’s on the current season of The Amazing Race. His name is spelled JAYMES. Cue the gay-rag fawning over the genetically blessed, right?

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to stereotyping our cover model: Jaymes, extra “Y” and all, turned out to be as endearingly goofy and good-hearted as he was gorgeous, if not more so.

“I didn’t get self-confidence until this year,” Jaymes says. “I always second-guess myself. Besides, 90 percent of me is photoshopped. My tan is fake. I dye my hair. I wear contacts. I had braces twice.”

Coming across as a Southern-accented puppy bounding with mischievous energy, Jaymes, 30, laughs so hard he can barely get the words out when describing his anxiety about attempting to be “sexy.”

“I was born this scrawny, pasty white kid with bad teeth, bad skin and bad hair. So I tell everyone: Don’t believe everything you see and don’t kill yourself to look a certain way. Be happy with what you got,” he says. “I don’t want somebody to fall in love with the billboard version of me. I want them to fall in love with me. I don’t want to have to look like that the rest of my life—I don’t even look that way now!”
His suggestion for the cover shoot? “Me eating a cheeseburger.”

Jaymes Vaughan grew up in rural Virginia, where he says “everybody knows their neighbor and there are more cows and goats than there are people.”

With a huge grin, he remembers how he and his siblings rode their bikes through mud pits, dove into the lake with their shoes on and jumped out of the barn’s second-story hayloft into the pig slop. He calls his grandmother “Nanny” and remembers how, after these adventures, she’d have to spray them with the garden hose before letting them inside her house.

He also remembers the discrimination his mixed-race family faced. (His little brother and sister are bi-racial: African-American and Caucasian. “But we are a colorblind family!”).  He also recalls how conservative and church-driven the world of his upbringing was and what it felt like to sit on a hard pew every Sunday and hear brutal, scarring things said in the name of love.

“I had a church that crammed down my throat you’re going to hell if you’re gay, and even my mom, bless her, she just grew up in this bubble: You eat, sleep and breathe church, so whatever they tell you is gold,” he says. “If they tell you to tell your son he is going to hell because he’s gay, you do it. Growing up, I had a best friend who killed himself because of that mentality.”

While Jaymes is proud of his upbringing and roots, he looks back compassionately—but with clear eyes.

“I was from such a sheltered area. You can’t fault people for being ignorant when they don’t know any better,” he says. “Growing up, the only things I thought you could be if you were gay was a hairdresser or a drag queen. Those aren’t bad—we need hairdressers and drag queens—but I felt like I didn’t fit in. My church and my family were telling me I couldn’t be gay, but I knew what I felt and who I was, but I just didn’t see any role models.”

Growing up this way took a toll on his self-confidence, and it would be years before Jaymes would be in a place where he could fully be himself—and be proud of it.
“That’s what sucks the most when I look back on it—I was taught that it was a big deal. I was taught to feel bad about myself, that it was a struggle,” he says. “All I should have been taught is that ‘you are you, you are love, and it’s not a big deal.’”

After leaving Virginia, Jaymes went off to see the world, eventually settling in Las Vegas with nothing to his name other than that aforementioned extra “Y” and the crazy idea that he might become a singer.

At the time, his only musical training was, well, not exactly professional. As a kid, his family did not allow secular music. Irresistibly drawn to the release and escape that music offered, Jaymes and his brother had shared a secret Walkman and one cassette, a Guns N’ Roses mixtape with “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on one side and “November Rain” on the other. On the rare occasions he was alone at home, Jaymes would practice singing in the mirror to that tape.

“In Vegas, I went and auditioned for my first singing job. It was called Bareback. Yes, Bareback. Me and a bunch of topless girls dancing around doing country line dancing. Hilarious. Although I think it was supposed to be sexy. When they asked: ‘Can you sing? Can you dance?’ I couldn’t do either to save my life, but I was thinking, I ain’t got no car, no place to live, no job, and that hunger to survive will push you to a level you didn’t know you had,” he laughs. “I rolled the dice in Vegas and got lucky. The next thing you know, I’m getting paid to travel the world and sing. Someone’s looking out for me, and I try to seize every moment, because you never know when it’s going to stop.”

Read more about Jaymes in the new October issue of Instinct, out now!