Corey Lay Reflects on 12 Dates of Christmas

HBO Max continues its quest to represent the LGBTQ community in a wide variety of programming.  To add to the mix of We’re Here, Equal, and Legendary, they have added a delicious holiday treat that is our current Christmas guilty pleasure.  While stuck at home with nothing to do but post selfies and watch TV, what better way to pass the time than with some holiday cheesiness and a side of fun drama?  HBO’s Max 12 Dates of Christmas, set in a stunning winter wonderland, follows three hopelessly romantic singles Faith, Chad, and Garrett on their journey to meet that special someone to bring home for the holidays.

The romance begins at a fairytale castle in Austria where ten magical wintery dates await – from ugly sweater parties and an intriguing masquerade ball to snow activities, these dates raise the temperatures faster than the fireplace. As in all great rom-coms, our romantic leads’ paths to love aren’t easy. Just as they make connections, new love interests arrive, adding plenty of twists, turns – with a dash of holiday cheer. Along the way, they face regular elimination ceremonies, complicated blasts from the past, and no shortage of conflicting emotions. After bringing someone home for the holidays, they must decide whether to commit or walk away forever by the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Corey Lay, a video game and app developer, was among the contestants to try his hand at love.  And while he didn’t make it to the end, he made a long-lasting emotional impression on the show.  In showing his emotions,  he hopes to be an example for younger people watching that it’s ok to put your emotions on display, not a weakness.  Corey is an LGBTQ and black community activist with an adorable smile and winning attitude…we’d gladly spend New Year’s Eve with him…and even longer.

Did you have any trepidation about going on a reality dating show? 

None at all! I’ve been single for most of my life and I am willing to take a risk to try to find love. From the first moment I saw the message in my Instagram DMs asking if I would be interested in the show, I knew I wanted to be on it. I figured that if someone else was as excited as me to go on a Christmas-themed dating show that they probably would be a great match for a life partner!

What was your strategy going in? 

My strategy was to be as open and honest as I could through the entire experience. I knew that the time period we had together in the castle was going to be quick. I told myself that I couldn’t hold myself back by being afraid of rejection. I was able to go in as myself and make connections without any of my walls up.

What is your biggest regret from the show? 

I don’t like to live in the past and second guess decisions I’ve made – so I have no regrets about my experience on the show. My biggest “flaw” was desperately wanting love. I’m proud of my ability to be vulnerable and put myself on the line in my search for love. Even in my most dramatic moments on the show, I never said or did anything that doesn’t represent who I am as a person. I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people who appreciated my emotional sensitivity because they can relate to it. It’s actually been a bit empowering to watch myself go through my emotions on TV and having them resonate with viewers.

Did you get the reality TV bug?  What other franchise would you appear on? 

I think I did! The second I landed back in Los Angeles my first thought was, “That was so fun… I need to do something like this again!”. I was (and still am) on cloud nine about the entire experience. It’s been so great to see people relate to my experiences and it’s hilarious to see people’s jokes about my dramatics as well.

I’m still single – so I’d definitely try my luck on another dating show. I also grew up playing a TON of sports and it was a big part of my life that I miss. As an adult, you don’t get many opportunities to compete in a physical way. I’d have a lot of fun doing a physical competition show! I grew up watching shows like MTV’s The Challenge, The Amazing Race, and Survivor so any of those would be incredible! I’m also super interested in the “social experiment” type shows. Something like The Circle or Big Brother would be so fun to explore. I think the world needs to see more gay Black men in reality shows!

What did you learn about yourself the most from doing 12 Dates? 

Being on 12 Dates of Christmas reaffirmed my belief that I should never try to change who I am for someone else. I show up 100% myself on day one, so I and the person I am attempting to date can quickly know if we’re a match or not. If I had gone through the experience of trying to appease someone else then I’d end up in a relationship where I felt constricted. I never want to dim my own light for the sake of love!

Is it possible to find love on reality TV? 

Yes! It’s a crazy, fun, heightened experience to date on reality TV but I think that can allow you to open up and see who each other are sooner. The connections you build on reality tv skip through the worst sides of normal dating where you have to play the game of chasing each other. If two people are willing to take a leap of faith together it can happen and it can last. It didn’t happen for me on 12 Dates of Christmas but I saw it happen with others.

What do you want audiences to walk away with after watching 12 Dates? 

I want audiences to know that we all deserve to find the person who truly loves and accepts us just as we are. The strongest connections from the show formed because two people saw each other and embraced who they were. Be open, honest, and communicative on day one so you don’t waste your time. Embrace vulnerability!

What are your do’s and don’ts tips for a 1st date? 

“Don’t” talk about exes! Anytime someone talks about an ex on the first date I just assume they aren’t completely over that person yet. It makes me want to protect myself from falling for someone that isn’t ready for a new relationship.

“Do” communicate exactly how you feel and be honest about your opinions. You’ll save time by either finding someone who wants all that you are or by realizing you two aren’t a match sooner.

Sex on the first date? 

I always say if I have sex on the first date there’s very little chance that it’ll be a long-term thing. When I truly feel an emotional connection I want to grow with someone I take it slow with the physical side of things. I also get extremely turned off by men who are too focused on trying to get me in bed before they even know who I am. I want someone who isn’t just attracted to the physical side of me.

Worst date story? 

I don’t know if I have a crazy worst date story, but my biggest pet peeve is people who only talk about themselves and never take the opportunity to get to know me on a date. I’ve ended first dates within 30 minutes based on this. I want to get to know you but I also want to feel like you want to get to know me!

Photo: Stanton Stephens

How have your DMs changed from doing the show? 

Yes! Probably differently than you’d think. I’ve gotten a TON of messages from people sending me their love and support from seeing me on the show. People appreciate my sensitivity and honesty with how I carried myself. There’s a lot of love, positive, and good vibes coming from people! I’m getting way more messages from women than I think I’ve ever gotten before. It’s fun feeling connected to people that I don’t even know.

What is your own coming out story? 

I was extremely lucky to come out at 14 years old, and for the most part, I was accepted immediately by my family. The years leading up to that point were particularly difficult for me. There was never a moment in life where I did not know I was gay. I remember having a crush on my best friend in pre-school. I almost came out in 5th grade to a friend but stopped myself after realizing being gay wasn’t accepted. Being involved with sports also made it particularly tough for me – feeling like if I came out I would lose all of that. Especially with my dad being my coach in every sport, I felt like I would be disappointing him if I came out. All of that changed when I met an out and proud friend named William my freshman year in high school. He was so unapologetically himself that it inspired me. If he could live flamboyantly in his truth and not be afraid why should I be? When I finally came out my dad told me that he loved me and he was always going to support me, being gay didn’t matter. That moment changed my life forever. Having the support of my family has given me the confidence to take on the world! Now, I want to inspire others to live in their truth by being as visible as possible.

Have you experienced racism within the LGBT community? 

Unfortunately, I have. I’ve experienced overtly racist messages on dating apps and being called all kinds of racist terms for simply sending a message to someone I thought was attractive. I’ve also experienced unprovoked messages from racist gay men on these same apps. Racial micro-aggressions and colorism in the gay community became very clear to me when I was a teenager. Growing up and seeing dating profiles say “No Blacks” stuck with me for the longest time. Being treated as less-than and not having many Black gay role models to look up to was very hard. On the opposite end, feeling like men were only interested in me because I was Black felt just as bad. I don’t think non-POCs realize how dehumanizing it feels to be fetishized. Statements like, “I want your Black (body part)!” or “I love Black men!” Make me feel like a commodity, not a person. I didn’t truly learn to embrace my Blackness and my beauty until I was in my 20’s.

What is your biggest hope for the LGBT community under our new political leadership for the next four years? 

I really hope the T in LGBT gets more focus and protection. I am very hopeful that Biden will push for equity for our trans brothers and sisters who are very often left behind in the fight for LGBT rights. There are so many trans women of color being murdered without any justice. This needs to end. Biden mentioning the trans community during his election acceptance speech put the biggest smile on my face! It’s beautiful to see the trans community being recognized by the President-Elect of the United States.

Has being under lockdown taught you anything about yourself or your career? 

Going straight from filming 12 Dates of Christmas into a global pandemic was a crazy shift! I am historically a very impatient person. I want everything to happen immediately so I move very fast without always thinking of the direction I am going in. This lockdown has made me slow down in a way that I don’t think I ever would have. I’ve learned to be more deliberate with my time. Every week I make sure I am doing something to better my future. I’ve realized I am at my happiest when I am doing something I am passionate about. So I will only do things that will intrinsically make me happy going forward.

What app would you develop for yourself? 

I love to cook, I Iove to be healthy, but at the same time, I can also be pretty lazy… Meal prepping takes a significant amount of time every week so I often end up making the same boring meals repeatedly. It’s a lot of chicken breasts, rice, and broccoli… Then if I get too tired of eating the same meal every day I end up cheating on my meal plan. I’d love to develop an app that could pair me with a nutritionist, then pair me with a personal chef. That chef would make personalized delicious meals for me based on my specific goal that would be delivered straight to my door throughout the week. Whoever is reading this article, let’s build this app together! Let’s change the world by making it easier for people to make healthier choices.

If a date wanted to impress you, what video game would they need to be killer at? 

Halo! If someone on a first date starts talking about the story details of the Halo universe I just might propose on the spot. I love sci-fi and Halo is by far my favorite video game series. Does anyone want to do a couples cosplay as Cortana and Master Chief with me at a gaming convention? Literally, life goals!

You can binge watch 12 Dates of Christmas on HBO Max, their reunion special debuts Dec 17th.

Follow Corey on IG: @CoreyLay

Photo: Instagram @coreyLay

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Alexander Rodriguez

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