“It’s embarrassing when everybody knows you as the guy who chokes,” complains Kevin, the dorky character played by Lance Bass in the 2001 star vehicle stinker On The Line.
At the time nobody could have ever predicted that the Nsyncer would eventually be choking on hunky reality TV star/model Reichen Lehmkuhl.
But that mental image came into sharp focus all around the world last week after Bass, 27, announced in People magazine that he’s gay, and dating half of the winning couple from Amazing Race 4.
“I’m more liberated and happy than I’ve been my whole life,” he told People.
Considering that a big part of the appeal of boy bands for tweens and teens is that they’re kinda gay and safe and cuddly — Mark Feehily of the UK boy band Westlife came out last summer and one must also consider Robbie Williams, formerly of Take That — Bass’s revelation isn’t surprising. He was described as “the quiet one,” for cryin’ out loud.
But the list of out celebrities in music, television, movies and especially sports is unfortunately very short, Nsync is very big — their 2000 Album No Strings Attached sold 2.4-million copies in its first week of release — and Bass’s decision to come out is therefore a very positive and important one.
And calculated. Oh, did he mention the TV sitcom he’s working on? The uncertain status of Nsnyc’s next album? Lehmkuhl’s own obvious obsession with fame? Fear prevents most rising and mainstream stars from outing themselves, but if your place in the hearts of consumers already seems a little iffy, the balance of risk shifts considerably.
Compare Bass’s manufactured approach to George Michael’s. Mr What’s Your Definition Of Dirty, Baby? was forced out of the closet in 1998 when he was charged for engaging in “lewd conduct” in a public restroom in a Beverly Hills park. He was fined and sentenced to 80 hours of community service — plus he was required to get sex counselling.
One can only imagine how the sex counselling went because last week Michael was again discovered in a park with his pants down — this time by a British newspaper in London. Michael came out swinging. “Are you gay? No? Then fuck off! This is my culture!” he told reporters on the scene.
But Michael — who has had other problems lately, what with being caught in possession of cannabis and falling asleep at the wheel of his car — did not leave it there.
“I have done nothing this year against the law. I’ve done nothing to encourage talk about my sex life,” he told the BBC a few days later. “I don’t know anybody who actually goes to Hampstead Heath at two o’clock in the morning for anything other than the reason of playing about with another member of the human race.”
This is one of the most famous men in music worldwide, a man about to begin his first tour in more than 15 years. He should know what fame requires of him: “I’m sorry. I’m so ashamed. I should have never done that, Oprah. I have a problem I will try to fix.” But he didn’t. Instead he chose to make an argument that few queer advocacy groups, nevermind celebrities, dare make because talking about sexual activity that makes people uncomfortable might squander your political and cultural capital.
Whether it was the sex counselling or all the time he seems to spend with the police, Michael, 43, has been tough enough to turn an incident that usually ends in a public shaming into a public education opportunity.
Bass might have come out on top on magazine covers and headlines; there’s nothing wrong with having a cute nerd as yet another public face of gay life. But Michael, without even trying, has used his unwanted media currency to force people to take a look at why they judge him. Which one is braver?