First Encounters

The Moment I Realized All My Childhood Crushes Were Gay

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I’d covered my closet with pictures of him, as if my life consisted of too on-the-nose literary foreshadowing.

In the fifth grade, I got my own bedroom. My brother had moved out to go to college and the big corner guest room was now up for grabs. The room was coveted because it had its own bathroom, a walk-in closet, and was the furthest away from my parents’ master bedroom, which they’d made by converting our garage into a beautiful suite.

The first order of business for me in my new domain was to decorate. I pulled out a big cardboard box of magazines I’d collected over the years from the grocery store checkout and a pair of scissors.

When I was done, I had an entire closet door plastered front and back with pictures of a spiky-blonde head and vacant baby blues. Lance. 

I was on a camping trip with my father in North Florida. I was eight. I’d just discovered compact discs after having relied on taping cassette mixes off the radio for the last couple of years. I had a walkman, but only one CD —Big Willie Style by Will Smith.

I wandered the campsite, passing through wooded, tall trees and half burnt out fire pits, listening to Smith rap about “getting jiggy with it” but I was bored. What good was having this wonderful technology if I only had one album?

Back at my campsite, an older blonde, freckled girl handed me one of hers. In thick blue font on the top it read, “*NSYNC.” Underneath, five slim photos became one square that would harmonize into my heart. Chris. Lance. JC. Justin. Joey. But Lance. Especially shy, sweet Lance. When I heard the rumor that the band’s manager Lou Pearlman had once worked Lance so hard that he’d vomited on stage (and this was pre-Internet when rumors ran rampant until cleared up by Gideon Yago, Sway, Suchin Pak, or Kurt Loder), I was bereft. I wrote his name in gel pens on my hand in a show of solidarity.

This was 1999. We all know what happened next. *Nsync conquered the world during an era when you’d spit and hit a boyband. Frontman Justin Timberlake went on to have a very sexy, very successful solo career wearing suits and ties to have sex. (Have I misinterpreted that song?) 

And my baby Lance Bass came out of the closet in a faux-serious, full page People magazine cover declaring, “I’m Gay!”

Yep. The one I’d decided I was going to marry and have kids with, the one I knew everything about including that his real first name was “James” and that Lance was his middle name, the one I’d written intricate self-insert fan fiction about was decidedly not going to meet me and fall instantly in love.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

After Lance, came Neil Patrick Harris and David Hyde Pierce, a duo of three-named heart assassins who caught my eye in television programs not geared toward me. NPH, before his resurgence as leading man, was the wide-eyed Doogie Howser, MD. As someone who often felt smarter than the other dipshit kids around me, I related to his quirky child genius and precociousness, but also his utter cluelessness about being a teen. NPH makes some sense as a “celeb crush.”

DHP is where it gets creepy. I fell in love with Pierce while watching him play Niles Crane on the high-brow sitcom “Frasier.” I was 11. The character of Niles Crane was meant to be the same age as my mother.

I liked Niles because he was self-serious and funny at the same time. I liked that he was slight and prided himself on his intellect over his body mass. I liked that he was devoted to Daphne, but shy enough not to really show it. He was super non-threatening to a tween girl, but still appealing in his nebbishy cuteness. I later saw Pierce perform on Broadway in “Spamalot”and it was very clear from that, and from re-watching “Frasier” on Netflix, that he was not interested in women.

Harvey_Fierstein_and_Anthony_RappThe nebbish Broadway charm also hit me in high school when my next crush was the actor Anthony Rapp. Rapp is slight and anxious as the narrator of the musical “Rent,” a self-obsessed cameraman named Mark. Mark is ironically one of the more prominent heterosexual (presumably) characters in the show, but Rapp was one of the only openly gay original cast members.

I loved Rapp so much that during my junior year, he did a book signing in downtown Miami but since I’d just gotten my driver’s license, my parents refused to allow me to attend. I lied to them and went anyway. On the way home, I got a flat tire and couldn’t tell them about it so I called my aunt hysterically crying. But at least I got a photo with my Mark!

In real life, meanwhile, my middle school boyfriend came out when we were in college. That was the last straw. I was not going to be the girl in love with the gay guy anymore.

Then, in 2012, I went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway because I signed up for tickets in 1927, when the line for them started.

One of the leads at the time was a fantastic actor named Andrew Rannells.

Rannells is gorgeous like a Ken doll. His smile is so white the front row of the show should be wearing sunglasses. His life should be sponsored by Crest.

Outside the theater after the show, while planning our future children’s names, I Googled, “andrew rannells single?” 

Then, for no reason other than my own past, I changed my mind and instead, Googled, “andrew rannells gay?”

I’ll let you guess what I found.