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Are the Kids Alright? is Yahoo Entertainment's video interview series exploring the impact of show business on the development and well-being of former child entertainers, from triumphs to traumas.
Lance Bass knew he was gay when he was 5, but, as a teenager in one of the biggest music acts of the '90s, he kept quiet about it. He understood that's what the people involved with his career wanted.
"Being in the entertainment industry, you get told certain things and they allude to certain things. No one ever flat-out said, 'Listen, if you're gay, you can't do this," Bass says. "But they would [say] things like, 'You know, if you have a girlfriend, you can't really talk about them' and 'Remember your audience, your fans out there. They don't want to really know about your personal life.' So that always to me was kind of a backhanded, like, 'Look, we know you're gay, keep it a secret, kid.'"
Bass — who was 16 when he teamed up with Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick — hadn't yet come out. But people were already labeling him as "gay," which they meant as a slur.
"Being in a boy band, I got called gay every single day that I was in the band. And it wasn't because they actually thought I was gay," Bass says. "It's just because I was in a boy band. All of us got that. I definitely wasn't singled out. I think all of us got it equally."
In 2006 — after the band had pretty much broken up — Bass came out via a cover story in People magazine. It's something that he can't imagine happening today.
"No one cares, you know? Everyone's just like, OK, that's just normal," Bass says. "My niece and nephews, they were really little when I came out. I remember the first thing that they said … they didn't understand it, they were like, 'Why is this a big deal?' [They] could not comprehend why people cared about us being gay and why it would be so big you put you on the cover of People. It really encouraged me to know that this younger generation is so accepting and they just, they look at it as kids. They don't know it [as] any different. It’s just the reality of life for them.”
Bass, who welcomed twins with husband Michael Turchin in October, has taken notice of all the LGBTQ stars in 2021. He sees such a difference from when he felt like he had to stay silent, to keep the world from knowing the real him.
"You know, one thing that I didn't have growing up was examples of gay people, you know, especially in entertainment. Everyone was hidden," Bass says. "I didn't really have anyone to look up to, but now, this generation has so many people in the public eye to relate to and be like, 'Oh, that sounds like my story' or 'That's the type of family I have.' Now we have like Troye Sivan ... JoJo Siwa, especially Lil Nas X. It's been so great for his community. You have all these young celebrities that are really accepting who they are and, because of that, their fans would probably accept themselves earlier."
— Video produced by Olivia Schneider and edited by Luis Saenz