Talk to any adult who grew up in the 1990s and ask them to name the No. 1 boy band in the country at the time, and you’ll likely hear the name NSYNC. What most of those fans didn’t know at the time was that one of the group’s teen idols, Lance Bass, was living with a secret he couldn’t disclose.
Now 42 and living in California, Bass sat down for an interview with Baptist News Global, a rare exchange with a religious publication, to discuss his journey and why he felt like he needed to come out publicly as a gay man.
Bass grew up in a typical Southern Baptist home in Laurel, Miss., where going to church every week was a part of the weekly family agenda. His story isn’t unique among the LGBTQ community, yet it highlights the struggle many in the community deal with when their faith and coming out collide.
“I loved growing up in a small town and in a Southern Baptist church,” he explained. “There was one Baptist church in the town, you knew everyone, everyone knew your business, but it was a very innocent place to live, definitely a place you didn’t lock your doors. It was just so safe. Everyone was your family, and your church family, that was your family.
“So I grew up in this very loving situation, which was great and made me feel great” he said, also recalling exciting times singing in the church’s children’s choir and participating in church activities.
As his musical career took off and he began to travel the world with NSYNC, however, he took with him the secret he had been dealing with since he was a young child.
“Even at 5 years old, I knew I was gay,” he said. “I knew what that meant. I knew then that it was viewed as wrong in the culture I grew up in. So knowing that at such an early age, it definitely gave me a lot of anxiety because I started at 5 having to make sure not to show it because I thought people were going to hate me and I was going to hell for it.”
That urgency of that secret-keeping only grew when NSYNC became internationally famous. Carrying that secret, “I felt like I was walking on eggshells,” he said.
“Knowing that at such an early age, it definitely gave me a lot of anxiety because I started at 5 having to make sure not to show it because I thought people were going to hate me and I was going to hell for it.”
Bass joined NSYNC in 1995 after his junior year of high school. That major life change corresponded with the normal challenges of teenage sexual discovery.
“When I was a teenager and right when I was about to join NSYNC is when people started dating for the first time and having their first girlfriends and, you know, I had no interest in that and it really gave me anxiety to think, about it,” he explained. “I was about to graduate high school, go into college, which is where everyone has relationships. I knew I couldn’t do that, so when NSYNC called, to join the group was a blessing, and I was like, ‘Yes! I only have to think about being a part of the group and no time for relationships.’”
For a time, joining the boy band seemed to put off the inevitability of the struggle he carried on the inside. But as life and time went by, even NSYNC couldn’t seem to hold off what Bass had to address. He came out in a cover story for People magazine in July 2006.
Looking back now, he sees that his faith in God always has been strong, even though he often questioned why God wouldn’t make him straight “like everyone else.”
“I was like, please let me wake up and be straight, and then when that prayer didn’t get answered for years and I became a teenager, I felt like I had been lied to my whole life and maybe my church was wrong, because I eventually started feeling like in my heart and my relationship with God, that he was telling me I was fine.”
Eventually, he knew he had to tell the truth, beginning with his close circle of friends and eventually his parents, who since have become his biggest advocates, with his mom even speaking occasionally to groups on the issue of loving LGBTQ family members.
The former teen idol now lives in California with his husband, Michael, and the two of them recently announced they will become the parents of twins in November.
“Michael just makes me so happy, and I’ve never felt love like that before,” he explained.
He knows that in the public’s eye he’ll always be associated with NSYNC, and that’s OK. He and other members of the group still text each other and speak regularly.
When asked if the group might get back together again — which would be an answer to a lot of Gen X prayers — Bass answered without a commitment: “You know, I’ve always said that most likely not, like I don’t really see us ever doing an album or touring. We’ve gone on different paths. But after this pandemic, I have a feeling it’s a better chance that we might do something. I think the world needs something fun and positive, more than ever.”
One thing he has not fully reconciled as an adult is his relationship to organized religion. He enjoys reading the Bible and still appreciates a large amount of his experiences growing up in church, but he’s not currently involved in a local church.
“I don’t trust organized religion anymore,” he said. “It’s nice to have that community, but, you know, I just did not like how they were interpreting everything. And so my relationship just really became about the teachings of Jesus Christ and what he had to say. And, if you just look at that, that is a great guide for life, right?”
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