For years, including during the height of 'NSYNC's success, Lance Bass lived in constant fear that a secret he had been suppressing since childhood would eventually come out — and with devastating results. Bass, who last year revealed he is gay, had previously been worried that the news would cripple his career and tarnish 'NSYNC's squeaky-clean image.
"I was petrified of people finding out," he told MTV News' John Norris during a recent interview. "At the time, I thought it would be the end of the world. Now, in hindsight, I wish I would have come out at that time, because I would've loved to see what the reaction would have been."
Because of his fear, Bass kept his sexuality private. In fact, Bass was so timorous about the world finding out he was gay that he had friends, employees and others close to him sign non-disclosure agreements. Bass says not even his best friends in 'NSYNC knew he was gay, and that his days in the closet were riddled with guilt.
"I was embarrassed," said Bass, who is currently acting in "Hairspray" on Broadway as part of a six-month run. "The embarrassment wasn't that I was gay, it was that, 'I've known you for this long, and I have been hiding this [secret] from you.' I felt like I had to lie to my friends."
The band's publicists, managers and record label suggested the members never be seen with women — or, for that matter, with a cigarette or beer in their hands. But no one ever expressly advised Bass against coming out — that's because no one knew, he said. Not long after the band's career took off, however, one incident reaffirmed Bass' position that coming clean could crush his dreams, the singer remembers.
"There were many times, early in our career, where there were a lot of questions about everyone else's sexuality, so when you're talking with the other guys, you see how they really react," Bass said. "One time, we questioned Chris [Kirkpatrick], because he had a gay friend, and the reaction was we'd be doomed if anyone knew about it. That set it straight in my head that I would never be able to talk about it or tell anyone, and I would just have to hide it."
Even as his bandmates would make the occasional wisecrack about gay people — "That's just what guys do to establish their masculinity," he said — Bass kept quiet and "tried to cut it off in my life, those feelings."
But Bass also suspects there were times when his bandmates might have wondered if he were gay: "When you're best friends with someone and you don't have a girlfriend for four years, and you're not seen with anyone, you sort of start figuring it out," he said.
After 'NSYNC went on hiatus back in 2002, Bass — who had been told the band would return to form following Justin Timberlake's stint as a solo artist — still didn't want to come out. But last summer, following considerable speculation about Bass' sexuality thanks to numerous paparazzi snaps of him frequenting gay clubs and bars, he emerged from the closet, with a little help from People magazine. Now Bass feels liberated, he says.
"I never thought I'd be talking about my life in such intimate detail with anyone," he said. "So, when I did come out and kind of accepted it, and shared it with the world, and saw how greatly it was accepted, and how a lot of people were relating to the stories — I'd have people come up to me, telling me, 'Because of what you did, I had the courage to come out to my family' — it was such an encouraging experience, I wanted to share my life story with other people, to see if it could help others."
And Bass is trying to do just that with his new tell-all book, "Out of Sync: A Memoir," which hit stores Tuesday (October 23). Beyond charting Bass' rise to fame as a member of 'NSYNC, as well as the band's decline, his childhood, his experiences training to be a cosmonaut in Russia, the autobiography chronicles his struggle to keep his personal life shrouded.
"If [I hadn't come out,] I might still be miserable and hiding things," he said.
But while Bass is happy to be out of the closet, that doesn't mean he's going to start outing others, even if his book's publisher tried to get him to do so.
"I know plenty of people in the industry that are in the closet and not wanting to share that personal detail of their life," he explained. "And I understand that. It's a very scary thing, especially when new artists are about to break, or actors are taking straight roles — you're afraid the audience won't buy it. The publisher and a lot of people wanted more dirt [in my book], because controversy sells. To me, it's not about selling a book — I just wanted to share my story, without hurting anyone's feelings or throwing anyone under the bus. There's lots of things I could definitely say, and point the finger at people, but I wanted this to be a positive book, and my life up to now has been very positive. I'm happy with every aspect of my life, and I don't want to complain about anything I've ever done."
In the book, Bass also discusses coming out to his family and friends, and the reactions they had to the news. In one anecdote, he recalls how best friend Joey Fatone learned his secret: He attended one of Bass' house parties and stumbled upon his pal sitting in a closed room with his boyfriend sitting across his lap.
"He walked in, and was like, 'Oh, sorry,' and walked out," Bass recalled. "And I was going, 'No — it's OK, Joey.' He knew from that moment on — that was the day I told him."
Bass said he thinks people will be surprised when they read his tome, which he said answers a lot of questions 'NSYNC fans have been asking him for years.
"I definitely think people will be surprised at a lot of things in the book," he said. "No one has really seen the true me. I think a lot of questions will be answered to a lot of fans, because I get a lot of questions every day. This is my answer time."
Bass told MTV News he has a new goal for next year: to prove that you can be openly gay and still have a career in show business.
"People have said for so long that you can't be successful in this industry and be out and gay, and I think that's a bunch of bull," he said. "It's never been tested before. But I plan to test it next year. I have a show that I am developing, which will be a music show based around out gay and bisexual guys [who will come together to form a boy band]. I will be casting it, and it should be fun. I want to test that theory out and do a cultural experiment, to see if it works."