Cheyenne Jackson: Cheyenne Stands Tall

Most leading men are afraid to be out and proud. Cheyenne Jackson is bigger than that.

BY Brandon Voss

March 26 2008 12:00 AM ET

As a pleasant contrast to the e-mails he receives through his website from right-wing Christians warning him that he’ll “die a horrible death,” Jackson’s inbox is regularly flooded with messages from small-town teenage boys whom he’s inspired to come out. “One of them asked me to send him a picture, and he said he held it as he told his family because it gave him strength. A couple weeks later when his friend was going to come out, he let the friend hold my picture. It’s kind of heavy, but at the same time if they feel support and strength just by the way I live my life, that’s great.”

It’s a comfort Jackson didn’t have attending House of the Lord Christian Academy in his tiny, rural hometown of Newport-Oldtown on the Washington-Idaho border — “very Little House on the Prairie,” he says -- where the only gays were known as “the dump dykes,” two mullet-sporting lesbians who ran the local garbage dump. “The school would quote Scripture — ‘It is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord to lie down with another man’ — and I was told that I would be going to hell, so from a very young age I knew that it was something that I would have to deal with later in life.”

Though Jackson always had girlfriends, his heart belonged to Chuck, his best friend in high school. “I was in love with him,” Jackson recalls. “I truly thought that we would be together. If he got a girlfriend, I’d purposely make sure that my girlfriend was best friends with his girlfriend so that we could always do shit together. He was a Mormon, and right before he left on his mission, I took him to lunch and said, ‘Chuck…’ And he said, ‘I know. I’ve always known.’ And I was like, ‘You have? Oh, my God!’ To this day, he’s still a friend, but now he’s married and has five kids.”

With no matinee idol’s head shot to clutch, Jackson didn’t find it quite so easy coming out to his family at age 19. “We called a family meeting,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘Well, I think families should be close and know everything about each other, so it’s time that you knew I was gay.’ ” Met with both shocked silence and sobbing, his brother began reading a letter Jackson had written detailing his journey and first memories “but not the Popeye memory,” he adds. After his bomb’s fallout dissipated, he and his family didn’t discuss the topic for about two years. “I just separated myself from them. I realized that they had to mourn their ideas of what they thought my life would be. I wasn’t going to be the first to have kids, which they’d always thought, because I was a Sunday School teacher and the only guy on the block that babysat. So I had to give them time.”

Southern California hippies before moving North and becoming born-again Christians, Jackson’s parents encouraged him to enroll in the ex-gay organization Exodus International but didn’t belabor the issue. “They’re people that you’d look at and think, Oh, they’ll never come around, but they did. I’m not saying they’re voting for Hillary Clinton, but as they’ve gotten older they’re swinging the pendulum back a little bit.” His brother, a pastor for a large nondenominational church and a regular preacher on The 700 Club, has been a harder shell to crack. “He thinks that being gay is something that can be prayed away, or that maybe you didn’t have strong male influences growing up — which couldn’t be further from the truth for me, because my father is a Native American Vietnam vet, and we were very close. I love my brother dearly, but it’s come to a point where we just don’t talk about religion or politics. It’s the only way that our relationship can work.”

The whole family is, however, warmly accepting of Monte, Jackson’s partner for almost nine years, a medical physicist he met in Seattle and moved in with three weeks later. “It was very lesbian,” Jackson jokes, “but we just knew.” Though they plan on becoming parents, neither feels the need for marriage to validate their relationship. “Some of our best friends have done the full-on wedding with invitations and tuxes, and that’s perfect for them, but we already feel like we’re married. He’s my very best friend, and it’s a great feeling when someone gets you and will always be there. I’ve never experienced that before. Do I want to knock his block off sometimes? Sure.”

While their domestic dramas typically deal with cleanliness and tardiness (“I’m not a slob, but it doesn’t bother me like it does him if there are dishes in the sink when we go to bed; if we have to be somewhere in 15 minutes, he’s changing clothes, lagging around, and it drives me crazy!”), jealousy is not a source of contention, despite how groupies of both sexes often slip the star their phone numbers after the show. “Sometimes I actually try to make him jealous,” Jackson admits. “There was this beautiful Italian man by the stage door once while I was out signing autographs — I mean, he looked like a postcard from Capri. After I took a picture with him, he talked to his friends and then pulled me back and said, ‘There you are, back in my arms where you belong.’ I told Monte that story, and he was, like, ‘Lovely. Unload the dishwasher.’ He couldn’t give a shit. He knows who I’m going home with.”

Should the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League see fit, Monte also knows whom he’ll be with at the Tony Awards ceremony on June 15 — whether or not there’ll be photographic evidence to prove it. “He just hates any kind of focus on him,” Jackson says. “People try to grab him on red carpets, but he ducks out, and all you’ll see is his arm. But if I get nominated for a Tony, he’ll be sitting right beside me, and the camera will be right there, so I don’t think he’ll be able to get out of that one!” And if Jackson hears his name called as winner, will he prove those pesky militant gays wrong by going in for a nationally televised lip-lock? “If the spirit moves me, yeah, why not?”

Voss is editor in chief of HX Magazine.

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