When I was growing up, I had a poster of Farrah Fawcett in my room, because, well that’s what my friends did, so I did it too. I cannot speak for my friends, but my guess is that there was some wild activities going on under their posters, but not for me. Poor Farrah, she sort of just took up space on my wall.
My sister had a poster of Leif Garrett, so I think I spent a lot of time in her room, but not doing anything seedy. Let’s be clear about that!
How many gay men, in the next generation, those in their 40s, had a poster of Pamela Anderson in their room, because, well that’s what all your contemporaries did? In order to go with the crowd at that time, and appear straight, Pamela was tacked up to send a message to friends and family, “I think she’s hot too.”
Yet did you wish that the poster was David Hasselhoff instead?
I got extremely lucky in my life when I had the opportunity to work with, and then become friends with, Jaclyn Smith, who co-starred with Farrah in Charlie’s Angels. I told her the story about my Farrah poster, and she laughed, and with her great sense of humor, said, “Well, I’m glad it wasn’t me taking up space on your wall.”
I wonder how many posters of Fawcett and Anderson were wasted on gay teenage boys? But with Anderson, maybe she was in on the façade? She once boasted, “I am a gay man trapped in this body.”
That body was the hottest thing on the planet at one time, and at the risk of sounding superficial and chauvinistic, it put Anderson on millions of walls around the world and on her road to icon status.
She has a new book out (aptly titled Love, Pamela), and a new documentary about her life (Pamela, a love story). I kept clicking past it over the last week or so, until I eventually gave in, and said, “What the hell. I’ll just watch the first 10 minutes.”
That’s not what happened. The documentary was surprisingly personal and unpretentious. I found Anderson very vulnerable and brutally honest about her lifelong struggle to find the right man, to find love, and a union that is everlasting. She was remarkably candid in telling her truth.
The truth is that Anderson has always had a soft spot for gay men, and we have returned the favor. She’s become something of a gay icon because of her love and defense of our community, her boldness and outspokenness, and dare we say some campy moments. While we don’t have a sexual crush on her the way Borat did, we do crush on her in other ways.
In the documentary, Anderson talks about her first encounter with gay men after she moved from Canada to Los Angeles in 1989, and how she immediately stumbled on L.A.’s Gay Pride March. She said she was somewhat shocked, and then coming from a small Canadian town, when she saw all the gay men, she called her mom, told her how great it was, and felt like she finally arrived.
After watching that documentary, I was determined to speak to Anderson because I felt she made some incredibly insightful and poignant points about her attempts at love and relationships. She’s been married five times, and at 55, she’s finally realizing that in order to love a man and have a lasting relationship, she needs to love herself first.
When I caught up with her, she was taking an early morning bath from her home in Canada. I guess she was lucky that there was a gay man on the other end of the phone.
She had recently returned from a book tour, and I asked her if any gay men have ever told her that they had a poster of her on their wall as teenage boys? “Yes, they have,” she said with a definitive laugh. “Some even were a bit more daring and told me that they had my Barbies and other memorabilia. I really love book signings because I get to talk to many people one-on-one, and so many people have such great stories.”
Writing the book and doing the documentary for Anderson was as revelatory as it was cathartic. “So many people I’ve met remarked about how brave I was to do a full disclosure of my life. It was so freeing, and so many things came to the surface, people and places that I didn’t expect. I also realized just how much of my life has been spent trying to protect other people, and make them happy, versus trying to protect myself.”
“I have always been a writer, and as you mentioned that you saw in the documentary, I have tons of legal pads and notebooks with so much written history, but I was always too shy to do something about all those memories, then I decided to just start writing. The book is all me, and it was a journey that included all the emotions under the sun, happiness, sadness, anger, and love.”
Why did she think so many gay men loved her? “I don’t know, but I will take it for sure,” Anderson exclaimed. “I’ve seen drag shows and costumes of me, and I love it. And I’ve also seen Barbed Wire outfits. I just love it.”
“But I also think that I’ve been a bit of a misfit all my life. I had a misunderstood childhood. And then there’s all the glamour, and over-the-top things I did to get noticed, the big hair, the extra eyeliner; however, all that glamour comes with pain."
Sounds like Anderson has a lot in common with gay men? “Yes, I think we all are searching for love, and we paint a picture of what we think love is. We have a heightened sense of attention for love, and we want to experience it. Most of us would rather have love than anything else.”
Rather than dwell on the past, Anderson instead wants to concentrate on the future, particularly now since she’s found her voice. “I am one of those people who is convinced that love is right around the corner, and that the universe is good to those who do good things and have good thoughts. I love looking forward to the future, and for me, part of that is going to be about being alone, and I’m content with that now because I’m happy with myself.”
“It’s so important that you don’t make yourself responsible for other people’s happiness. You’re not going to change them, and you can’t fix them. So many of us big-hearted people constantly want to help, but you have to stop yourself if doing so is detrimental to your own happiness. You need to be yourself and remove people that get in the way of loving yourself. These are lessons learned after a lot of misdirected anger, a lack of understanding, and lots of self-examination. And mistakes on my part. I guess the lesson is walk away if you need to and live in the light, not the shadows.”
Then how do you pick yourself up, brush yourself off and move forward? “That’s the story of my life,” Anderson cracked. “Over and over and over and over again. I guess it’s about not taking things too personally."
"I remember doing interviews when some of my relationships ended, and trying to protect the other person, and not myself. It was like an out-of-body experience, like I was hovering above watching myself talking about the other person, and letting this happen. I’m trying to understand and explain that maybe something that happened to them as a child, and that's where the misdirected anger came from, or they cheated, and I couldn’t trust them anymore. Always going back to the other person."
Does Anderson think writing about her life and documenting it will help prospective future suiters understand her better? “I hope so. Maybe it will eliminate the need to date again," she said wittingly but half-seriously. "I’m so tired of introducing myself and talking about myself. Maybe they can read the book, watch the doc, and we can just go straight to marriage."
"Seriously though, I do know that I respect myself more at 55, and that I’m not some sex, drugs and rock and roll cartoon. I like to cook, make jam, love to write, and I’m happy living anywhere. I don’t need all those material things.”
Is it ever too late to stop looking for a man? “No, it’s not,” Anderson surmised. “It’s been a year since I went on a date; in the meantime, I have five dogs to take care of, I’m spending more time with my parents and my kids, so I really don’t have a desire to be with somebody right now, and I'm not looking to prove myself to anyone. I’m enjoying getting old and having fun with it. It’s cliché but it’s so, so true -- we need to be looking to love ourselves first, and that’s what’s finally happening for me.”
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.