SEASON 4, EPISODE 43

I woke to my phone ringing and groggily answered the call. “Bart? What’s up? Why the phone call?” “Eric,” he said frantically. “You need to talk to Tyler. He’s on US Weekly. No, I mean, we’re on US Weekly—him and I. In our apartment lobby, from outside. Someone took a photo of us kissing and sent it in.” To summarize: People had been speculating about Tyler’s sexuality, but we wanted him to be fully out on his own terms, not on the media’s. We weren’t entirely precious about keeping it a secret since he wasn’t a household name. However, since he was starring in a summer blockbuster in a couple months—and we needed red-state, consumer-happy middle America’s support—we wanted to first bank on his acting chops before adding the gay variable to the public’s knowledge bank. Bart put Tyler on speakerphone: “Hi Eric,” Tyler said, sulking. “You ready for this, buddy?” I asked him. “I guess I have to be,” he replied. “I’m in charge,” I told him. “You do nothing without my permission. Got that?” A pause. “Got it.” “And Bart, same goes for you.” Another long pause. “Uhhh. What does that mean?” Bart asked blankly.

The Internet has changed everything. The gay blogs picked up the Tyler scoop, and the emails I was getting from editors implied that he was the new gay Messiah. Tyler was getting 1,000 Tweets an hour from anyone with an opinion, both supporting him or shaming him. People—mostly teenagers—were Instagramming the photo of Bart and Tyler with the hashtag #BarTyler4Eva. “These kids who are behind him aren’t the ones buying tickets to R-rated films,” Eva pointed out. “Their support is cute, at best.” To me, it was just more speculation, and all one big headache. A bigger one yet was the dreaded headline on various outlets: “Can a Gay Up-and-Comer Open the Summer’s Biggest Blockbuster?” Numerous “experts” were weighing in, contemplating his chemistry with his female costar, questioning his masculinity for such a “male-driven” film. We—his PR team, agent Eva, and I—had been hoping for headlines in July to say “Newly Minted A-Lister and Box-Office King Tyler Weiland Comes Out as Gay, Sorry Ladies.” The sub-head: “Already Has a Boyfriend, Sorry Gays.” We would have no such luck.

Bart wasn’t giving me any rest, either: He was lavishing in his own trending hashtag: #BartQuinnGetAtMe. “My 15 minutes!” he gushed. “I’m trending!” I laughed at how much had changed in a few years: Bart was nearly 30 and only two years into being fully out, and now he was the subject of standalone articles across the web: “Meet the Man Who Made Tyler Weiland Comfortable With His Own Sexuality” and “Who is Bart Quinn? A Sexy Display of Machismo, That’s Who.” One Buzzfeed post rounded up 20 photos of Bart tagged to Instagram, ranking his “looks” from “Least Bangable” to “Most Bangable,” with every single one of them falling into “Most Bangable.” “I’ve never felt so attractive,” he exclaimed. “I’m getting texts and Facebook messages from guys who thought they were too hot to trot, suddenly asking me out or if we would ever invite a third guy to hang out. It’s disgusting, but I love this fleeting sense of mass appeal.”

Overall, Bart kept a good head on his shoulders, mostly fascinated by the phenomenon and keeping concern for his boyfriend’s peace of mind. “At least Tyler’s getting a laugh out of the added absurdity,” he pointed out. “He needs the distraction. Some reporters knocked on his parents’ door in Texas to ask them about whether or not they support his being gay. That didn’t go over so well, in all aspects.” Sam was especially good at handling these types of things. “I do not envy our clients,” he would say. “But I do pity them. We have to protect them from the mind poison that comes with the scrutiny, and decide what the next professional move is that will endear them to everyone if it’s not already the case. We keep them relevant so that what seems like a loss becomes a big win. And above all, treat them like a human. Nobody else is going to do that, and that otherwise starts to compound negatively.” A lot of people had bad things to say about Sam, but he sure was good at his job, at protecting his assumed family.

Tyler didn’t need to do any interviews, because everything he said or did on social media gave journalists enough to discuss; a photo of Bart making dinner (“He cooks, too!”) got its own headline on Towleroad, and a tweet that said “Never been so happy!” got 4,000 re-tweets within the hour. Everything he posted was purposefully upbeat, and came through his PR team and me. “We won’t always have to hover in this way,” I promised him. “It’s only while strategy and messaging are imperative to your career. You’re handling it very well.” And I meant it. James Thurston—my other high-profile gay client—emailed me one evening, marveling at this all: “My, how times have changed. I know 100 leading-men types who are prisoners in their own fame. Thank heavens for him and the Zach Quintos, NPHs, etc. Tyler is a worthy bearer of this torch.”

“How are your parents?” I would ask Tyler every few days. I knew that was his main concern in all of this: They didn’t ask for the attention, and were coming to terms with his sexuality independently of the media contacting them for quotes, digging for stories. Mrs. Weiland gave one moderately supportive quote to a local paper—despite usually ignoring them outright—and suddenly the two of them were unofficial PFLAG poster parents against their own likely wishes. “They’re as conservative and Baptist as it comes,” Tyler said. “I promise you they aren’t happy with this predicament. My sister even said my dad expects a formal apology because his friends think he’s ‘gone blue,’ and that my public presence is soiling their reputation at church. How absurd is that? It’s just funny that Amelia and I feel like their parents in all of this. Maybe they’re the ones who need a manager,” he chuckled. “Though that’s probably what they think Jesus is for? I’m sure He is being super responsive to their prayers for privacy.”

The media attention steadily decreased, though the lasting effect was that Tyler was a household name and people knew he had a blockbuster movie opening in a couple months. The studio embraced the buzz and put up an early campaign for “Peril” around the city. A bespectacled Tyler and his leading lady Katerina were pictured embracing while a building burned in flames behind them, with both of their names printed boldly across the bottom. Naturally, a few punks would draw penises or write the word “HOMO” across his face at various stations, but I presumed his multi-millions payday and the more-positive-than-not reactions protected him from too much anguish. I even arranged a few readings and auditions for more big-time features, none of which seemed a step down from A-list caliber. The movie hadn’t even premiered and Tyler was a media and industry darling. His week-ending text brought me great satisfaction: “Why Joanie would leave your care, I’ll never know. Thanks for looking out.”

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