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- Posted by Jessica Robertson
What age did you find yourself questioning your sexuality?
Like a lot of people, it was probably around my teenage years. There was a feeling of difference. I don't think it was until 15 or 16 that I really started to have difficulty with the whole issue. I felt like a freak. It was a very difficult time in my life -- to try and understand these feelings that I was having. And, of course, coming from what I did -- a working class environment where those kinds of topics were never discussed -- you just don't relate. I didn't have any gay friends. I didn't have anybody to turn to or to talk to. I didn't know what to do, or think, or believe about myself.
That lasted until I turned about 19 or 20, and I tried to make as much peace as I could, hiding as I did. Particularly as I went into a professional career as a musican. That obviously became even more difficult because I was trying to struggle both my private life and my public life.
Did you have any relationships during that time?
Just the experimentation that most do, but nothing of any great emotional substance. I [experimented] with both guys and girls, and it was obvious to me what kind of sexual orientation I was. But that's the whole sense of discovery.
Do you remember the first person you told that you were gay?
That's a really powerful question because I've never been asked that. I never really ever made a statement. I didn't even go to a gay bar until I was probably in my early twenties. I was certainly able to [talk to] and spend some of my years with a couple of gay friends who have now passed on [because of] AIDS, and who were very important to me. They gave me incredible love and suppport while I was still well and truly immersed in the deep, dark, black hellhole of the closet. But I don't think it was ever a moment of saying, "This is who I am."
You never discussed this with your family or bandmates?
No. There was an understanding and acceptance with my bandmates and family without any discussion. I look back at that time and appreciate it because it could've been a hateful, bigoted circumstance. Especially because of the substance of my work -- heavy metal music. But I never encountered that. My bandmates never pulled me to the side and said, "Rob, about this gay issue -- we'd prefer you don't broadcast it." I count my blessings in many ways.
What was it like, then, to openly declare your sexuality during the now infamous 1998 MTV interview?
The story goes, I was at MTV talking about a project that I was working on at the time, in a very broadbased conversation. I made the declaration, "Speaking as a gay man," and the producer dropped his clipboard. I didn't really consider the magnitude of that moment, quite frankly. I just carried on and then, of course, the phones started ringing. But I'm invisible, really, in the gay community, and that's just because of where I do what I do -- metal. Obviously, there are -- in my musical world -- gay, bisexual, lesbian metalheads. I get the e-mails and I meet these people, and that's wonderful -- to be able to have that exchange. But for all intents and purposes, I'm the invisible metal man in [gay] culture [laughs].
What's so fascinating is the paradox within metal: it's full of homoerotic allusions yet seemingly homophobic, as well.
The world of metal is always kind of viewed as a very homophobic place. I will admit that it's there -- there's no denying that. But maybe just because who I am and how much I've done, there's more acceptance towards my being [gay].
You mentioned earlier that you didn't go to a gay bar until your twenties. What was that first experience like?
[Laughs] It was very stereotypical. Everything was lush red velvet and heavy drapes -- it was amazing. But at the same time, as I walked through the door, I thought, "Well, is this it? Is this what it's about?" And, of course, it isn't, but that was my first exposure. But to be in that place -- it was just wonderful because everybody that I looked at was the same as me. As opposed to just one or two friends, it was a room of 30, 50 people. I'll always remember that.
And where's your comfort level at now with your sexuality?
Well, I'm completely comfortable now and I was comfortable when I finally came to believe who I was then. There's no doubt that if you have the opportunity to come out of the closet and declare yourself, it's wonderfully liberating. You're setting yourself free from your own self-imposed prison. Some people never do that. Some people lead double lives. But if you are afforded the opportunity to step forward and say, "This is who I am," it's important. You have to bring some serenity to your own life. Look out for your own needs and wants, and then you can look out for everybody else's.