“If we were straight, no, we would not be doing a wedding special at all,” Lance Bass says. It’s a week before the air date of “Lance Loves Michael: The Lance Bass Wedding” on E! and the former ‘NSYNC-er and his new husband, 27-year old artist Michael Turchin, are taking selfies and chatting on the twin swings by the pool of their house in Sherman Oaks, CA. “What I’ve learned from being out is that it’s all about visibility. I come from Mississippi and I know you don’t change people's minds until they get to know you and they get to witness what a gay person is like.” Like so many milestones for LGBTQ visibility, the airing of a gay celebrity’s wedding on a major network feels like it should have already happened, but hasn’t.
Bass and Turchin met at a party in Palm Springs in 2011, and sitting in the car on his way home, Turchin decided to send Bass a message on Facebook. The two hung out platonically for a month, both assuming the other had put them in the friend zone. “I didn’t want to be rejected by Lance Bass!” Turchin says. The question of who made the first move is a long-standing dispute (“You leaned in,” “No you leaned in”) but Turchin says there’s one consistent factor in the story: “Liquid courage.”
There were two proposals, both by Bass: one in New Orleans, and another a year later when the couple was on safari in South Africa, this time with a better ring—rose gold with two stacked rows of black diamonds designed by David Yurman, who reached out to the couple after they went on a Twitter rant about a poor ring-shopping experience at Saks Fifth Avenue. The two originally planned to marry this summer, but when they learned they could capture it all in an E! special (and have the network pay a portion of the bill), they pushed the event up to December 20, at the Park Plaza Hotel in LA. “I think people watching this on TV will see how normal and how like any other straight couple we are,” Turchin says.
What else makes these newlyweds just like any other couple? A shiny new Vera Wang Weddings picture fame on the shelf at home, still fitted with a stock photo of a white bouquet; a pile of un-mailed Thank-Yous fanned out on a countertop, filled with stock thanks: Thank you so much for our beautiful china. We wish you could have been there to celebrate but we know you were there in spirit.
Otherwise, of course, this is a new normal. Bass knows this and has learned to watch his words, especially when it comes to issues of identity. "I get in trouble for everything I say," he says. "It’s dissected not just by the straight community but by the gay community." Rather than claim to be representing the queer community, Bass sees getting married on television as a way to reach and possibly ease the pain of young gay people in communities like Ellisville, Misissippi, where he grew up. "I want those little Lance Basses out there watching this TV special to feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s nothing wrong with me,’” he says. “I think this is what we were put on earth to do."
Raised in a conservative, Southern Baptist town, Bass couldn’t imagine marrying a man, let alone a guy like Turchin. "When I was growing up I didn't know any Jewish people, either." (Turchin's family is Jewish; he grew up in Miami.) "I didn't think there were Jewish people living in the United States," Bass says, matter-of-factly. The pair got married under a traditional Chuppah, and danced the Hora at the reception. There's also video footage of Bass and former bandmate JC Chasez, who performed live for the couple's first dance, doing another internationally recognizable set of moves at the wedding: the little jumps and chomp-chomp-chomp hand motions that go along to the ‘NSYNC song "Bye Bye Bye." (Justin Timberlake did not partake in the festivities—he was on tour.)
Turchin, who classifies his art as “pop” (Turchin’s portraits of Pee Wee Herman, Popeye, and Bugs Bunny line the entryway of their house) and Bass agree on a word to describe their wedding: “pop-tastic.” The wedding planning was swift and easygoing, apart from a disagreement about the cake (spoiler alert: Turchin wins; their cake featured the two grooms’ faces). But during the E! special, celebrity wedding planner Sharon Sacks and Bass exchange a concern-filled gaze when they talk about who will walk down the aisle first. Without the default of gender, the decision falls to the couple, but speaking to them now, it seems the questions were mostly raised for the benefit of the cameras. “Neither of us will be wearing a wedding dress,” Bass says. “That’s the number one question [we get]: Who is wearing the dress? It’s not even a joke, half of people are not even joking. That shows you how far we have to go with people’s ignorance about the gay community.”
The couple did, however, opt to give viewers a white dress—three, in fact, worn by model friends Anne Marie Kortright, Allie Rizzo and Julie Henderson, who walked down the aisle before Turchin and Bass. "That was bringing in the gay element,” Turchin says. “We gave them women in white dresses!”
Related: Can This Woman Save Your Wedding?
There are some other things that Bass, who came out on the cover of People magazine in 2006 and subsequently released a Memoir called Out of Sync about his struggles in the closet, would like to clarify. When asked which misconceptions about “being gay” he’d like to never address again (if people would stop asking), he says: “There’s so much gray area in between everything. You know, a straight person is not completely straight, a gay person is not completely gay; there’s all this gray area. And I just wish people would understand that. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is black and white.”
Also, for the record, sex is just sex. “Everyone is so interested in gay sex!” Bass says. “It’s like, ‘Well guys, it’s not too far off from your regular hetero sex.’” Turchin quickly agrees. “I’m not gonna ask you about your sex life and what you like to do. Why is it such a casual question?”
“And we like sports! Imagine that!” Turchin adds. In fact, he and Bass plan to host a public viewing party of the E! special at Boxers in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. “It’s a gay sports bar,” the couple says together. “Which is perfect for us.” After the premiere, they will fly down to Fort Lauderdale, and Bass will oversee a mass wedding for 100 couples of various orientations as part of a “Love is Love” event sponsored by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau to celebrate the recent legalization of gay marriage in Florida.
Following that, the only question that remains is where they will honeymoon—as it turns out, Fort Launderdale is only three hours from Cape Canaveral. Asked whether he’d consider outer space as a destination (in 2002, Bass was certified by NASA and the Russian Space Program for a journey that infamously never came to pass), the former boy bander’s eyes light up. “You have eight months, start now!” Bass says to Turchin, referring to the training regimen. His husband gets excited: “Yes! Let’s go to the moon!” “No one’s really been to the moon in a long time,” Bass says. “Yeah, but it’s a honeymoon, on the moon.” Pop-tastic.