While Jim lived in fear of being outed, he made no effort to play butch on camera. After all, his inherent queerness is what got him the work in the first place. But he did try to control his public image. He and his manager “worked hard” to fabricate stories for the tabloids about Jim’s love life.
“I had several girlfriends who were willing to…play beards for me,” he stammers sheepishly, “and we would do stories—plant stories—in the tabloids.” One such friend, Elaine Hill, agreed to pose as Jim’s girlfriend for a National Enquirer piece. “They took pictures of us doing domestic things,” Jim giggles, “Cooking, petting cats, and snuggling. The caption was something like: ‘We are so in love, so happy that God brought us together.’”
When Comfort ended in 1986, Jim was offered a chance to follow in the dainty footsteps of other closeted camp queens like Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde on TV’s home for out of work entertainers, Hollywood Squares. “I thought this is a place where I can just be me. I’ve been called fag all my life so I decided, okay, if you’re gonna sit there and call me fag, fine, I’m a fag.” And though he was still publicly in the closet, with no quirky character to hide behind, Jim was his most unabashed queer self. But his gayness did not go unnoticed by the powers that be.
Whoever thought of pairing Jim J. Bullock and Tammy Faye Bakker in 1996 as co-hosts of a daytime talk show deserves a GLAAD award, a LAMBDA award, and a Kennedy Center Honors. They were absolutely precious, like two Kewpie Dolls with googly eyes and impish dispositions. As their show theme song (which they sang together) described, they were “not what you’d expect…a crazy, goofy duet.” The emotive televangelist and the now-publicly out Bullock both grew up in devoutly religious conservative Christian households. This, in Jim’s opinion, is what bonded them.
On working with Tammy Faye
“We had such an understanding of each other,” he says. “We were two very similar people with two very different paths but held onto a lot of what we both once had.” And both Tammy and Jim encountered struggles with their faith along the way.
Even years after the show ended, Evangelicals criticized Tammy for co-hosting The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show with a gay man — especially when Jim came out as HIV-positive. His status was half-outed, really. In preparation for the 1997 AIDS ride, Jim sent a sponsorship letter to possible donors. He mentioned that in addition to riding in memory of his deceased partner, he was riding for his friends living with HIV/AIDS and that he, too, was living with the disease. A few days later Jim was awakened by knocking at his door.
It was a tabloid reporter inquiring about his HIV status.