In the 2000 documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Tammy laments about how sad it is that “we as Christians, who are to be the salt of the earth…who are supposed to be able to love everyone, are afraid so badly of an AIDS patient that we will not go up and put our arm around them.” It seems that Tammy was often confronted with the disconnect between her faith and her consummate love of every human being, while Jim, similarly, was torn between his faith and loving himself.
The Jim J. & Tammy Faye Show. The rhyming title, alone, is indicative of what is possibly the queerest daytime talk show in the herstory of the world. Even the set was gay: stark white minimalist with colored blocks and repetitive Warhol portraits of Jim and Tammy. The show was at least 10 years ahead of its time and probably would have thrived on a network like LOGO. In syndicated daytime television, however, it only lasted one season. As per usual, the Suits fucked things up. “They kept coming up to us going, ‘Tammy, don’t talk about Jesus, don’t cry.’ ‘Jim, you’re being too gay. Don’t talk about that.’ And it was like, you hired the queen of religious TV and the biggest queen that we know of on TV and now you’re telling them they can’t be what they are?” It was a scene that had played itself out on every other show of Jim’s almost twenty year career. He was crossing the gay line again.
His bond with Tammy: Having similar faiths
“It’s funny,” Jim says forlornly. “After a decade of fear, covering up, hiding, and coming into the nineties and seeing something like a Will & Grace come along and going, ‘God Dammit, God Dammit.’ I would have loved to have been on a hit sitcom playing gay, being gay. How wonderful is that?”
I point out that when it comes down to it, he was gay on TV. Audiences knew he was gay and he had visibility. “I was gay on TV, yes. And I was not afraid to be myself regardless of what battles were going on inside of me.” That is the hallmark of Jim J. Bullock.
Jim J. is a humble man. He claims he’s not a flag-waving activist. “I’m not a boat-rocker,” he repeats. He keeps using 1950s civil rights references to describe his position in the 80s: “You just didn’t drink from that water fountain. You had your own water fountain.” And, “You sat where you sat on the bus.” Jim seems to have, at the time, accepted his status as a second-class citizen.
“I just didn’t want to hurt my family.” Were they upset?, I ask. “Oh yeah, oh yeah. It’s still not…” He doesn’t finish the thought. “My mother is 91 and has no idea her son is a gay icon. And I don’t throw that gay icon thing around, like, ‘Oh, I’m a gay icon.’ But I do know that when people look back on 80’s television thinking gay, I’m probably one of the top five who pops up in their heads.”
Who else comes to mind?, I challenge.
He can’t think of anyone other than George Michael and one guy from The Kids in the Hall. I can’t think of anyone, either.
Gay life ain’t no place for sissies. But it should be. The Unabashed Queer (Government Name: Matt Siegel) serves to affirm the vast array of queer identities. Originally from Atlanta, Siegel realized his independence above the Mason-Dixon Line at Northfield Mount Hermon School and subsequently, Sarah Lawrence College. In a marijuana- induced haze, Siegel came to Los Angeles and has found himself employed in the homes of Adam Carolla, Arianna Huffington, and Jill Clayburgh. How queer is that? Read Matt’s blog here.
Relive Jim’s television history on the following pages.