By Jason Lamphier
After self-releasing three records, starring in a sexed-up coffee-table book by gay-media magnate Bruno Gm'nder, and appearing in fashion shoots for Vibe and W, Ari Gold should be itching to conquer Top 40 radio Justin Timberlake-style. But the painfully attractive R&B crooner is content preserving his DIY reputation and serving his gay fan base. Gold sat down with Out to talk about the ups and downs of being a sex object, his beef with gay record executives, and his forthcoming Transport Systems, which he calls the "gayest record ever."
You've said presenting your sexuality in an unabashed fashion'as you do on the album jacket'makes gay men uncomfortable. What do you mean by that?
We still have a lot of issues. We still have gay men trying to learn how to desire each other and respect each other. A lot of times, if we objectify a man, then we don't know how to also respect him. I don't know why that is. I don't know if that's because we spent so much time in our childhoods desiring things that we can't have or thinking that we can't have them. At the same time, from the straight perspective, we get a bad rap. If straight people see us as oversexed that's just a homophobic thing. That just comes from straight people being scared of gay sexuality, which is another way of saying homophobia. There's sex everywhere'sex sells all products, all music. Everybody's selling sex, but as soon as gay people start selling sex, [you hear] 'They're just oversexed' and 'Why are they putting that in our face?' It's very interesting. You get it from both sides, this sort of anti-sex. And you know gay men still have a lot of shame about their sexuality'and having sex with each other.
When you put yourself out there and present yourself in a sexual light, do you think it hinders your career as a musician? Do you think that is all gay men are going to see, that they won't care about the lyrics or the music?
I think at this point in my career it's important for me to focus on the music even though we're talking about sexuality. I'm at a point where I really want to stress the music, especially because I just made something I'm so proud of, so I definitely want to figure out how to get the music out there in a bigger way than the image. I don't like to say something has hindered me because I think that I've had a really interesting career. I think in a lot of ways I've broken ground. When I think about it, there really hasn't been anyone, a pop artist-singer who has been out since the beginning of his career, who's been singing songs that have to do with explicit gay content, who's gotten as far as I have, who's gotten a coffee-table book out in 25 countries around the world, who's bumped Madonna out of the top spot [of the video countdown] on Logo. There hasn't really been anyone who's done that, and I made that choice to put the image out there like that. It was in part a marketing decision because gay men are obsessed with the male image, and I know I can play that. That was a surprise for me, because I grew up feeling like I was a skinny, Jewish boy who was too ethnic on camera, which was what I was told all my life. So to be sexy'to be a desired object'was a triumph for me personally.
So you think your image helps?
I think it helps. I did everything in such an alternative way. If I would have done things in a very safe way, if I would have listened to many of the music industry professionals and huge producers who told me to be in the closet, then maybe I would have been on MTV all the time, and maybe I would have had some huge mainstream career'but it would not have been the career I wanted. I make music for a reason. I have a story I need to tell. It's not just for the sake of putting music out there or to become famous as possible. So it may have hindered me from gaining mainstream success, but it hasn't hindered me from having the career that I've chosen to have'the one that I want'which is to be an out artist, who does sing about gay content and that's something that hasn't been done. There have been sacrifices made in order to be the first to do that because nobody at the major record labels was like 'You're an out artist that sings about being gay? Let's give you a record deal! We can't wait to promote you!' I thought they would. I really did. I thought 'Gay rights. It's post-AIDS. We're in a place where people will want to do this and will want to make a difference in pop music.' I thought they would.