This Charming Man

6.29.2008

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

He doesn't seem to think he has much to prove to Out, and I ask a lot of follow-up questions. Wentz answers them all, even when he's not sure I'll like the answers. 'When I said that I make out with dudes, there was a slight sense of sexual rebellion in that,' he admits. 'And I probably even made it a bigger deal than it was.' He thinks the first time he kissed a guy was when he was 16 or 17, probably on a dare at a party: 'Like, 'You make out with this dude and we'll make out.' ' And of later experiments, at 18 or 19, he says it was more like, 'I'm going to try this thing.' And most recently? He actually apologizes before responding. 'A long time ago,' he says with a slight wince. 'Probably when I was 22?'

Asked to describe his sexuality in his own words, he shrugs and says, 'I've always felt this relentless heterosexual drive.' There's a heavy, ambivalent weight to the statement, like maybe he would have been happier without the painful series of dysfunctional relationships that fueled lyrics for three hit albums but also scores of lonely, sad blog entries posted in the middle of the night. He told National Public Radio last year that a part of him wished he were gay. 'I have a bit of a consummate victim in my head,' he says now. 'That's who I identify with throughout history. When I was 10 I would draw black eyes on myself because I thought it was cool. You're so into people who are tragic. You want to be that so badly. But you probably aren't really the tragic genius that you think you are.'

He has no qualms talking about his attraction to men (including a big, stupid crush on John Mayer), which still puts him on a very short list of famous young male musicians and actors who haven't been convinced that confession is in and of itself a career killer. But as he said in The Advocate in 2007, the stopping point truly does come when the action strays below the belt. 'It's really about the equipment,' he tells me, gesturing at his crotch with a grimace. (Decide for yourself: The first unfiltered hit for an image search on Wentz's name still yields the shots he took of his equipment in hand, which leaked from his Sidekick in 2006.) 'I really don't think it's an attractive quality. That's what it comes down to. I don't even like my own. Like, I really don't like it. I don't like anything about it.'

Maybe you're a lesbian, I suggest, and he punches the air in triumph. 'Yes!' he crows. 'I've still got the cover!'

But even Wentz can't make too much of a joke on this point. 'Our culture bombards us with this idea that you're not that, and if you are that, there's something wrong with you, and then we're going to call you that, and then it's an insult,' he says. 'There is a sense of self-empowerment or recapturing who you are by people calling you 'fag,' and being like, 'Yeah, I am a fag.' Even though you're not. What does somebody respond? That dude has nothing to say about that again.' He stops, and this time he is at least a little worried for his own rep. 'Am I going to catch flak for saying 'fag' in a magazine?' (Only when we put it on the cover, Pete.)

'Catching flak' is a nice way of saying that now -- especially as his relationship with singer Ashlee Simpson quickly escalated from rumor to engagement to marriage -- Wentz can't leave the house without being trailed by paparazzi or bombarded by his fans or hers.

It hasn't always been easy to adjust to the added level of attention. He approaches interviews with a shifting set of emotional and professional boundaries, and starts more than a few stories with a publicist's worst nightmare: 'I probably shouldn't tell you this, but...'

Even a man who never seems to consider the potential business blowback of his quick-trigger tongue worries what his in-laws think, though, and Simpson's parents are not only her managers but religious and conservative. One seemingly believable rumor that made the tabloid rounds last winter: Her father, Joe, had told Ashlee not to bring Wentz home for the holidays after an interview in Blender discussed Wentz's 'possible bisexuality.'

'That one was such bullshit,' Wentz says, and tells me eventually he and Joe even joked about it. 'He was like, 'We should take a picture in front of the Christmas tree holding hands.' ' Joe, an ordained Baptist minister, even officiated at their May wedding. Still, Wentz concedes, 'There are definitely ramifications for what you say.'

Every joke Wentz makes about, say, running around his house in Jessica Simpson's line of high heels gets printed verbatim -- with a humorless warning (from gossips) to Ashlee to watch out for her man's other possible deviant tendencies. 'Ambiguity makes you a lightning rod for people to hate you,' he says. 'Some days I wake up and I couldn't be bothered at all. Some days you Google yourself and you can't eat.'

Of course, no matter how many kids Wentz has with Ashlee, he knows plenty of people think it's all a big lie. 'Yeah, 'She's his beard,' ' he anticipates, rolling his eyes.

But then he gets quiet, staring out over the hotel pool, and his voice is full of empathy. 'I couldn't imagine living a double life for this long,' he says. '(A) you would just get caught so bad. And (B), I would be in a car in that swimming pool right now. How do you not just do drugs and live in South America? It would make you crazy.'

That's if all the is-he-or-isn't-he rumors don't drive you nuts first. 'There's a little bit of a gay witch hunt,' he says, pointing particularly at gay bloggers such as his sometime ally Perez Hilton. 'I don't know if it's to bust homophobia wide open or get more attention. It's like, 'This person's gay, this person's gay, this person's gay.' I get it -- we're, like, all gay. Kind of. There's a little bit of it that's probably deserved.'

The impact, especially on young fans, is ultimately worth the circular, reductive debates. 'Being ambiguously flamboyant really does help,' he says. 'I've had so many people come up to me and be like, 'I felt OK to come out of the closet after you said this.' And I'm like...' He looks shocked, even overwhelmed. 'When someone says that to me -- it's not an event I've ever been through, so I don't know what to compare it to. I don't think I even understand how important that is to someone's life.'

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