I want it that way

A gay love letter to the Backstreet Boys

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Backstreet, back alley ...

IDOL WORSHIP I'm not going to say the Backstreet Boys made me gay, because no boy band — regardless of how late-1990s dreamy — can change one's sexual orientation. But BSB did act as a barometer for gayness that helped usher me into a newfound understanding of my sexuality. When you're 13 and you'd rather hang out with pretty boy Nick Carter than Catholic schoolgirl Britney Spears, you know something's up.

Actually, Nick wasn't really my favorite. I was all about sensitive older man Kevin Richardson, now exiled from the Backstreet Boys because he's (wait for it) 38. As for the others, A.J. McLean and Howie Dorough were never on my radar, too "bad boy" and "boy next door," respectively. Meanwhile, unofficial frontman Brian Littrell was super enthused by his born again status, which even at a young age I found less than thrilling.

But I digress. Boy bands were everywhere when I was in middle school, and your response to the invasion was key to your social standing. If you were a girl, you were required to pick a favorite and run with it. If you were a boy, you had to act disdainful and dismiss them all as homos. If you were, well, me, you secretly knew all the lyrics, did your best to act like you didn't, and got called a "fag" anyway because a couple assholes totally heard you humming "As Long As You Love Me" during PE class.

I didn't know I was gay when I was 13, but I knew I was different. I spent a good amount of time trying desperately to fit in, which meant denying my interest in bubblegum pop and focusing on more respectable pop punk, like Green Day and the Offspring. (Objectively, Green Day is far queerer than BSB. But who knew?) I distinctly remember a day in English class when my friends (who were girls) looked over a picture of the Backstreet Boys and picked out the cutest. I didn't say anything, but my mind was blaring, "KEVIN, KEVIN, KEVIN" while I bit my tongue.

Times have changed. The boy band craze fizzled, I came out, and an ironic appreciation of kitsch became increasingly popular. I can now say that I'm excited to see the Backstreet Boys in concert without a hint of shame or fear. ("That is so gay." Yes, exactly.) Fuck it — I can be proud. Isn't that what this month is all about? When I hear "I Want It That Way" at the Warfield, I'll be able to belt it, surrounded by a slew of former teenage outcasts doing the same. Sing out, Louise: "No matter the distance, I want you to know, that deep down inside of me ... " 

BACKSTREET BOYS

With Mindless Behavior

Sun/27–Mon/28, 8 p.m., $42.50–$62.50

Warfield

982 Market, SF

www.ticketmaster.com

ALSO headlining the main stage at Pride Celebration on Sun/27 (see Pride listings)

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