A modeling shot from here.
Towleroad: When did you first get interested in singing anddancing?
Nathaniel: I was pretty young. I saw a production of Peter Pan—Ican’t remember how old I was—and I saw them flying around and I thought fromthen on, “Oh, my God, I wanna do this.” I think also being the youngest of fourthere were probably some attention-starved aspects that also kinda came withit. I just have always sung in musicals and acted in plays and all that.
Nathaniel: First play…it was some sort of Easter Bunny playand I was the Easter Bunny. I started it off right!
Towleroad: Was it considered cool among your friends to beinvolved in performing? No teasing?
Nathaniel: I kind of kept it really separate. Thetown that I’m from is really small. Once I got pretty serious into it, the townactually where I did most of the productions—I worked in a professionaltheater—it was like 45 minutes away, so where I did a lot of my training and performingwasn’t even in my town. I never did the high school production of whateverbecause I was actually doing stuff and being paid for it.
Towleroad: What was your hometown, Cookeville, Tenn., like?
Nathaniel: Really small. Everyone knows everybody and myfamily’s been there forever, my grandparents. I was a pretty good kid, I think,also because I knew that my parents were gonna find out about things. It was apretty strict household…we went to church Sunday night and Wednesday night—thatwhole thing.
Towleroad: At what point in your life did you realize youwere gay?
Nathaniel: I think as long as I can remember. People are always curious about that kind of stuff, girls or what-not thatdon’t know any gay people. I remember my roommate in college was like, “Oh, Ididn’t realize until I was a sophomore in high school,” or something and I waslike, “Whoa!” I mean, I just always knew. When you’re that young, you don’treally put two and two together, but I just…really liked Jem and the Hologramsbetter than He-Man. [Laughs]
Nathaniel: I definitely struggled for a really long time with how that fits inwith what you’ve been taught in church. I think being gay is so hard growing upbecause, like, let’s say you’re a minority that is completely segregated fromanyone else. If you’re living in America and you’re Hispanic or something, morethan likely you have a Hispanic family, obviously, and some sort of culture, butgrowing up in the South in a small town, I didn’t know anyone else who was gay.I didn’t have anything really to base that off of until I started performingand there were older professionals that would come in that I knew were gay. Ijust assumed they were going to hell or something.
"Make me look cute," Nathaniel told me when I asked which photos to use.
Towleroad: Were you aware of seeing any gay representationsin the media?
Nathaniel: When I was older, Will & Grace was ontelevision. I was embarrassed just to be watching that in my household. I wouldwatch it in my room with the door closed like it was something dirty.
As Aladdin in Disney's Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular!
Towleroad: Who was the first person you came out to?
Nathaniel: I left high school and then I ended up goingto college. I went to a performing arts college, and I just assumed we wouldall continue the charade. But I wound up meeting somebody and had my firstboyfriend and it was kind of like there you weregay until proven straight. They just assume everybody is gay. It wasn’t,“Dah-dah-dah-dah…I’m gay!” It was just kind of assumed, and I was dating someoneso….
Towleroad: How did your family react?
Nathaniel: I didn’t actually tell my mom until much later. We don’t talk aboutit much. I know that she loves me. My family’s amazing. I know that theysupport me no matter what. Even now, they’ve never left this town—I don’t holdthat against them, but I don’t think they fully understand it.
Towleroad: Ever have any really negative reactions to beinggay?
Nathaniel: I would say sometimes in high school, yeah,people were cruel just like for everyone, but I always knew there was a biggerpicture. Sure, that kind of stuff hurts, but I didn’t let it get to me. Like Isaid, in college everyone else was gay, too. Now, when I go back to randomcities in the country [on tour], I don’t dress differently or alter anything about myselfand I don’t notice people cracking jokes or anything, but I don’t know ifthat’s because I’m not operating on an assumption that someone is gonna thinkof me differently or what.
Nathaniel theorizes he doesn't give off the sexual, young-boy energy teen girls want.
Towleroad: How did you first get involved in V Factory?
Nathaniel: I knew a girl that was running an audition forthe label that was interested in putting together a music group. I just knewher from working in L.A.; we had done some jobs together. She called me andsaid, “Hey, I don’t know if thisis your thing, but I know you sing, so come on down.” I kind of thought itseemed a little ghetto, but everybody in L.A. has a record deal or something. It was just down the street from my house so I thought, “Okay, I’ll go downat the end of the day.” I was the last person to audition, 10 minutes late.Even with that I was very apprehensive once this all got rolling. I actuallylied about my age! You were supposed to be 21 and I was 24 at the time. She waslike, “Oh, just say you’re 21!” So I put down that I was 21.
It wasn’t for a few weeks into it I was like, “Shit, like,how do I come out to them? Are they gonna just fire me because I’m gay?” orwhatever. It just kind of organically unrolled. A couple of the other guys,some of us had mutual friends, so they knew I was gay. I can’t even rememberhow it ended up coming up. But it was never an issue—at all. I feel veryfortunate, because a lot of people ask that—that’s one of their firstquestions: “So, do you have to be in the closet with this group?” The label,everyone has been pretty…pretty…pretty good about it.”
The guys of V Factory have always accepted Nathaniel. Photo by Keith Munyan.
Towleroad: Are the members of the group totally fine withit, too? No issues?
Nathaniel: No, no, not really. Just kidding around and stuff. We all havenicknames for each other all the time and Wesley affectionately calls me WeHo.[Laughs]
Towleroad: What’s your place in the group?
Nathaniel: There’s the age thing, so I’m older and more mature. I’m a voice ofreason a lot of times. I think most of the time I’m the one calling people,“Okay, we have to be in the lobby at 9:30.” Things like that. I think frombeing gay—I hate to sound stereotypical, but I feel like it brings a queer eyeto the group. They always ask me, “Should I wear this?” There for a while whenwe started I was kind of the stylist just because there wasn’t the money to goaround so I would go and buy stuff at Nordstrom and just return it afterour photo shoot.
Nathaniel: We all have different dynamics with how we relateto each other. I would say maybe Nicky would ask me for advice sometimes. Like,if he had some issues he wanted to talk to management about he might send methe e-mail and say, “Hey, do you think this is cool?” We’re supportive that waywith each other for sure.
Towleroad: The old joke is that absolutely every boy band has one gaymember—
Nathaniel: [Laughs] Some have two!
V Factory (L to R): Jared Murillo, Wesley Quinn, Nathaniel Flatt, Nicky Teti & Asher Book. Photo by Joe Magnani. Videos here.
Towleroad: —right, and the most famous one to come out wasLance Bass, though he came out after the group was over. Did his coming outhave any impact on you?
Nathaniel: I had heard that through the grapevine, really, soI wasn’t really surprised by it. I guess I thought…I’ve also heard crazystories about his record label buying him a girlfriend to just have around atparties and stuff like that, so I would think, “Wow, that must’ve been so hardliving that persona for years at the height of their career.” Being soungenuine like that must have been very difficult and hard…and something I wouldhave no interest in doing.
I know gay people that are in the public eye that areuncomfortable with that and by no means do I think that they are cowardly bynot choosing to talk about it, it’s just something that I think should be saidfor me personally. When we first started we had a meeting with our publicist,not just about me, and we addressed the gay thing and even then I wasn’t ascomfortable with it as I am now. I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds aboutit. Maybe then, let’s say you approached me with this interview, it would’vebeen, “Oh, no, thanks, that’s not for me.” I just feel like I want other peopleto live an authentic lifestyle and to promote change in the country, so I feel likeI need to do that by example. But you know, everybody blossoms in differentways. I’m sure there’s other things I could be doing that I’m not comfortabledoing yet. But being honest about my sexuality is something I’m definitelycomfortable with.
Towleroad: Does this mean you’re against outing?
Nathaniel: I mean, I don’t want to generalize like that. Did you see Outrage? Isaw [the director] interviewed and I definitely see his perspective where he’ssaying that he’s outing hypocrites. So, you know, hey, if you’re voting forthis or standing for something but you’re not leading that lifestyle at home orbehind closed doors, maybe thatdeserves to be brought to the attention of the people that are electing you tooffice. But I don’t know. Somepeople just are private. Where does the line draw? I mightbe gay, but does that mean that I feel comfortable talking about myrelationships or how many people I’ve slept with? Being in the public eye, youexpect a certain amount of intrusion, but I don’t know where the line is,what’s too much.
Towleroad: Just kidding, but is it fair to say you’veencountered lots of performers whose fans would be shocked to know they’resecretly gay?
Nathaniel: I’m kind of a homebody, so I’m not outat the parties and I don’t know all these celebrities, but I would say sure,there’s people I know that people would be surprised.
Towleroad: Do you have any gay role models?
Nathaniel: I really think it’s great how Ellen can be funnyand everyone loves her but she still has a social agenda, too, and doesn’t hidethe fact that she’s gay or that she opposes Proposition 8. I think it’s greatthat she has done that kind of stuff in a tasteful manner so it’s not likeshe’s cramming it down your throat. I never wanted to be an artist that basestheir identity on their sexuality, you know what I’m saying? But, I mean, that’ssomething that is a part of me just like my arm is so I can’t deny it. I knowin this day and age, that’s the kinda stuff that’s gonna sell the magazines,so that’s what people are interested. Hopefully by one more person comingout or being gay from the beginning—there doesn’t need to be a coming out—it’snot really a story. I sleep with men, just like you or whoever sleeps with women.We all do it. I think that maybe by one more person not bringing attention toit or making it a big deal, it may be one more gay person in Hollywood that somekid in Wyoming can see on the television who is gay but is not crazy.
Towleroad: Aside from being a role model, you’ve also done lots of actual modeling—do you consider yourself a model?
Nathaniel: No, I don’t. Models are tall. [Laughs] There’s so many things I’ve missed out on because I’m two inches too short. That’s really just something I’ve done along the way to pay the bills, because it’s not really that fun to me. I don’t enjoy it. It’s really rather boring, and usually the other people aren’t that interesting to talk to. It’s not a safe game to identify yourself with your appearance, the way you look, because that’s fleeting so it’s not going to be around for long. When you go to castings and you’re sitting there and there’s like 30 beautiful people in a room staring at the wall, I feel very uncomfortable. And I also feel like the shortest person there.
Towleroad: Do you follow the gossip blogs?
Nathaniel: I definitely have been a pretty adamant followerof Perez and it kind of feels like an addiction that I’m trying to kick. Idon’t always agree with what he’s saying. I literally have just gone there for news, for what’sgoing on, because I do appreciate a blog that is maybe telling it like it is. Ithink in this day and age where the Internet has made things so much moreaccessible, I feel like we see through the B.S. of polished news stations—Idon’t believe half the stuff that comes from the mainstream media anyway. Whetherit’s Perez or someone, I definitely think [blogs like his have] a place and Ithink that is kind of what the media is coming to. I don’t even know how todescribe it, but I feel like our culture is in transition in so many areas. Ithink the media is one.
Towleroad: Is music another?
Nathaniel: Music is one. Record labels haven’t exactlyfigured out how they make money on their artists. We’re all just trying to justfigure it out.
Nathaniel said Barbara Walters wasn't knocking down his door for an interview. She should be. Photo from here.
Towleroad: Do you think V Factory’s fans realize you’re gay?
Nathaniel: Wes actually said something like that to me the other day. I can’teven remember what the situation was, but…I can speak from what I notice. I think that for the most part we have a younger, female fanbase and they arereally interested in young, strapping boys and I don’t think that I give offthat energy so I don’t find them drawn to me. When we’re signing people’sautographs, they’re always liking Asher and Wesley because I feel like they’re the two thatpromote the most, emanate the most sexual, young-boy energy. And so I don’t feelthat, “Oh, wow, I’m ugly!” or “not good!” I think that they can just tell. Ithink that they can just tell that I’m not interested. Now the moms—that’sdifferent. They like me! [Laughs]
I’m perfectly fine with them knowing that. I don’tthink that that hurts our fanbase; if I’m gay and they can’t date me, there’sfour other guys that they can choose from. I feel that that maybe even widensour audience. It maybe gives us a little more credibility because we’re not theidea of what people think of as a boy band. We’re not trying to be somethingthat we’re not. I think that maybe would draw a maybe more adult audience, amore refined taste. I think our music is great anyway. I wanna have validityand substance.
Towleroad: Your fanbase is such that you’re doing lots ofteen-magazine interviews. Are you often asked the dreaded questions aboutgirls, and how do you react?
Nathaniel: I never wanted to lie about it, so when I tell myfirst-date story or my favorite place to take someone on a date, it’s the sameregardless. No teen magazine has ever asked me, “Do you date boys?” so I neverfelt obligated to bring it up. But that’s why I was really excited that youeven asked me to do this because, I mean, I would love to talk about it but Idon’t feel that [teen magazines are] the platform to bring it up.
Towleroad: What do you think of the teen purity-ring craze?
Nathaniel: I’m not a teen, so I don’t know what the vibe isamong them, but…the Jonas Brothers have them, right? If they feel socially compelled to bring that up, I feel likethat’s not really different than the things I’m wanting to spread. I just wantpeople to accept me and appreciate my beliefs whether they’re different fromtheirs. I respect them for whatever they wanna do.
Beach boy. Photo by Joe Magnani.
Towleroad: You said girls naturally assume you’re notavailable to them. Is it getting to the point where teen girls can idolize aperformer who’s openly gay and fantasize about them in the same way they dowith straight or supposedly straight stars?
Nathaniel: I mean, maybe? I definitely know girls that haveapproached me, that being gay doesn’t matter to them; that was a barrier theywere interested in crossing. [Laughs] I would like to think that they respectthe artist. I’m sure everyone knew Boy George was gay or Freddie Mercury, butyou saw the music or the performance or the personality.
Nathaniel: Oh, exactly! I know him, actually. He’s like the most freakingtalented singer I’ve ever met in my entire life. I saw something today that Gene Simmons said it was thebiggest mistake he could ever make and I feel like that is just an old-schoolmentality. He’s operating on the assumption that people aren’t gonna respectthat or relate to it in Milwaukee. I think Adam is such an unbelievable talentthat that’s not really why you’re buying his record; it’s because of hiscomplete authenticity.
Towleroad: And Adam was a person who has been himself almostfrom the very beginning. He was a little reticent to acknowledge he is gay while he was still onAmerican Idol, but immediately afterward he put the pink elephant in the roomout of its misery.
Nathaniel: I followed the show with him in it. I didn’t talkto him about it, but I knew that he’s comfortable with himself and I knew thatwas something we would not not address.
Towleroad: How did you celebrate Pride?
Nathaniel: For Los Angeles Pride we were not in town; I wassomewhere performing. But actually we just performed at San Franciso Pride. I was really excited to do that. We performed for 92.7, their radio station in San Francisco that plays a lot ofdance music and that's actually playing “Lovestruck.” We performed on theirstage on 16th and Market. That was a lot of fun! And I actually knew three orfour random people that happened to be in the city at the same time, so I justhung out with them afterwards.
Working it on 92.7's stage at San Francisco Pride. Image from here.
Towleroad: I noticed you Tweeted, “Pornstars are not mystyle.” What, pray tell, was that all about?
Nathaniel: [Laughs] Oh!