What is it that gays love about Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner? Is it her camp value? Her perky, love-gushing way with words? Is it her unbridled love for all creatures great and small, gay and straight, good and evil?
Or is it simply her mascara? Gobs and gobs of mascara.
Tammy Faye (center) with Lady Bunny and Bruce Vilanch at 2002 Capital Pride
The former PTL-er shot to fame in the gay community a few years ago after The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an autobiography made by two gay friends of Bakker-Messner's. She arrives in town this weekend to help us celebrate Capital Pride, kicking off with a Meet & Greet on Saturday night, June 8, at Cobalt which will feature a silent auction, a 20 year photo retrospective, and a Tammy Faye look-a-like contest to be judged by the lady herself (along with another lady, The Lady Bunny). Clearly, the "K" is back in kitsch.
On Sunday, Tammy Faye will appear on the Capital Pride Festival Mainstage. What she'll be doing is still a little unclear: speaking, certainly; maybe singing; and a lot of hugging.
Prepare to be hugged. And loved.
MW: How many gay prides have you done prior to Washington's Capital Pride?
TAMMY FAYE BAKKER MESSNER: Oh, probably six or seven. Maybe more than that. Maybe ten.
MW: What's the typical response when you take the stage?
TAMMY FAYE: Overwhelming love from everyone. Both ways. I love them and they love me. It's just unbelievable. I've never felt such warmth in a group of people. That's the truth.
MW: Do you find a difference between the way gay men and lesbians respond to you?
TAMMY FAYE: The lesbians are taking a little longer to respond to me, but I think that's just a woman thing. Women always suspect people, they all have that sixth sense. But I love them, too, and I want them to know that I accept them. I think they're finally realizing that.
MW: What do you plan to do at our gay pride?
TAMMY FAYE: Same thing I've done at all the rest of them. I'm going to talk to them just like I talk to straight people. I don't make any differences between them.
MW: Will you sing?
TAMMY FAYE: I sing when I can. And I always walk through the crowd. I do more hugging than probably any person alive because I feel that it is so important to reach out and touch someone. That's become a cliche, but I believe it. I believe that we all need hugs. We all need to know that someone loves us just the way we are and is willing to put their arms around us and hold us. I'm always right in the middle of everybody and everything because that's just me.
MW: What's the funniest experience that's happened to you at a gay pride?
TAMMY FAYE: Probably going to the red party. I had just never seen anything like it before. But they were wonderful. I feel like I'm a mom or a sister to most of those guys, I really do. They treat me like I'm family and that means more to me than anything could ever possibly mean.
MW: Given your fundamentalist roots, are you ever surprised by the acceptance you get from gays?
TAMMY FAYE: I'm stunned. But you've got to remember that PTL was one of the very first [Christian television shows] to help the gays. And I was probably one of the first ever to have a gay man on my show. And so I think they remember that. They knew that we accepted them. Many of them watched PTL because they felt accepted by us and they were accepted by us. PTL loved everyone. We didn't turn anyone away. And I think the gays appreciated that. We accepted the gay community when most religious elements did not.
MW: Are you still in any contact with Jim?
TAMMY FAYE: Oh, sure. We all go to our kids' stuff together, his wife and me and him.
MW: How is your relationship these days?
TAMMY FAYE: It's wonderful. We're good friends. We'll always be good friends.
MW: So you've forgiven him.
TAMMY FAYE: Oh, I forgave him long ago. I forgave Jim the day that our divorce became final. I forgave him for everything and went on with my life.
MW: How does one come to a state of forgiveness?
TAMMY FAYE: It's a choice. You ask God to help you and then you just make the choice. It's not worth living in unforgiveness. I have a saying that forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. And I gave myself that gift of forgiveness with the help of God. I forgave everyone that hurt me. Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, I forgave all those people.
MW: But can gays people forgive a man like Falwell who has persecuted us so vehemently?
TAMMY FAYE: It's a choice, that's all it is. Forgiveness is a choice. And it's a choice you ask God to help you keep. It doesn't happen overnight. Forgiveness is an ongoing battle. And sometimes when I see Jerry Falwell my heart hurts. But then I say to God, "God I forgave him, I gave Jerry Falwell to you, you take care of him," and then I'm okay again. So he's in God's hands, he's not in Tammy Faye's hands.
MW: Clearly forgiveness is an important component of your life.
TAMMY FAYE: Yes. It's the only way you can have true happiness because unforgiveness eats you up inside. It's like an acid and it will truly make you sick. I think unforgiveness has been more people's problem than anything in the world. Because when you see somebody you are angry at, your tummy tenses up, your blood pressure goes up, your fists clench, you go into a different mode. And that's not good for the body. So people should forgive just to save themselves.
MW: Is there anyone you don't love?
TAMMY FAYE: No, not really. I love humanity. I have a heart for humanity. Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to help people.
MW: What about Osama bin Laden, you can't possibly love him.
TAMMY FAYE: Well, God says I have to. I don't like what he's doing at all, but God says that if we're going to serve Him, we love them through the lord. In our own selves, it's not possible to love bin Laden. That's not possible. I hate -- I detest -- what he is doing. But knowing that Jesus would have loved him, then I need to ask God to help me love him, too.
Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner (left) with Cookie Buffet at 2002 Capital Pride
MW: Do you consider yourself campy?
TAMMY FAYE: I consider myself very down to earth. If you call that campy, then I guess I'm campy. I don't put on any airs. What you see is what you get. I guess I don't know exactly what campy is.
MW: Camp is larger than life. There's a certain flamboyancy, a grandness. Bette Midler is camp.
TAMMY FAYE: I'm probably quite a bit like Bette Midler, actually.
MW: Your film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, had enormous camp value. And it seemed to do well within the gay community.
TAMMY FAYE: It was popular with everybody -- not just the gays. It turned my life around, really. The gay guys have Tammy Faye parties all the time where they show the film. That just makes my heart melt right down to nothing. One young gay man came up to me and told me every time somebody comes to his house, they can't live without the film. And so he gives it to them and buys himself another one. He said "Tammy, I've bought twelve of them." And that really touched my heart.
MW: What is it do you think about the movie that's made it so popular with gays?
TAMMY FAYE: So many things have happened to the gay people -- they've been made fun of, they've been put down, they've been misunderstood. A couple of the gay guys told me, "We put it on every time we get discouraged." I've even heard people outside the gay community say that every time they get discouraged they put that movie on and they realize they can make it. I didn't know how that movie was going to turn out, I wasn't promised anything on that movie, but I'm just in disbelief of what has happened to my life [because of it]. I thought I was a Titanic and that I was going to sink and never come up again. But I guess I had the greatest captain in the world -- the lord Jesus Christ. He promises to get us safely to the other side and He certainly has.
MW: What new things are happening in your life?
TAMMY FAYE: I just signed a book contract. I also may do a new album -- they're looking for someone to help me with a recording which I'm really excited about because that's something that's been on my heart. And the cartoon people are getting ready to launch the cartoon just as soon as they can get the thing sold.
MW: A cartoon?
TAMMY FAYE: It's called We Are Blessed and it's a Tammy Faye cartoon!
MW: For TV?
TAMMY FAYE: Yes. It's put out by Klasky Csupo -- the ones who do The Rugrats and all the cartoons for The Cartoon Network.
MW: So what are you in it, a superhero?
TAMMY FAYE: Yeah, kinda. I'm a superhero in the fact that I'm always the one who tells everyone it's going to be okay and help them with all their problems.
MW: I'm fascinated by this. Do you call on the power of the lord to save people?
TAMMY FAYE: I'm an advice giver. And the people who are mean to me, I still care about. I sort of play a Betty White [in the Golden Girls] kind of role, where I kind of take even the mean things as good things.
MW: You're doing the voice, of course.
TAMMY FAYE: Yes. And I already have the drawings for it and everything. They draw me just the way I want them to draw me. The only thing I didn't like is that they had my hair piled on top of my head in two big balls. I had them take one of the balls off. And at first they had me in a dress and I said, "No, guys, put me in a pant suit."
MW: And there's mascara, I hope.
TAMMY FAYE: Oh, mascara to the max! I have also been asked -- but I turned it down -- to do that thing where they come into the home and put the cameras there, like the Ozzy [Osbourne] thing. They asked to do that with me, but I didn't feel my home was really interesting enough. All they'd do is find me cleaning up puppy wee-wee and cleaning house. I was also asked to do one of those [celebrity boxing matches] with Sly Stallone's mom, but I just said "No." I didn't feel that was ladylike.
MW: Sounds like you're getting offered a lot of work.
TAMMY FAYE: Oh my goodness I'm getting offered so many things I can't even believe it. Two television shows could be in the offering, the people who produced my movie are looking for a talk show for me, and people here in Charlotte are also trying to put together a talk show for me. You know how they say it's feast or famine. Well, I thank God that after all that's happened to me, that this can happen to me.
MW: What would you, as a mother, say to the young gay or lesbian who has still not found the way to say to their friends and family, "I'm gay"?
TAMMY FAYE: I would say, don't throw your gayness in anyone's face, just live your life. But I also think honesty is always the best policy.
MW: What would you say to the parent who does not want to accept their child as gay?
TAMMY FAYE: If they don't accept it I would say shame on them. When you're a parent you accept your child as he or she is. But I understand that there are mothers and dads that just can't accept the fact that they have a gay child. I think a mother and dad should accept them, not fight with them, and just accept them because they are their children and they should love their children just the way they are. My boy has tattoos and piercings all over him and I love my boy more than I love my own life.
MW: It's sometimes very difficult for parents to shed the visions they have for their kids.
TAMMY FAYE: Your child is not you.
MW: So what do you say to that parent?
TAMMY FAYE: I would tell that parent, love your child just exactly the way he or she is.
MW: What happens to the parent who won't acknowledge their child?
TAMMY FAYE: The parent loses. Because the most important relationship in the world is between mother and father and child, and I think when a parent refuses to accept any child the way they are -- I don't care if it's because they're gay or if they have a sickness or if they decide to do something different than what the parent wants -- I think the parent loses. They lose the most wonderful friendship they could ever have.
I'm trying to educate parents and the Christian world and tell them, these are wonderful people, allow them to be in your church, love them. Don't be so judgmental. Christians are so judgmental and as a result of that they become very cruel. When I go and stand among those gay men and women, I tell them "I am a preacher of the gospel that loves you. And I accept you just the way you are." I cry when I say that but I mean that with all of my heart. Somebody's got to love them and accept them. And somebody who loves God has got to love them and accept them because so many of them really love God, too.
MW: There are many Christians who say gay is evil, that it's an abomination.
TAMMY FAYE: I think being gay is just being a person who has a different thought on life. They're just people. I don't think that God categorizes people. I went to Disneyland one time, and it rained -- it's so awful when it rains at Disneyland -- and everyone disappeared inside. And when the rain stopped and everybody came out, every single person had yellow raincoats on. You couldn't tell the fat from the thin, the rich from the poor. You couldn't tell anyone from anyone else. And that day I looked up and I said, "God, I think this is how you see us, all in yellow raincoats, and only you have the permission to look under those yellow raincoats."
Tammy Faye Bakker-Messner will appear at Cobalt on Saturday, June 8, for a Capital Pride Meet and Greet and a Tammy Faye Look-A-Like contest, and on Sunday, June 9, at the Capital Pride Festival Mainstage at Pennsylvania and 3rd Streets NW.