Robert Gant, known as Bobby to friends, is pinching himself. Standing in the tastefully muted living room of the Hollywood hills house he recently bought, Gant is ruminating about marriage. Is Gant, who plays Ben Bruckner on Showtime's hit gay soap opera Queer as Folk, ready to share his life with a partner?
"I so want to marry someone," Gant offers. "I have a vision for my life where I get married and raise a family. I'd like three or four kids. I want to be a dad and husband." Gant glances around his cozy hideaway. "I'll have to get a bigger house."
Would Gant ever jet to Massachusetts to exchange vows with Kyan Douglas, the grooming guru of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, with whom he's been spending time? Gant pauses, choosing his words prudently. "I really like Kyan," he says. "He's a terrific guy. We're just getting to know each other right now."
American audiences have been getting to know--and love--Gant. As the HIV-positive professor in a relationship with Michael (Hal Sparks) on Queer as Folk, Gant tackles, with wit and a sense of humanity, sticky story lines like 'roid rage, adopting a teenage street hustler, and being in a relationship with a negative partner. Sparks gushes when asked about playing Gant's boyfriend. "The best thing is Bobby's enthusiasm for the show," Sparks raves. "The show is about love and trying to have a relationship. Sex scenes are uncomfortable and weird to do. When you work with a steady partner like Bobby, you have a strong respect for each other, and you make a connection appear on-screen."
Queer as Folk confronts issues such as sex and drugs unapologetically. "I'm proud of this show for where it goes sexually," Gant proclaims. "For my gay brethren who had such problems with the drugs and sex, I ask you to consider the shame we have carried around about who we were and the manifestations of the self-loathing we feel that has caused us to have addictive issues, be it crystal or alcohol. [Queer as Folk] is the story of boys becoming men."
In August 2002, Gant decided to come out publicly. PreQueer as Folk, Gant had been cast as the (heterosexual) love interest or husband or young dad on shows like Caroline in the City and Veronica's Closet. Some of Gant's business representatives urged him not to reveal his sexual orientation, for the sake of his career. Peter Paige, who plays Emmett on the show, remembers, "I was sad and frustrated for Bobby. I could see it on his face, how much he wanted to be clean, clear, and out in the open."
Gant recalls that when he told his mother about coming out on the cover of The Advocate, she responded, "Why don't you shoot me through the heart with a shotgun first?" "I didn't give a damn! I decided to surrender to it all," Gant says, and his mother eventually came around. "Today, the truth is that my career has never been stronger. There's far more interest in me as an actor than when I was closeted." Gant's sea-blue eyes widen. He lets out a satisfied roar of a laugh. "Coming out was the best thing I could have ever done for my career." Queer as Folk executive producer Ron Cowen concurs: "Being out and honest is important to Bobby. I don't think he'd be comfortable having it any other way."
Born and raised in a blue-collar family in Tampa, Fla., Gant (real surname: Gonzalez) was obsessed with being the "perfect" child. "For me, 'gay' was nonexistent. To my understanding, I was the only gay person in the world," he says. Gant's first gay sexual experience was with an older football player on prom night in the stairwell of a hotel. When he was 20 his mother eavesdropped on a phone conversation and discovered he was gay. But he wasn't ready to be candid about his desires. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, which he attended before heading to Georgetown University Law Center; he joined a homophobic fraternity of jocks and dated women. Gant, who likes reading self-help books, says, "I so wanted to be the best little boy in the world, to do it the 'right way,' so I joined the frat. I couldn't contemplate the idea of not taking that path. I was in the closet, hiding and invisible. I was willing to put myself, as many gay guys are, in situations that are pain-inflicting. It's an offshoot of low self-esteem. It's embarrassing to say these things, because now I've come to experience such self-love. I need to realize that it's OK to have had my journey."
Gant cherishes the myriad e-mails he receives from young gay men who look to him as a role model. He reads one on his laptop from a boy struggling to tell his family he's gay. "You're my hero," the boy writes. "Your work on Queer as Folk is a testament to strength of character and bravery," Gant's eyes well up. "I'm going to cry," he says softly.
In addition to Queer As Folk, which shoots six months of the year in Toronto, Gant will appear in the upcoming indie film Marie and Bruce with Julianne Moore and Matthew Broderick. Gant started a production company with producer Chris Racster and out actor Chad Allen called Mythgarden. The trio's first project is Save Me, a movie written by Craig Chester, about a center in Texas where gay men and lesbians go to become straight, in which Gant and Allen will star. Gant also volunteers his time to Senior Action in a Gay Environment and is working on a Web site addressing the issue of aging for gays. "One of the cool things about coming out is how much energy I have," Gant boasts. "That's one of the reasons my acting has blossomed and why I've been able to take on so many things. All that energy isn't going into perpetuating a facade, to hiding. I'm constantly reveling in this new freedom."
Dodging further inquiries into life with Kyan Douglas, Gant switches the subject to pets. He yearns to own a chocolate Lab and a brown liver-spotted Dalmatian. "I like that the two would match. The browns would coordinate," he suggests with a chuckle. Gant, whose body looks fit even under a slouchy sweatshirt, takes a bite of tuna fish. He's eager to hit a spinning class at Crunch. Gant gazes around his outdoor patio, where chirping birds and a fountain provide a Zenlike soundtrack, "I used to think my destiny was to be unhappy," he confesses earnestly, "I'm really happy now. I'm constantly amazed by what's possible. It's only begun."
[Correction: Robert was 20, not 16 when the overheard phone call occurred.]