Interview with “Big Brother”‘s Joe Barber

Big Brother is gay-friendly. No, I’m not talking about George Orwell’s Big Brother, or even our current shadowy government. I’m talking about the CBS reality competition that forces 14 people to live together for roughly three months with no outside contact of any kind. The "houseguests," as the contestants are so charmingly called, are competing for a large cash prize. Each week they vote out one person until there are only two left, at which point the voted-out houseguests choose who wins the grand prize.

We had our first openly gay houseguest in the second season with the (overly) emotional Bunky. The third season brought us fan favorite Marcellas Reynolds. The fifth installment introduced Will Wilke to gay fans everywhere, and Beau Beasley graced the house for season 6. Marcellas returned in season seven for Big Brother: All Stars. In all these seasons, however, the gay men were treated as secondary characters. While the show focused on the romantic misadventures of the straight players, the gay houseguests were relegated to the role of the sexless, sassy sidekick.

All that changed with the current season. Two openly gay men, Joe and Dustin, were cast for the show, making Big Brother history. But not only were there two gay men in the house; these men were also a part of this season’s "Enemies Twist." Joe and Dustin were ex-boyfriends … and let’s just say their relationship did not end well. In fact, when Joe found out Dustin would be in the house, he immediately set about trying to turn the other houseguests against him, even accusing Dustin of giving him an STD.

While the airing of their dirty laundry might not be exactly what we were looking for in terms of gay representation, it does indicate a big step forward for the show. For the first time ever, gay men are being treated as whole human beings — flaws and all — equal to their straight counterparts.

Unfortunately, Joe was voted out in the second elimination of the season, but was able to score an interview with him the very next morning following his eviction. He hadn’t even had a chance to watch the show yet. Thanks so much for talking to us.
Joe Barber:
No problem. It’s my pleasure. If it’s for the gay community, I’m there.

AE: First things first, did you have fun?
I had a blast. When I first found out Dustin would be in the house I thought it was ruined, but everything turned out well, I had so much fun, and I feel like I grew a lot from the experience.

AE: I think this was the first time Big Brother had two gay men in the house together at the same time.
Yep, it was!

AE: Do you think that was just a coincidence or was CBS going for something different?
Oh, I think they were just open. Now that more shows have been on the air — it is 2007, after all — I think they were more willing to have two gay men on the screen at the same time. Constantly, in my entrance interviews, I dared them to put another gay man in the house because I never thought that it would happen. So I was pleasantly surprised, even though it was my ex, and even though I hated him with every fiber in my body when the game began, I was pleasantly surprised and really proud that CBS was willing to do that.

AE: The other houseguests seemed pretty off put by the discussion of gonorrhea. Do you wish you hadn’t brought that up?
No, not at all. I’m proud that I brought up the gonorrhea. I wanted to show that you can be a confident, strong, smart, intelligent person, and these things can still happen to you. They happen to anybody, and everybody can be affected by it. If people are able to discuss that openly and willingly, something’s going to be done about it. If people just sit there and they’re embarrassed to talk about it or embarrassed to step forward, I hope that people can take my example and say, "Wow, that guy did it. He’s still kind of funny and cool. He’s not a total loser." So, once people discuss it, more can be done about it. If one single person could have a conversation about it with a friend or family member because of what I said, then that’s all that matters.

AE: Your first reaction to Dustin was to take an aggressive stance, trying to quickly turn the houseguests against him before they even met him, but you two quickly agreed to keep things calm to avoid drawing negative attention on yourselves. We saw a lot of frank discussion between you and Dustin about your relationship by the last few days; how much of that was strategy and how much was your relationship taking a natural step towards closure?
Actually, I’d say it was about 50/50. I needed to talk to Dustin and touch base with him about his vote, but also, I held so much guilt from all the things I did to Dustin. After he cheated on me and we broke up, I went through his life and just decimated it. I took his friends, I destroyed his life, I destroyed his credibility, I did all these malicious things. And of course, when you first do them, you’re all proud of yourself and happy. Then, you know, a month goes by and you feel like a piece of crap. You’re just like, "Wow, I did that to this person, and I damaged them and hurt them just as badly as they hurt me."

It’s not just that in life. It’s not just an eye for an eye. I wish I could have been the bigger person. All I wanted from Dustin for the last year that he hadn’t talked to me was the opportunity to tell him all that I had done and apologize for it, and I finally did get that. After I’d apologized, and after I got that guilt off my conscience, he immediately tried to attack me more. I realized he still wasn’t over it. He still had so much anger inside of his heart that in moving forward, I’m going to be a stronger, better person, and he’s still going to be that bitter ex. I’m sad for him, and I just wish him the best.

AE: You said that Dustin’s arrival changed how you would play the game. How do you think your interactions with the housemates would have differed if not for the "enemies" twist?
If the enemies twist wasn’t present, and especially if the enemy wasn’t mine, my strategy would have been completely different. I would have been able to set out a very strong base of relationships in the house. You’re a person 90% of the time that people love, but that 10% of the time you’re that person everybody hates because you’re angry and your negative aspects come out. Dustin brings out the worst in me. Having him in the house, people saw the side of me that they never, ever would have seen had he not been there. I would have been able to show people the positive aspects of my personality, accentuate the positive and have people fall in love with me as opposed to having them see the other, evil side of me that came out every time Dustin was around.

AE: What the audience saw of Kail suggested that she was quietly homophobic. In the first episode, there was a diary room clip where she said that she’d be disappointed if one of her children "chose" a gay lifestyle and from the way the show was edited, it looked like she was constantly suggesting that Jen nominate you and Dustin. Did that portrayal match how you saw Kail?
Not at all! I knew they were getting at something because I was questioned quite frequently [in the diary room interviews in the house] about that. No, Kail was not at all. She just hadn’t known many gay people, she’d never been around gay people. She and I had so many conversations in private and in a public forum in the house that she was very open about. She had a very open mind. The thing is, you can have your reservations, and you can have your own opinions, but have an open mind. And Kail most definitely did. She had questions. I thought she really learned a lot and that she’s gone far with that.

If they edited her to seem like that, as one of the homosexuals in the house, I never got that feeling. I even pushed her, because I had a feeling that something was going on there with editing due to some stuff, that there was something up with Kail, so I pushed the issue constantly. As you’ve seen from the show, I’m a pot stirrer. I say what I think and I do what I want to do. So I pushed the issue constantly with Kail to see if I could get something out of her like that, and no. She always seemed open to discussion. She was maybe occasionally uncomfortable, but she was occasionally uncomfortable with everybody. I don’t think it had anything to do with homosexuals.

AE: Live feed viewers have noticed that Zach seems a bit clueless about gay people — the most notable example was the time he said they could count you and Dustin among the women of the house.
Oh, I’m so glad you saw that.

AE: Did he leave a similar impression on you?
Yeah. The deal with Zach, he’s one of those people — it’s one of those gay things, I’m sure you know this, too — he’s one of those men that instantly tells you the moment that he meets you that he has gay friends. He’s like, "Oh, you’re gay. I know somebody who’s gay!" He’s one of those ignorant people who just think one gay is all gays. If you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. He doesn’t realize that the homosexual community is as diverse as the entire world because homosexuality permeates every faction of life. His views, his means of making me feel accepted, actually made me feel very uncomfortable.

AE: The Internet has really been abuzz about Nick, who had a list of his five hottest guys, discussed kissing guys in the past, spooned with you in bed and claimed to have performed oral sex on another guy in the past. In fact, his hot tub admission inspired a lot of debate if he was joking or not. Do you take him seriously and what was your take on Nick’s sexuality?
I think Nick’s sexuality is that he’s very comfortable with his own sexuality. He’s not worried about how he’s perceived. He’s an example for what all straight men should be — willing to flirt, willing to do that, because at the end of the day, you know if you’re straight or not. His ability to accept me, his ability to smile and wink at me just as he would anybody else, really shows that he’s got a lot of integrity. Maybe not honesty, because he screwed me over in the end, but he’s got a lot of integrity and he really stands up for what he believes in.

AE: What did the others have to say about Nick’s spooning you and his other admissions? Did that cause any stir in the house at all?
Not that I saw, but then, I didn’t see the show. It seemed like Danielle was always fine when I’d flirt with Nick and we’d have our little fun spooning sessions, but Jen seemed to give me the dagger eyes any time Nick would look at me and not her.

AE: If Nick was just using his sexuality as part of the game, do you think he’ll put the moves on Dustin? How do you think would Dustin react?
No, I think that Nick is just friendly with everybody. I never saw it as anything more than playful flirting. I wasn’t hopelessly in love with him and, I swear to God, if they edited me that way I’m going to kill them! But no, I knew Nick was just flirting. He’s a really nice guy, he’s outgoing, and that’s great. I respect that aspect of his personality. I don’t think Dustin would be as receptive to it as I was, because Dustin is very much all about himself, and not so much interacting with others.

AE: What impact do you think your and Dustin’s dirty laundry being aired on TV had on how folks perceive gay folks? None? Good? Bad?
You know, I think it’s ridiculous if people want to try to use me as an example of a homosexual. I’m not a representation of all men. I’m not a representation of a all homosexuals. I’m Joe Barber, a person. It would be their ignorance if they thought all homosexuals were exactly like me or Dustin. Airing our dirty laundry and things like that, there were many different times where there were positives and negatives of our relationship that were aired, and it just depends on what made the show. It’s up to people’s own judgments what they make of it, but anyone who has an open mind should be fine.

AE: Where do you see the relationships and alliances in the house right now?
Right now it’s in complete disarray. I was in an alliance with Nick that broke down, Kail’s alliance broke down completely with getting Evil Dick out of the house. It really seems that there’s only one alliance and that would be Jen and Kail. Dustin and Amber are extremely close. Danielle and Nick are really close. It seems that people are paired off right now, but those pairs really do have a lot of power when they come together. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out for the rest of the season.

AE: It’s certainly been an interesting season so far. We really appreciate you talking to us. Thanks so much, Joe.
Thank you!