I was excited to talk to Jai Rodriguez because I’d seen him on Queer Eye, then I realized I’d seen him perform in one of my favorite musicals ever, “Zanna, Don’t!”
So I was a bit star struck.
I don’t like admitting that, but I was.
Then the real magic happened when we spoke, one gay man to another.
Jai is approachable and tells us how it really is for queer people in Hollywood, how COVID-19 is affecting his sex life, growing up evangelical, and being a mentor.
This high energy interview that moves very fast, so buckle your seat belts boys! This man is gonna tell you what’s really going on. A queer performer teaching us real-life lessons on racial injustice, finding sex that’s a good fit, navigating COVID-19, religion and how gay mentors might do it better.
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Episode full transcript:
Mike Gerle 0:00
This is the GirleMen podcast. My name is Mike Gerle, and I'm the host and founder of GerleMen.com, a site for gay men and anyone self identified as the other designed to help you invest in your own dignity, strengthen your connection with your chosen families, and thrive in general society. Now that you found us please hit that subscribe button. It was exciting thinking about interviewing Jai Rodriguez because I'd seen him on Queer Eye and then I realized I'd seen him perform in one of my favorite musicals ever, "Zanna, Don't!". So I was a bit starstruck. I don't like admitting that but I was. Then the real magic happened when we spoke one gay man talking to another, Jay's approachable and tells us how it really is for queer people in Hollywood. How COVID-19 is affecting his sex life, growing up evangelical, and being a mentor. This high energy interview that moves very fast is ready for you now so buckle your seat belts, boys, this man is going to tell you what's really going on.
Mike Gerle 1:04
The moment you realized you were a gay man, you were forced onto the path of the other. So you know oppression inside now. the calling of otherness has led you on your own hero's journey. And that journey has prepared you for greatness. You were a man entering the cult of brotherhood to conscious sex into heart centered connection. Welcome home brother.
Mike Gerle 1:29
Well welcome Jai, Jai Rodriguez, thank you for being on the GerleMen podcast.
Jai Rodriguez 1:35
Thanks for having me. It's it's been it's a pleasure. First of all lovely surroundings you have there
Mike Gerle 1:41
thank you. This is a corner of the condo made into a it was impossible for anything else, it was a little weird triangle. It's a great sound but you know I hear a lot of people are back in the closet with podcasts.
Jai Rodriguez 1:54
I've seen a couple concepts from closets
Mike Gerle 1:59
Yeah. I have to be in one. Well, I like to start asking how you are, how you're feeling because I think our feelings are really important.
Jai Rodriguez 2:08
Yes. And you know, yesterday I think Monday it was I posted had really been an emotional roller coaster. I'm feeling okay today I got up a little earlier. It's the normal household errands that I do in the morning, didn't walk the dog in the home bit, but just being unemployed and today I had several scheduled calls with managers and bookers and just to kind of reevaluate where we are months into the pandemic as to what work will look like for me
Mike Gerle 2:35
What is happening? What are people saying about the future of the industry right now?
Jai Rodriguez 2:38
Yeah, so it feels like you know, a lot of companies are purchasing shows understanding that once things are a bit safer to make programming, there's gonna be in high demand. So there is work hopefully down the line that will be employing a lot of people in the industry. Now I am in front of the camera guy, but we talked about behind the scenes, I mean, just talking hundred thousands of employees, middle class families who, you know survive gig to gig, whether you're talking about people who are grips or makeup or hair camera people, these are not millionaires, these are not people who, because they work in Hollywood are part of the elite. And I also would like to mention that a lot of the performers you see on television shows are paid a one time nominal fee of what industry standard is considered. And I know that for the infrequency that a lot of your familiar faces work, they barely can make ends meet as it is, but the optics are that there's fame attached to them, so they must be financially stable, but I can attest to the fact that I've been speaking to many people and, and many of us aren't, we rely on so many sources of income, and when you talk about all Hollywood actors really kind of honing in on maybe the one or 2% of the population who've done such epic projects that they don't ever need to work again. That's not the case for most performers.
Mike Gerle 3:55
Well, let's talk about Queer Eye. Why do you think it's been such a success? I mean, the way I remember TV history up before that, you know, we were getting roles or we were being portrayed here and there and whatnot, then all sudden we're the show. How did that happen?
Mike Gerle 4:14
Jai Rodriguez 4:14
Which was career suicide people were telling me and I will actually go on record and say that in some ways it kind of was for me. You know, my first play at Lincoln Center was a play called Spinning into Butter that dealt with racism on a college campus. My character was straight, he was a college student, I had been wronged by the dean of students. And it was this great play Spike Lee was at opening night and I played this inner city kid, those roles never came my way after that, because people were like, Oh, he's gay. And I just saw him on the series on Bravo, where everyone's all caffeinated up, or, you know, you know, shooting the show with a light buzz, if it was loft, you know. So, for us, I think we thought we're just making a makeover show. But what the cultural impact or significance I don't think we were aware of in the moment, which was for the first time, the world got to see queer men that they might not have had access to in their normal day to day lives, and invited them over and not just over anywhere into their bedrooms, in their kitchens, their living rooms, wherever their TVs were, and TVs are a much more intimate form of media versus the movie theaters. If you see a TV stars, it's not scripted. He's like, you know them. They're your friends. And suddenly we couldn't go anywhere without anyone out, you know, wanting to say things to us years later, 17 years exactly, we started production on the show, may 2003. I don't think any of us knew what we were getting into. And at that time, the big deal was you have to be out and gay. And I remember my agent saying, are you ready to make that kind of commitment? And I did, because honestly, I was like, no one's gonna watch it. I thought no one would ever see it. It was on a little station that again, no one was really it wasn't on the tip of everyone's tongue like it is now Bravo TV. And I think the trickiest part for me was coming onto the show in the category of culture. They had a pilot guy in that role. He was not asked to move forward when the show was bought by Bravo. Finally, and found a home then they hired another guy named Blair, who did culture for two episodes. He was fired and replaced by me and I was introduced to you on episode one, and episodes two and three. Where of the...
Jai Rodriguez 4:14
Yeah, so I'll tell ya, yeah it was off the heels of queer spoke L Word quieres book L Word were scripted series gay content already on the air Will and Grace. So now you got the trifecta proven and those will L Word and chorus vote for cable but NBC took a chance and did Will and Grace, huge hit. So then the Ellen DeGeneres talk show picks up and it becomes a huge hit. So Bravo, which is a subsidiary of NBC has this little show that they were taking a chance with nothing really was on Bravo other than inside the actor's studio that rated well, that was it. This was pre housewives. Trust me in that era no one knew what vanderpump was. To me. A vanderpump was the thing I would do late at night before bed to James Van Der Beek. So for me, I just instantly, I kind of got the sense that that era in that time was going to be an explosion of visibility for gay scripted content and I was starting and "Zanna, Don't!" this off Broadway called classic. I have a name above the title and billboards all over town, including Time Square above the virgin megastore with my little magical wand in my hand. It was a big deal for me, was really and I was like 23 years old, right? So it was such a massive thing. And so when we got the show, we didn't think it'd be anything out all of us had plans to go back to our normal lives right after, no one quit their jobs. So you know, we're all supposed to go back to work. And then two weeks in it just we just got noticed that it like triple the ratings in Bravo's history that we're going to put us right after Will and Grace to see how we did. We held their ratings and increased it. So it was a lot of this big magnitude and during that time, we weren't playing characters. We're being ourselves.
Mike Gerle 7:53
How did that feel knowing that the previous two guys before you were fired?
Jai Rodriguez 7:57
Mike Gerle 7:58
Was an extra pressure?
Jai Rodriguez 7:59
I knew it was slowly going to be turning into Queer Eye for the white guy because it was an entirely white cast with mostly an entirely white production staff. And so I knew that I wanted to coming from ran a multi ethnic show for half a decade and having experiences of being you know, brown and queer in entertainment, I was bringing something already different to the table also being a decade younger, a lot of the references that they had weren't references that I knew of, or cared about. And so taking a page of what they knew, and just kind of learning from my elders, but also teaching them about the things that were new was important to me, we don't have a whole lot of what I like being now and I like that there exists now a lot of elders because my elders, the generation above me didn't have any because many of them were sadly taken away because of the AIDS epidemic. And when you think about you know, being a performer for half a decade and being very successful in that space, and then getting a reality show that diminishes you to being somewhat of a Puerto Rican Emily post, and having SNL parody you and night TV parody you as useless, as a useless force on the show. It doesn't do a whole lot to instill confidence. And so I had to really remember that I was a performer and sadly, I was asked repeatedly to tone that down. Because if I'm an actor, well, maybe all the other guys are acting as well. And so when you have that legacy, moving forward, people seeing you as useless and not understanding what you're actually good at, because the show didn't really elevate that in any way, unlike the other guys. I've never got unlike probably any queer guy never got a like a six figure seven figure endorsement deal like all my Queer Eye guys, and you know, let's see if we really want to talk about I think Billy Porter says it best. I grew up in the 90s revering Billy Porter as a Broadway star because I grew up listening to the soundtracks he was on and then all of a sudden he this massive gap of unemployment and as he says it now he was unhireable because he was black and to femme presenting, and I think that when it while I was having a great good old time and gain it up for queer I people were not anxious to hire me after because they didn't feel I was safe or the kind of gay That would be accepted. Times certainly shifted, but many of us took massive hits to our career. And I'm including, I'm not including the Queer Eye boys. I don't know their story, but I left Queer Eye in a very different financial situation than any of my other brothers.
Mike Gerle 10:16
Now talk about that for a second. Because, you know, I think my parents met well raising me but in Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho, they were telling me where everybody was white. So there was nothing to like, check this on. They were telling us that there used to be a race problem, but we fixed it in the 60s and everything's good now. And I moved out here and I slowly realized that just wasn't true. So...
Unknown Speaker 10:37
it's not it wasn't I grew up in a in a Puerto Rican/Italian household, or people in my skin complexion on the Puerto Rican side, some even darker, who could pass for African American and my Puerto Rican family was the most racist out of any groupings I'd ever been a part of and all the things that they had told me about people of color, which was so odd that they would have that kind of view being that we literally looked like members of our family could pass your African American and that there was such ignorance and bias toward them. I was very, very shocked. With the time I started going to the first church my mother really set us up in, it was an evangelical church and it when we were the lightest skin, people there and when I started to go to school, primary school and junior high I started realizing that the tropes and all the kind of cliches they used to say about other races were just wildly inadequate. And so and then obviously getting rent, working with a multi ethnic cast I was like this is ridiculous, but all that ideology all of it still is in play. In fact, I was on Twitter yesterday and I think was the UK Times or UK Gay Times put like 10 must see movies like 10 must see LGBTQ films, not one of them had any out LGBTQ people of color in leading roles. They had six feet under, but the actual plate, it was straight, you know, it was just as big whitewashing and even if you're lucky or fortunate enough to get into an LGBTQ themed TV series or movie, you're never one or two on the call sheet, you're always three, four or five, meaning you have the fourth fifth or sixth largest role in the film, or project. And there aren't many projects out there that really speak to the experience of some of us who moved here. When I moved to from New York. I remember going here, I'm just having some guy come up to me, we're dancing. He's like, pretty hot for Latin guy. I mean, No, I'm not. It's just like, it's not it's not my preference. And you're like, yeah, I hear what you think you mean by it, but you do it. So I think race plays a very integral role in our society in terms of us acknowledging the differences that exists when it comes to privilege. Yeah, I think it's not about shaming people. It's just enlightening them to other people's experience so that we can be more compassionate and take care of each other the way we should.
Mike Gerle 12:51
Yeah. And I've had a journey myself, you know, I'm a big tall white guy, and just experiencing all kinds of privilege I didn't have a clue I was enjoying.
Jai Rodriguez 13:03
But how did you, unless you saw it firsthand? It was a family friend or really close person to you.
Mike Gerle 13:09
Jai Rodriguez 13:10
I think you know, you can only hear so much that people tell you and when it becomes personal to you then I think that was part of Harvey Mills messaging Come out Come out Come out, he wanted as many people to be visible as possible so that we could say hey, I'm not just you know, your cousin I'm also gay man. Like that thing that you say you hate, you know, or whatever the case?
Mike Gerle 13:29
Yeah, well, for me, I think it was Larissa Fuchs; Hey Larissa! We worked next to each other for about 15 of the 23 years I worked at West Hollywood City Hall. And she saw the young me I'm so embarrassed now. You know, talking about Oh, the World's Fair, the world's perfect and she's like, what world do you live in? And she's like one of the three people I wanted at my retirement party, you know, 23 years later, and just to see just to seeing the slight just as it happens in real time, real slights, real passes real people living in a world of non privilege and...
Jai Rodriguez 14:09
But here's the thing too, if you look at our media that, you know, that many of these websites that we follow for the LGBTQ+ community do not do features are oftentimes are not on their cover, have people of color, it's rare, exceptionally rare. And so when I look at sometimes in an Instagram account to LGBTQ+ population, it's a sea of really gorgeous like ripped white guys and not a whole lot of diversity and they'll put a body positive image you know, I'm like you're literally the body positive image is the majority of people who live and socialized in the city, the you know, smaller percentage...
Mike Gerle 14:48
When you say body positive, what are you saying? For the people who don't live in Los Angeles.
Jai Rodriguez 14:52
So coded language for body positivity is when someone is outside of shape, and then they just say to them, oh, they're so boddy positive, meaning, oh, they're not ripped, or they don't have the equinox body, so their body positive, I'm like, well, you don't know that they might actually be quite negative about their body and they should be body positive. But we all should be looking at things in a different way. Great example, the kid from Twilight is now playing the new Batman, I forget his name, Kristen Stewart's axe, and he made announcement doesn't want to work out for the role. Because he's like, wow, I understand. I don't understand why Batman has to be super ripped. These guys go to the gym for four months, six months prior to these shoots, do everything legal and illegal to chain these bodies for a short blip of time. And I just think it sends the wrong message. And I kind of stand for that. Here's why I wasn't physically capable to do all these things. But the truth is, people who strength is not always about having zero percent body fat and being on all the it's just not.
Mike Gerle 15:48
Jai Rodriguez 15:49
And so I think the way that this comes back to my greater point, if you look at our community, we only elevate certain types of queer folks, and that is, you know, trans people have this conversation A lot. It's like the SIS passing trans folks sometimes get more more visibility than their non passing brothers and sisters or non passing family. Then if you look at the gay community, I remember hosting a night one time in West Hollywood, and I was the host, it was my night. And they're like, we're gonna put a stock image of this model, and it was a white model.
Mike Gerle 16:19
Jai Rodriguez 16:19
Like, well, because we don't want people to think it's Latin night. And I was like, I don't even know what that means. Does that mean that we can never have a person of color on an ad because it's indicative of what you think that music that person represents. So it was just really tricky. I think when I got first got here, but the issue of race is far from over. I watched a great conversation with Bob the drag queen and Peppermint, where they talk about the fandom and how racist the fandom of the drag race world can be. But it's just a small microcosm of everything else, so...
Mike Gerle 16:20
Yeah, I would assume that the world of drag is just as diverse as the lesbian world or the gay world are the...
Jai Rodriguez 16:56
People shocked they're like wait a minute shaking like there's like you can be racist and LGBT I'm like, yeah, girl.
Mike Gerle 17:01
Yeah. Yeah. Big time. Well, while we're on it, can you talk about playing a gender fluid role like Angel and yeah, and then actual trans and...
Jai Rodriguez 17:12
I'll definitely dive into this and I'm so glad for you to brought this up because it's not something I talked about enough of and i and i really like it. So when I got Rennes I knew the show when I saw I didn't quite understand the angel thing. I had never seen a drag queen I knew of RuPaul when did from the betta work, but I didn't know to be honest what part she had if she had transitioned i didn't know, as a teenager what drag meant, then I get the show, and they're fitting me up and we're not talking we're not using any padding for breasts or hips or you know, they would have me shave and use powder pressed powder on my face. You can kind of see my beard up close, like at stage, Who cares? And then as it was taught to me, you know, I was an actor but didn't know much about queer culture or a drag queen I could playing the character as female, like as as a cisgender biological Female Angel. I was 18 and the director was like, I'm sending you home with some homework. I had to watch too long food Paris is burning. Learn the difference between drag queens and trans women. And he kept saying, Jai, boy in a dress, boy in a dress, your voice should always be the same if you're in and out of drag, which I had, you know, a young gay boy voice anyway. But yeah, so for me, I don't see Angel as a trans character because, you know, she lived her life as a man and would perform in the art form of drag and based on the costuming and everything else. And that era that I was alive for and participated in, I saw angel is more of a street performer drag queen. That's my feeling based on everything I know and was taught by the original creative team. Then you move forward to I'm in LA and because I did rent every drag roll's now at my feet, and I turned out a couple because they were poor depictions of drag culture. And then I got an opportunity to audition for David E. Kelly, who wrote obviously Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, you name it, just Big Hit show it was starring Kathy Bates called Harry's Law, it'sabout a woman named Harriet who opens up a law firm, she's in hard times she needs a rental space. So she's basically working out of a shoe store. And so like a shoe store/law office, and the character was that of a trans woman, but it wasn't written that way. In the actual audition that the sheet they sent it to agents and stuff. It said, we are not seeing trends, performers, nor are we seeing professional drag queens, they kept referencing Madame Butterfly, which I thought was an interesting reference. So then I booked this role. I only did this and this is about Bobby, about 10 years ago, a decade ago, I today would never ever audition for any trans characters is enough, over enough trans actors that should be allowed because they previously were not to tell their own stories. And so I don't ever need to perform as a trans person unless the character begins as a cisgendered man and has this whole transitional journey but even then, a perfect them to see trans people first. But I took this role because I'd seen trans people and drag queens depicted so inaccurately on camera and having grew up around so many great trans people, when I graduated college and graduated high school and started rents, that I wanted to make sure their story was told accurately. And that's the only reason I took it a decade ago and. I was given a lot of freedoms, but also I recognized how much confusion there was on set the hair designer thought it was a drag queen. The makeup person understood that she was trans that she lived as a woman and she had trans friends, the wardrobe department understood that she was trans and that she lives as a woman. I believe the show was took place in Cincinnati and having to have that conversation was really tricky to get everyone into alignment. The word trans was never used.
Mike Gerle 20:45
Jai Rodriguez 20:45
And she just referenced living as a woman. And she says, you know, retreating into her stage persona is more than escape it's home. And I remember you know, when that episode aired when you click on the info like let's say it was airing tonight you want to DVR it Click on the info. It said Jai Rodriguez guest stars as Amanda not a drag performer, blah, blah, blah, this transexual level blah, I'm like, Whoa, wrong. So thankfully, I called glad, which tackles representation in media. And I got to speak to someone who literally was like, I just had lunch with the good folks over at NBC. So they know me very well. And we were talking about these kinds of issues. Let me point this out, and they corrected it within two hours. So, um, yeah, I've always been an advocate for the trans community, having had so many trans women sort of raised me as mother figures in my 20s, and, and even today, that it was unfortunate, and a travesty that they could not even be seen for these roles. But thankfully, due to courageous networks and trailblazers, you know, trans women are trans performers of all kinds of gender identities are here to stay and they should be the ones to be up for these roles and tell their own stories. Because there's still bias in the industry.
Mike Gerle 22:02
Yeah. And I think it's so nuanced and every individual represents differently, right? You were talkingabout the difference between Angel and this other role.
Jai Rodriguez 22:12
Angel is all drag that we see as boy a whole lot and Amanda lives as a woman, you would never see her, you know, anything but and we even use liquid latex on my face, so that he never had a five o'clock shadow because it was meant to appear that I had gotten electrolysis, you know, and I couldn't, they weren't even open to the to the word trans because at that time, it was not loosely thrown thrown around as it is now, trans at that time, that you know, most have a sexual status transexual, you know what I mean? Like Yeah, of a drag performer versus someone who is transgender, who may have had some kind of reassignments done to their to their body or, you know, alter their body in some way to align with how they felt on the inside to some people who just identify as trans or different gender who feel complete with no surgeries. I'm really good friends with a girlfriend of mine who is from the Philippines and she's an open transgender performer. She was on The Voice and she's never had any issues, and she's very open about that she feels complete in her body, she presents a very cisgender passable female, but she's a nurse by trade as well, and so she does not, at this moment in her life feel inclined to alter her body in any way. But she is a woman. And that's a very difficult topic 10 years ago, to have people understand.
Mike Gerle 23:35
Yeah, I mean,
Jai Rodriguez 23:36
I have long winded.
Mike Gerle 23:37
Well, I thank you though. I want people to hear about these things. You and I are in it here in West Hollywood in California, you know, I'm going to Branson maybe in July to visit my family. And they wouldn't know any of these things. This trends. You know the difference between a drag queen and a trans woman, these are things that are important.
Jai Rodriguez 24:02
The gender identity thing always trips me up because I always not in terms of I mess it up. But I just think it's an interesting conversation to start with people who feel anti trans. And I always wonder, and they're like, Why just want to know what gender they are. I was like, why, yeah. Why? why it's important for you to know what what organs they have downstairs, what they look like, why is that or how does that impact your life? And if you need to know their gender, does that mean you will now treat them differently? If it's a man, you'll be frightened of, of this person and you will feel like they're a danger to you. And if it's in your mind, you believe this person to be a woman, then you can speak down to her pay her less what we're really getting at when we talk about what gender identity means to people who are frightened of trans folks, what are they really trying to say? I don't understand how gender plays into like anything as long as someone's a good person. You know what I mean? I don't I don't understand why you would have any...
Mike Gerle 25:00
People are really difficult with gray, right? They know people want one thing or the on or off black or white. Like Bi people. I was one of those people like saying make up your mind. Make up your mind. Until, you know recently last year I had it I went to this great training is the mankind project and it's mostly a straight organization where you do you know men's work and get in touch with your feelings. I really love it. It's very helpful.
Jai Rodriguez 25:24
It's been so long since I've done any men's work.
Mike Gerle 25:28
Oh, wow, this was amazing. And and I know like men's work. Men's work not work on. Okay. Yeah, I know. It's right. I'm lucky I have a boyfriend. Yeah. And I want to talk about that. I want to talk about COVID boyfriend negotiating because i think that's that's really needs to be a thing now.
Jai Rodriguez 25:48
Mike Gerle 25:49
You know, my best friend and business partner is single. And this is really tough for him. You know? And I'm just like, you need to find something that's just I mean, go through your list who are your regular hookups. And maybe you find one and make an agreement or something.
Jai Rodriguez 26:08
I think I think unfortunately, because locked down being as long as it's likely going to be before we have any kind of open release where we're allowed to socialize in that way, again, hookup culture has to adjust and follow suit with that, but I would be lying if I didn't say that even as early as last night I had someone who I've never hooked up with but has wanted to hook up with me. So they had rented a hotel room and they was having a couple people over for a sex party. I was like, first of all A) I'm very flattered that you think I'd even go to a sex party, so good on you for taking a chance there. But B) I think there is an overall kind of invincibility that some gay people are feeling toward this, especially those who didn't grow up around a pre prep era. And what I mean by that is, many of us remember what it was like to live through a time and HIV where you never knew who was positive and if you know, you'd start dating you'd use condoms and you go see a physician together. And then you know, if you both tested negative, this is what they will tell you and then you would basically just do the honor system. Like I'll never cheat on you, you won't cheat on me. And you know, it was just a very tricky system or some people were like, Listen, you know, booze before the science came out that let us know that u equals u you know which thank God we have that now and people should really embrace that.
Mike Gerle 27:21
I mean, undetectable means untransmittable?
Jai Rodriguez 27:23
That's right. That's right. Which means if you have a such a low viral load of HIV in your body that they can't even detect it.
Mike Gerle 27:32
I was undetectable for eight years before they said that.
Jai Rodriguez 27:38
Dammit! I get that. I think that's that's the thing and i think you know, there's gonna be a covert stigma. There's gonna be a lot of people who will fall into the same traps and by traps. I mean, I have a couple friends who were too, I'ma say prudish to get on prep, because they believed prep was something for "whores and sluts", their words.
Mike Gerle 28:02
Yeah, like, like the word control my mom takes.
Jai Rodriguez 28:05
That's right. And the two of them that said that and shamed me for having even a discussion about prep, wow ended up testing positive for using the honor system of what I just did. He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who were both not at all about that hook up life. It's not what it's about. So as people start to navigate this COVID land,
Mike Gerle 28:24
It's science, it's not morality,
Jai Rodriguez 28:26
Yeah, you do have to understand that you will be taking a risk for every person this person comes into contact with, you know, that they are exposing themselves and ultimately you and you have to figure out those risks and what makes sense for you for me, yeah, like I'm always more emotional, emotionally, or my arousal is linked to emotions. So I want to have some kind of connection, even if it's a Friends with Benefits situation. But I'm not in a place right now where I think any of my friends with benefits I had previously would want to just lock it down and just be with me. So then you have to then you're increasing your numbers exponentially, because even if they end up with like three people, and those people, each three hook up with three people, now you're just having a massive orgy every time you hook up and I just I don't know where I'm at with that. I mean, you know, I have this joke, I'm like, I just need a quarantine boyfriend, we get to know each other digitally for a while, see how things go, and then decide to unquarantine together, you know, while we get through this pandemic, but I'm not inclined to be as liberal sexually, as I probably would have been pre COVID only for the fact that I've had people very close to me have had really bad experiences with COVID key other piece about that, too, is as many people are, that are going to be overly cautious, cautious and not cautious at all. There's going to be a bunch of people who are going to be reimagining ways of what safety looks like to them. And so it is going to be about Look, I just got, hopefully testing will be a little easier. So it's not like I scheduled an appointment. It's six weeks from now, and then I'll know that I'm good for two you know what I mean? like, yeah, so if it's if testings a little easier, I think it'll streamline our ability to connect with others in a way that feels safe. My only issue is and I'm very sex positive. My only issue becomes I am unemployed. Could I, the minute this opens up and we have access to be able to work, really take a hit and be down for the count for five weeks? I don't think I can. My best friend is 35 doesn't drink doesn't smoke, and has been going through this for five weeks until he felt some semblance of normal was in the ER twice. So I do all the things. I'm like, that's not going to hit me. Well, you know, I'll be 41 a month. So it's like, for me, I don't want to take chances because even if I live if I if I happen to be lucky enough to be part of the 99% of people or whatever the figure is, that does, okay. Okay, is pretty relative, and I just wouldn't want to be, you know, inhibiting my ability to get back on my feet and you know, get back into the workforce. Because opportunities. It's not like a nine to five job. I can't just be like, Oh, thank you for the offer of that role. Can you postpone production of just my scenes? Because I gotta, I gotta go to the COVID. You know, that's not gonna go. But trust me, that is not to say that I'm any less horny than anyone else. Because if anything, it's like, the hormones are raging even more because we can't hook up. You know what I mean? Like, that's the real reel about that.
Mike Gerle 31:25
It's really tough. You grew up in a conservative evangelical home. What was that like?
Jai Rodriguez 31:31
I think that growing up in a really insular home, single parent, my grandmother raised me and my mother basically siblings, my mom had me young and I really didn't change much for her when she had me. She just kind of went back to being a, you know, 20 some odd year old partying with her friends and, and I guess unbeknownst to her, I just kind of more bonded with my grandmother and she became the mother figure to both of us, and we grew up in my mother's childhood home so nothing really changed. And when I was like 12, we moved in together to our first place that's when my mom instilled religion and started very evangelical. And then it kind of lightened up to one of those mega churches that are a little more cool and hip. And what I learned as a teenager was that my mom was very immature and that her development as a grown up had really stopped, when things put, that she didn't know anything about, she would put her head in the sand. So why don't know, as opposed to me, I instantly then wanted to find out the why. Well, we just because because they said I don't know, they said, Whose they? I read somewhere. That's not enough for me, never has been. It's given me is the compassion for the conservative point of view, specifically the religious one. I understand why they believe what they believe. And I certainly understand why some of them have been indoctrinated to believe some of the hate that they believe about certain groups of folks, and I think...
Mike Gerle 32:45
That, that's really big. I mean, I gotta say, Jai, that's fascinating. I feel the same way. I, you know, I was raised Mormon and people look at me cross eyed when I say what you're saying is like, I can understand And them.
Jai Rodriguez 33:01
Yeah, listen, I didn't listen. Because if it's all you know, for instance, I want to just just lay this out, no TV in or secular music was allowed in the house, I was not allowed to watch secular TV, movies, music. So if all you know, is what you're being taught at church, or via your family, that's all you know, you don't have exposure to anything else in the outside world. And when you don't leave your community or you surround yourself with people who are only like you, you don't really have a broader understanding of what the world is at large. And if I could add to that point, I would say if God created everything, isn't getting to know everything, getting to know God, no, this is if I am a piece of God's personality, if I am the essence of what God created, even if we want to take people out of the situation, if seeing a different part of the world and the way they live Christians there let's use Christian is an example. In the differences in culture. That's still God. What do you think is the separate heaven for different folks, you know what I mean? Like if you believe in that. So, I think it starts there about having the compassion for I know why you believe what you believe. I understand why this is important and vital, and it's not just the religious aspect, but the religious becomes like an institution of culture. It's all people know it's a way of living outside of just a religious aspect of it.
Mike Gerle 34:23
Let me put you on the spot for a second and say, What's your personal God concept?
Jai Rodriguez 34:27
I have to tell you, I've really leaned into watching a lot of documentaries ever since Netflix came to be a thing and about all religions. I'm fascinated by them. I'm fascinated how many of them have so much crossover have some of the same stories?
Mike Gerle 34:40
Jai Rodriguez 34:40
The same core principles tend to be: Be a good frickin person and to love one another and be kind. And so of course, you have extremist groups that take things too, too far. But I don't think I can subscribe to any one religion because growing up in the behind the scenes of the church saw a lot of indiscretion that were swept under the rug. And I remember one time there was an accusation made against me that I had done something with a boy when I knew I hadn't. And the boy had lied and said that I had solicited him in some kind of way for some kind of sex act. And I know for a fact, I hadn't. And my mother knew, interestingly enough that I hadn't. Because when he said that all happened, I was at home with my mother, and he thought I was out with my then girlfriend. So he thought he could use that. When we went to approach the pastors about this, they didn't believe it, they had prayed on it and God had spoken to them that this had happened. And in an instant, I literally was like, You don't know God then, like you literally... You're literally not believing truth? So that leads me to believe that God doesn't exist the way you say it does, or your relationship, or your direct communication is filtered through your own bias.
Mike Gerle 35:51
Yeah, I had that kind of I didn't have that specific kind of thing. But at one point, I was like, God either is what they say. All knowing and Loving, or he's something else, this weird, hateful, controlling thing that, you know, is all wrapped up in our local government. And I don't think God cares that much about the local government. And I had to decide, I'm gonna go with the God that knows everything. And deep down. I know I'm awesome. And I'm just going to take it between me and God. Yeah, this is a conversation between me and God. You people no longer need to be involved.
Jai Rodriguez 36:26
Yeah, honestly, I agree with that. And let's not forget that, you know, the churches are tax free business as well for them to stay in business. They can't have empty, you know, seats. And so I remember one of the things I was taught was, they will know we are Christians by our love. Haven't really ever stopped someone and said, hey, you're so loving. What's the secret to your happiness? It's never, it's never been, oh, I'm a Christian. And it should be. Even in this modern age I've never seen someone be so kind unto others or filled with so much joy and love that I was taken aback and had to ask them the source of that and they said Christ, never had that happen. And I've worked with many Christians, devout ones, you know?
Mike Gerle 37:09
Yeah. Well out here it seems to be coming. It Well, it seems to come from like yoga and Hindu and Buddhist stuff. I mean, that's where I'm constantly hearing: Love, love, love. Love yourself exactly the way you are right now, Queen.
Jai Rodriguez 37:22
and there's so much there's so many so many you think practices labeled different things, whether it's prayer or meditation, that if you say meditation in the wrong way, or I'm Christian, they're like, non godly, that's you. You're worshiping like spiritual, whatever, you know, I mean, like, and and there's so many practices that we physicalized in our bodies, that take us to this kind of really Zen place or a place of enlightenment, that the physical feeling of it is so universally felt, but there's Yeah, practices that get people feeling that feeling and they aren't labeled them different things. It's literally just like the mind body connection and when they start aligning those things, they're like, it's God and I'm gonna name it this!, you know, so I don't No, I, you know, I really don't know I do believe that there's something greater than us, even if it's just the collective us being sort of this united spirit of energy. But I don't know. I do believe in energy. I'm kind of open to be honest.
Mike Gerle 38:13
Yeah, that's great. That's a great place to be. Since we're in that realm. Now. What your 41 What advice would you give to your...
Jai Rodriguez 38:19
I'm not 41 yet!
Mike Gerle 38:25
I know, I know. You're practically a baby. Yeah, you're a full on adult. It's on you. You're doing the heavy lifting. You're in charge. How does that feel?
Jai Rodriguez 38:35
I know. Oh, yeah. I mean, it does track with my sexuality, but carry on.
Mike Gerle 38:39
Okay, good. Well, then that goes, That's perfect. So what advice would you have for your 16 year old self?
Jai Rodriguez 38:47
I think I would have been I was the agent. A lot of things happened. My aunt's died of AIDS related complications. She home, kids, the house, the car, the boats, shouldn't have happened to her and I saw the discrimination I'm overtaking her heard of the dentist and the dentist putting on four pairs of gloves. And she turned her face to wipe a tear. I remember you know, that time in my life also being the time where someone tried to call me out as gay in church and make a big spectacle about it. And I remember being so wildly afraid of standing up for myself, when I was 15. Mr. Eastman spent time high school social studies, we had an HIV AIDS like informational thing in the in the auditorium, and he would not let us go. And he said, if you're an IV drug user, or a gay man, then you can go and then there was like, an audible I kind of gasp in the room. And he was like, What if you're a gay man, and you stick your penis and another man's butt, get up and leave? Other than that we're continuing this lesson. And so I was moments when I was 16, where everything really started coming to a head and what ultimately formed who I was later to champion for myself and others, and I wish I would have been more vocal and trusted that it would have been okay. But I was such a rule follower and so indoctrinated by one what I had learned at that church, which now in hindsight elements of it felt very cult like. So I probably would have tried to find ways to reach out to queer elders to maybe look in the phone books for a local LGBTQ center and tell them about what I was experiencing about having been sent to like, a kind of conversion therapy place where it was just meetings, and then you get to a home, there was talks about sending me I believe the name of the place was called Horizon. It was on Long Island and it was talks about sending me there and this is all before before acting on it, because let's not forget in the 90s I mean, by the time you're trying to download a picture of a half naked man, 47 minutes to get to a nipple and TRL was on I was like, I don't have the time. That nipples enough, you know? Like, I didn't even know what this was. I did not even know what gay sex could be. I did definitely thought that putting a you know, a penis inside of an anus was like a joke. I thought it was a joke. I thought it was something that people were saying about gay people to diminish who they were, about doing this awful act, because I had never heard or seen or had conversations about how that was even physiologically possible. And so for me, I thought it was this mystical feeling that only I had, and kept having to re explain it. And I think when I was 16 I wish I had the internet. You know, it was in school, but who's gonna frickin Google gay stuff in your school library without one walking around you? Yeah. So I didn't really have exposure to it. And I wish I would have worked harder to find my voice then because I would have made wildly different choices as an adult.
Mike Gerle 41:31
Wow, that's the advice for you back then. Do you have any advice for young guys today? Let me set this up for a second here. Like Don Kilhefner, one of our queer elders says we have youth, adults and elders. And like I'm 55 it's now time for me to be an elder so I'm supposed to you know, mentor you. And you are supposed to mentor the youth. Right behind you are these guys...
Jai Rodriguez 41:54
Yeah, you perfectly said that. I think that what I grew up with a lot of being the youngest person and ramping. A decade younger than my Queer Eye brothers, when I was younger, all I heard was you just don't know, like you don't get it. And that language wasn't really helpful for me to understand.
Mike Gerle 41:57
Nothing to move towards.
Jai Rodriguez 42:10
You have nothing to move towards. So I think it's really about: 1) making younger people feel included at events that might be somewhat over their head. Have reduced ticket price for events like Equality California or glad awards, where there are people in tuxes are dressed up talking about social justice issues that these kids didn't even know there were platforms like this, you know, spending time inviting the youth to be engaged politically on their level. I think a lot of the influencers from music and television and stuff, who are young are starting to understand that their voice matters. So I think it's not demeaning these people for not knowing or having a lack of education about queer things, I think it's about encouraging them and supporting them like you said, you know, like supporting the right choices that they're making and reiterating that you're there for them in a non sexual way, which is really important. Because I feel like a lot of the relationships that I started forming with mentors, ultimately, I felt there was underlying sexuality that made it unsafe for me to continue to have them as a mentor. So if you really are open to this, take the sexuality piece out if your job is really to be a mentor to this person. And you can sense that they're not interested in that way, drop that, because the worst critique is being like the dirty old man who's trying to hit on the young kid. You don't mean like, That's such a cliche, and people have a lot of fear that that's going to happen to them. And if it's something that they're interested in exploring short, but you know, I think we need to be safe for people to come to us who are younger than us who want to explore who are curious about what we've lived through and often make suggestions about now they can watch programming movies that won't look them they're not black and white about where they came from, that are beautifully depicting stories and moments about their history that they should know about.
Mike Gerle 44:06
That is beautiful. I do love you hit on all that stuff that I think is so important. And it is difficult in the queer community or when talking about the Gay Men's community, that sexuality is always involved, right, this sexual nature. And I think that maybe we don't talk about it enough. I don't think we do, like, we're going to talk about this and this and let's talk about sex. It's like, we're not going to, because we're in this relationship. It's just best that we don't have sex and I want you to know, you're totally my type. I would totally go there. I don't want to cross any like boundary here. I don't want to like molest them with my words. But I do want to like acknowledge, yeah, that's there.
Jai Rodriguez 44:48
So appropriate, obscene for my mental for my mental health. I was a part of two groups on Facebook, that were really overtly sexual in nature that were started during the pandemic and I had to remember myself because I started really feeling bad about myself about like, my feelings about posting things about my body, about how ajust one of them was. And to be honest, it actually just started making me feel more anxious than it did as initially was like exciting and like, a way to kind of like relieve anxiety and stress and in fact, I started feeling just wildly unwelcomed in those spaces. So you kind of have to, like do what feels right for you and when you talk about mentoring someone and stuff we all I mean, I had a hard time with it because I recognize I look young ish, but not to a 22 year olds, they can tell I'm a lot older than them, you know. And, and so I think it's tricky because I always remember being the baby and then when I'm around actual babies now, meaning 22 year olds I'm like, oh, we're not like the same like we are not...
Mike Gerle 45:58
Jai Rodriguez 45:59
Contemporaries. And your experience is different than mine. And, you know, view me as substantially older than you. Yeah. And we might have like same music interests as like the same bars or like to play darts or to sit, you know, and it's
Mike Gerle 46:14
It's their biological job to challenge everything that we've built. Yeah, that's another thing I think people have a hard time dealing with, you know, it's.
Jai Rodriguez 46:23
And I think, what the messaging was never there for me coming up as to why those things were built to begin with. Like, I never got a good form of understanding of understanding the why. And if you start letting people know why they want them to take a sense of pride of it, because ultimately, it's going to be their job to keep these things in place.
Mike Gerle 46:38
Yes, yeah. And that's the only way that we need a way to pass our knowledge on rather than have every generation have to do it on their own.
Jai Rodriguez 46:48
They are creating like going to Queer Eye, we are a lost show for this new generation. They don't even know we existed, you know, because 17 years ago, we started shooting so for 22 years. They were a toddler. They didn't Yeah, we right. So, you know, I can't be mad at that. But also I don't want that moment and what that show meant to be erased because it was really important. And in fact, to me textbooks, then museums have attributed that, that movement as part of the beginning of LGBTQ acceptance to the masses in a really kind of interesting, subversive way. However, you know, a 23 year old, I can't expect him to know what I did or what that meant, why that time was important of all those shows and how it panned out for different people.
Mike Gerle 47:33
One of my theories about Queer Eye is that... But um, one of the things these kids maybe might need to know one of the things that I think I'm making up and I want everybody to join me in what I'm making up about Queer Eye is, you know, I was on the bus, seeing the Queer Eye commercial in there and it's like, feel all the feels and then I was doing all this other work on myself on my own feelings, and I'm doing it in this place where a lot of you know, straight men are trying to like have a feeling other than an anger and rage. And it occurred to me that Queer Eye is, you know, it's the modern shaman. It's the modern people. It's like, we're the magic ones who can help you feel that can have you have a feeling...
Jai Rodriguez 48:14
Really, I feel that. And just to you know, our version was never intended to make you feel anything. It was literally supposed to be funny entertainment. And we were shocked when we do our little goodbye to the straight guy. He's gotten makeup. Everything looks pretty now we remind him what he's got to do produce your steps in. Okay, John, the boys are going to leave the last time ever going to see them. So if you want to say anything, and this is your chance to say your goodbyes, you're never gonna see them again. And they would always be like, you know, guys... And they would cry!
Mike Gerle 48:46
That's so beautiful.
Jai Rodriguez 48:48
We laughed, because we Oh, the first. Okay, then all of a sudden we're like, oh, he's serious. And then we understood slowly the weight of what we're creating. And out of all five of my boys. was the weepy one. I don't know if it's generational, or whatever. But the new cast...
Mike Gerle 49:05
I think generation has something to do with it.
Jai Rodriguez 49:07
I agree. And the new cast of Queer Eye, you know, they watched our version so they felt all the feels and so did the new producers who produced this show. Many of them were fans. One of them is a friend of mine, he was like he always says he's like I came out because of you, all these things. So understanding that that was what they were shooting for, they're killing it. One of the shows that's new right now that I think is Queer Eye 2.0 is "We Are Here", which is Eureka Bob, the drag queen and she Shangela for HBO. They go into small towns, who are often bigoted and there's a very high level of bias, just small towns, they come in full drag handing out flyers with a drag so they're doing and they make over three people in that town; straight, gay, old, young, doesn't matter just pillars of the community and they put on a local drag show and the conversations they have on this show really remind me of the way I speak and some other really heavy conversations that we had that were really inclusive and acceptance. And when you say moderny Sharman, I fully 100% believe that's like the best way I could describe what we are here makes me feel like because there's some spaces that they go into on the shows that I was like, I don't even know if I have balls to go there or do that.
Mike Gerle 50:20
Well, you've done a lot of brave things. You know, it's getting out there so young and taking on these insane roles, just the artistic intimidation of doing those roles on top of the political politics and everything else.
Jai Rodriguez 50:35
I mean, being out, brown and queer in 2003 was innately political.
Mike Gerle 50:40
Yeah. When I was young, when I was freshly coming out, well, probably wasn't till I was in my 30s. But anyway, when we were finally making progress, it was always like two GI Joe, guys like sitting next to each other, you know, talking about how we're two white guys in suits, and we're a couple and we're just like everybody else.
Jai Rodriguez 50:59
Well that's still in the ether, though there's a certain way that queer people want to push forward the acceptable kind of gay and that you're describing the sort of GI Joe thing, a lot of my guys my show except Carson, were really kind of straight passing you wouldn't clock them first off as being gay. Carson Yes. But it was almost like in that 70s game show style like Liberace way where we just accept it and love it. And then you had me and it was really, really tricky, because you could sexualize me I was young, somewhat attractive, you could imagine some kind of sexuality with me. And you know, that was very, very hard for people to embrace. Nevermind, celebrate. And we come to a place now where people who are other and don't fit the GI Joe model of you know, what people look like even you know, in for for women, you know, you know, having women that that present differently than a societal norm of the modern day housewife.
Mike Gerle 51:56
Yeah, yeah. Before we close up, I want to ask you a question about, you know, What do you do to like, invest in yourself, you know, your own personal dignity?
Jai Rodriguez 52:06
I think it's you generally, I will confirm book by things that scare me. So I will attend events that are outside of my comfort zone and put myself in spaces where I'm meeting new people, I'll buy myself things, like, I bought this camera with the full intention to be doing a lot more content online. And I've probably made four videos with this that are not related to content. But the idea was to basically kind of put myself to equip myself with all the physical tools and actual physical spaces that really are about just self growth, and challenging myself to not just see life a different way but also to be able to take the steps to evolve. You know, I think we're constantly evolving and growing. I don't like the feeling of feeling stagnant.
Mike Gerle 52:54
You enjoy a stretch, that's something that we do in men's work, we call it you know, but it's usually it's like, this is the person I want to be, and to stretch me towards that I'm going to do this challenging thing where I embody that.
Jai Rodriguez 53:07
Got it. Yeah.
Mike Gerle 53:09
So I think that's important to know what's going on to consciously invest in yourself and you're investing in your creativity. Where do you get your support? Who's your chosen family?
Jai Rodriguez 53:20
Yeah, so that's tricky. So thankfully, I live with my roommate, who moved here about 10 years ago, and we just instantly bonded we're like brothers. And so that's a that's a great support system. My best friend Adam wandered into an open mic I was hosting in West Hollywood and he looked like Prince Charming. So I kept calling him Prince Charming. I turns out he lived four doors down for me, so then we just always spent basically every night together watching TV and, you know, having a glass of wine and downloading each other on our days. I have another friend Jared, who's sort of the, what we call the unofficial mayor of West Hollywood. And you know, just someone who's really kind of seen these incredible huge highs and huge lows in my career. And it's interesting because he's such a magnet for everyone, people come in with: Oh my God it's Jai Rodriguez and they get a fanny it's nice to have someone like him around he knows the real me and that I am at my core that I, you know don't live this extravagant life and I'm never going to treat anyone with disrespect or whatever. And from there my friend James, who moved from Seattle came from similar religious upbringing. He lives one block away and we talk all the time. Another person I have David Hernandez, American Idol, he was on the show probably in 2003. And you know, he was in the closet and it took him a while to come out but we still performing at prides we were considered virtually interchangeable for a while visually and and we bonded over just music and just being you know, out and freelance performers and, and then the last person who's really my go to for anything emotional is a guy named Dr. Chris Donahue. He hosts the official love line on Channel Q now but I, we dated for three years and I helped pitch and get his show sold of him doing therapeutic work. It was a two seasons of a show called bad so I saw some of that. Yeah, that loves a so he was on this, on that. And he's kind of we are each other's kind of check in for not just professional but emotional, we really trust each other with therapeutic advice, which is kind of saying a lot because, you know, I went to the school of hard knocks hard knock life and, and street smarts and he's, you know, got a double PhD and where some instances call for some kind of book smarts. There are others that really need someone who's got a real broad view on the world and can specifically kind of cut through your own bullshit because they know you that well.
Mike Gerle 55:35
Yeah. So I've met him. I can see that you would be good for each other.
Jai Rodriguez 55:40
Mike Gerle 55:41
Especially as friends. Well, that's that's awesome. That's quite the...
Jai Rodriguez 55:46
That's the roll call of the tribe I think, which is interesting because we don't really, whenever all together except for like my birthday party or in small packs. There's some crossover like David and James are really good friends, but it's not like Sex in the City where we are Do everything together.
Mike Gerle 56:01
Right? Well, it sounds like they have different capabilities. And...
Jai Rodriguez 56:05
Yeah, and they don't socialize in the same spaces, they don't align visually. You know, they're not all the same skin color or body type and represent different kind of outlets of our expressions here in the queer community.
Mike Gerle 56:18
Well, well, thank you. Yeah, Jay, this has been amazing. You are all this stuff I projected on you before it's still true. Your reel comes through. And I think we need that that's what gay men need to you know, if we're going to get into heart centered connection, we need to see the real person and I appreciate that you're willing to put that out there. So thank you for coming on GerleMen and showing us who you are.
Jai Rodriguez 56:43
Anytime, and as you know, I have a huge affinity for the desert. I love Palm Springs. I get out there to do my cabaret show often and I can't wait to get back there. But till then, I'd like to put the APB out for a boyfriend, husband, life partner, second boyfriend, although I really like to be the first boyfriend because I feel like they get the better stuff. But I'm fine. I'm thinking of something really polyamorous like a you know a three way marriage situation and works really well for a friend of mine who used to own Elysee now they live in Palm Springs. So at this point at 41 All I'm asking for someone to be kind, funny, handsome, but that is a very broad word for me. But every feeling you have your finger on the pulse I'd love you to play again to our Matchmaker, if you will.
Mike Gerle 57:27
I will do my best, I will. I'll keep my eye open for that, unfortunately right now I'm only seeing three people on a regular basis. Got my COVID coven.
Jai Rodriguez 57:37
Mike Gerle 57:42
We're getting it out there in the pod sphere. I'll put out chats.
Jai Rodriguez 57:47
Awesome. it was great chatting with you. Thanks for having me on a much continued success with this podcast.
Mike Gerle 57:52
Thank you, too, Jai.
Mike Gerle 57:56
Thanks for listening to the show my friend. Now stay connected by subscribing. into GerleMen podcast and sharing with your friends on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or anywhere else podcasts can be found. Visit the webpage at Gerlemen.com. Sign up for the newsletter and find more details about each episode. Let's make this a conversation because I'd really like to hear from you. Join us on Facebook at GerleMen. Submit your questions, suggest topics or just chat with your brothers. Want to add your own two cents? Use the voice memo feature on your smartphone. Ask a question or say anything. We just might play it on the podcast, email the file to [email protected] Until next time.