Why do you think you're getting the Vanguard Award from GLAAD?
I think it's because of the work I have done related to AIDS, and also just the support that I've given them throughout the years. I'm excited.
I have to ask, what are you going to wear?
[Laughs.] I think I am going to wear Ralph Lauren.
I actually think Ellen may have a little crush on you. You two had a great rapport when you were on her show.
I absolutely adore here. She's smart. She's funny. She's fun to be around. I really enjoy her. She's very talented.
It's kind of amazing that when Ellen came out of the closet her sitcom was canceled, but now she's back on top—one of our biggest stars.
I'm so happy she did do that, because someone had to take that stance...For her to be so courageous and something came out of it much bigger and much better and really positive. It was a shame that they canceled her show once she did that. That's ridiculous...Do you hear that noise in the background?
Sorry, that's my dog playing with the water bottle.
What kind of dog do you have?
A bulldog. Now he decides to play with it. It's been on the floor the entire time for about two hours. Now that I'm on the phone he wants to play with it...So you still have discrimination. It's sad. It really is. But, I think, slowly but surely, it's getting better.
When did you first realize you were a gay icon?
I never thought of myself as that, and it never even crossed my mind when people started calling me icon and legend and all this other stuff. I remember I was over in Europe and I called my boyfriend [music megaproducer Jermaine Dupri] once because they had introduced me on a show as a legend, and I said, "You know they introduced me as 'the legendary Janet Jackson', " and he said, "You are." [Laughs.] I never thought of that or looked at myself in that way. But I'll wear the title. I'll own it.
Who have been some of your favorite Janet Jackson drag queens?
It's awful because I can't remember their names, but one of them was at the Baton [Show Lounge] in Chicago. This was a few years ago. And she did a wonderful job. And another was not that long ago recently in Atlanta at the Jungle. She did a wonderful job as well.
Why do you think they do a good Janet? What's a good Janet drag queen?
They really study you. They truly study you. But you know, they pour it on more, which I absolutely love. They give more than I do and I love that. The first time I went to the Baton in Chicago and saw this show, I was with some of my [female] dancers. Afterward, I said to my dancers, "We've gotta pull up because these bitches are hitting it. They're giving so much femininity and we look like boys onstage." The next night we had a show and we were trying our hardest to ooze with that feminine touch.
So Janet wants to be a Janet drag queen?
[Laughs.] When [late makeup artist] Kevyn Aucoin was around, I used to say it would be really fun to do a whole editorial spread in a magazine with me as a drag queen, completely from head to toe. I would love to do that.
You've said it doesn't bother you if someone says you're gay or bisexual. So if you were, who would be your top three girl crushes?
I don't know if I have three. I think I would pick Alicia Keys, for sure. I think she's wonderful.
Why does it seem that strong women like yourself, Oprah and Alicia always get the lesbian rumors?
Maybe because it's just that we're strong women. I don't know. Maybe they want to put something else behind it because of the strength. Like, you can't be a woman and be strong, and there has to be something else to it.
Do you remember the first time someone told you there are rumors out there that you're gay?
I don't remember the first time, but it's been forever. Someone once said to me, "Doesn't that bother you?" And I was like, Why should it bother me?
What would you do if your boyfriend came home one day and said, "Honey, I've got something to tell you—I'm gay"?
I'd be upset because I want to be with him [Laughs.]. It's so funny because I joke with him that it drives me crazy to be a girl sometimes, so in my next life I'm going to come back as a guy and [he's] going to be my bitch. But if he liked guys, I would be crushed because I would want to be with him.
The AIDS epidemic started and then we were at the height of it when you started to hit the big time with albums like Rhythm Nation and Control. Do you remember when you first heard about the disease? Was it when you started losing friends?
I lost a lot of friends. Friends from the show Fame who I had danced with, some of the kids from Nasty, some of the kids who danced with my brothers who I knew. Makeup artists. I lost a lot of friends to AIDS and one who I absolutely adored so much. His name was Jose, and we worked a lot together in Europe. He would put these eyelashes on me that he would make from real hair. His sister would cut her hair so he could make these eyelashes. They were the most beautiful things. He was so much fun to be with. I had heard he was sick and he was passing, and it was just so sad. It's so sad.
Did you get to talk to him before he passed?
I didn't. It was too late. I didn't have the opportunity to. That part really hurts, when you're trying to reach someone before.
Do you remember being scared?
Yeah, because no one knew. No one knew exactly what it was. No one knew anything about the disease. I do remember being fearful of how you contract it. And then Magic [Johnson] got it. That's when I think everyone was starting to get fearful—that it could be a heterosexual thing. They wanted to believe it was only something gay people got; that it can't touch them. Suddenly, everyone was frightened.
Even though it's gotten better, there's now a young generation that doesn't seem to get it. There are young gay men who don't see HIV and AIDS as a threat.
Yes, they're being a little too—and I am not going to be mild about it—careless. And now there's the whole drug scene with crystal meth...I hear it gives you this high that makes you want to have sex and not use anything. It's scary.
You've been one of those people who have lived a pretty clean life. And that's not an easy thing to do in Hollywood. How have you done it?
It's the people you surround yourself with, it's who your circle of friends are. And I was raised a certain way, so that definitely helped. But still, once you become an adult and you get some fame under your belt, people want to go crazy. But it's really who you surround yourself with. When I moved away from home, I kept that with me—being grounded and all that my parents did to keep us grounded. It's still with me today. I'm very fortunate. But I know people who have fallen victim to addiction, and I've tried to help them.
Really? What have you done to help?
I just had a friend recently who is in the fashion industry and he called me and said, "I need help." I gave him every resource that I knew of and everything fell in place. He was so fortunate. God was really with him. He needed someone to travel with him all the time because he jumps around to Europe, over to the Middle East and everywhere. Thank god, I was able to get someone to travel with him and get him to [12-step] meetings and still do his business. I said, "You have to change your circle of friends." That's also what the person I got him with told him. And he's doing good. He's doing very well. I'm really proud of him.
Let's talk about gay marriage…
I think it should be legalized. I think it's about finding your soul mate. It's finding that person you connect with. But most people don't get it right. Look at me! The thing is, I don't know if I ever will or won't get married again. I'm very happy where I am. I just think I jinx marriages, but that's not going to stop me from loving.
You appeared in a PSA to combat hate crimes that was produced after 15-year-old Lawrence King was murdered in February because he was gay. Why was that so important to you?
That broke my heart. He was finally coming into his own and being himself and being OK with who he was. He was feeling good about that and not living in this shell and pretending to be someone else. He was letting all of that go and saying, "This is me." But being murdered for being who you are, for being real—we were crushed by that.
Have you decided who you are going to support in the presidential election?
I kind of have an idea, but I am going to keep that to myself. I really haven't for sure said, This is it. I'm swaying definitely one way more than the other.
When are we going to see Janet on Broadway?
That's always been a dream of mine. I would love to do a musical.
Do you have a dream role?
I don't know. I just want to do a musical that touches on everything—something that's funny and dramatic, but definitely a musical.
Well, Janet, that would seal the deal. Do a Broadway musical and you'll be a gay icon more than ever.
[Laughs.] That's always been a dream of mine since I was a kid.