Packard Knows Best
Coming out is tough, but coming out on reality television to millions of viewers is a real bear, especially when done in conversation with the "Incredibly Intimidating Hulk" Hogan on "Brooke Knows Best".
When Brooke Hogan's best gay friend and choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard is interrogated by the legendary wrestler, asked to quantify his gayness on a scale from one to 10, before the Hulkster offers up his blessing on their roommate arrangement, some gay viewers must have cried homophobia. But Packard saw the situation differently.
"It's not," he said in a phone interview this week -- from the swanky Miami penthouse that he shares with the pop star and her best girlfriend, Ashley. "That was an actual moment. He had lots of questions, but you never know which will make the edit. We sat for an hour talking about stuff and they edited it down to a minute, and that made the edit. They felt it made good TV."
And in this case, according to Packard, his sexuality endeared him to the Hulkster -- as an ideal roommate for his daughter.
"I was close to Brooke, and he knew me and trusted me with Brooke, so he wanted to get things out, to know some personal things," he said. "When he found out that I was with girls and engaged, it turned into 'So how do you know, then?' He needed to be comfortable because he was about to let his little girl go into Brooke's world and needed someone looking after her. He's an average dad worried about his kids, being protective about his daughter."
To Packard, who till now, has been closeted to all except his immediate family and close friends, the experience was a final -- yet still scary step -- in his coming-out process.
"I was afraid, because so many things were going through my head, like how do I answer him, but I had to be true to who I am," he explained. "My family's watching and I have my gays watching me, so it was like 'How can I answer and not have them protesting against me?' It's me trying to be true to myself. When I said I'm a '10,' it was me saying I know who I am and what I'm about. People have this thing about gays running around in high heels and boas, screaming 'Hallelujah, I'm a homosexual.' But I didn't want my dad to say 'Oh my god, that's my son.' So I said, 'I'm not the gayest, but yeah, I'm a 10 gay.'"
Ending up on the show, itself, was a far easier process, as things just fell into place.
"I was about to go back to New York City after working with Lou Pearlman, who put me in a boy group that toured throughout Europe, but the group broke up, and of course Lou's in jail," he said. "I had wanted to live in Miami and the Hogans were going to divorce and Brooke was about to do her own reality show, filmed in Miami. She wanted roommates, and we've been good friends for seven to eight years, so I was like, 'Let's do it.'"
While Packard, at 32, might seem an unlikely roommate for the 20-year-old starlet, he says for his part that as a choreographer, he's used to hanging out with younger performers.
"I think that's what keeps me so young, that I tend to hang out with young dancers," he said. "I met Brooke when she was13 and I was in my 20's. It was a mentor type of relationship, where I could guide her in the right direction and be a role model for her. When she turned 18, we started hanging out as friends. I ended up coming out to her and she had been looking at me with a big crush, because she didn't know when she was younger."
Now that everything's out in the open, Hogan, her friend Ashley, and Packard are virtually inseparable, going to gay bars, shopping, and taking trips together.
And as with most friends they even have nicknames for one another.
"I call Ashley 'Bashley' and I call all my friends 'hooker' -- it's a way of loving them," he said. "So yeah, Brooke is a hooker, and what do they call me? Brooke has a name for me, but I can't think of what it is. Sometimes they call me 'Glenda,' but that pisses me off. Don't call me 'Glenda!'
As a dutiful friend, Packard -- who's been dating 22-year-old dancer Willie Gomez ("the most amazing dancer ever") for the last two years -- helps Hogan in her quest to find a boy of her own.
"I have a relationship and here I'm going out and meeting boys," he said. "What it is, is me being excited about my girlfriend being free, so I'm supporting her on her adventures of being single, away from 'Mom' and 'Dad,' and meeting boys. If she wants to go see boys at the beach, let's see boys. It's not going to just be me, sitting around missing my boyfriend so much, it's going to be me being there for her and looking out for her. Ashley is the wing-woman and helps me out with that."
One thing that Packard refuses to support is media criticism of Hogan appearing "mannish."
"Being her friend, that can bother me," he said. "Like who are those people? I can picture them, people who have nothing better to do than put people down. I always tell her 'You're a Wonder Woman, an Amazon girl, embrace it. It looks great on you.' The comments on her and Nick being the same person are so silly."
While Packard admits no attraction towards Brooke's brother and tween sex symbol Nick Hogan, the choreographer is beginning to become a heart-throb in his own right.
"That's so funny to me," he said. "It's such an awkward feeling. Every time people tell me I'm hot, I say, 'I have to tell my mom, because she thinks so, too.' But I'm getting a lot of emails and messages from young teenage kids. I try to talk to them as friends, but it's a little awkward when 13-year-old-boys are saying 'You're so hot, if I were in Miami, I'd show you a good time.' I'm thinking, 'Oh my god, you're mom needs to slap you. But keep watching.'"
And it's equally annoying to Packard when female fans are disrespectful of his sexual orientation.
"I have a lot of girls, who say 'I'm going to turn you straight' and 'You're only gay, because you haven't had me' or 'Too bad you're gay, 'cause you're so hot,'" he said. "But I think, 'Too bad you're not a guy.'"
There is still something liberating about even these discussions, when for years, Packard, who grew up, the eldest of three siblings in Clare, Michigan, a farm town four hours north of Detroit, had to keep his sexual orientation secret.
"In my town, people are married with kids right out of high school," he said. "I was engaged to be married, because that's what they do in my town. So I've always been pretty hush, hush about it. Being from a small town, I had to do it. I finally came out to my mom and dad 10 years ago, and that was fine. But it was the other members that I had to come out to, because my parents wanted me to keep it a family secret."
But Packard was already questioning his sexuality from a much younger age.
"The first time I knew was when I used to sneak in this drawer of my dad's dresser and look at dirty magazines when I was13-years-old," he said. "The magazines had pictures of guys and girls doing it. I had the option to look at the girl or the guy and I'd look at the guy. Other times, I remember the men in my family would be sitting around, and they'd say, 'Look at that girl. Look at those tits,' and I was thinking, 'Look at the guy walking next to her.'"
Now Packard, aka "the gay Tyra" devotes some of his free time between shooting "Brooke Knows Best", working as artistic director and choreographer for myriad pop stars (Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Britney Spears, Nelly Furtado, and Hogan, herself), developing new reality shows, his girl group, The Knockouts, and even a clothing line, to helping his gay fans and their loved ones deal with the coming-out process.
"I've gotten some amazing letters, even from parents, about their kids coming out, because a lot of people are coming out at a young age, and people don't know how to handle it," he said. Being able to talk to me, it's a great opportunity to be able to be there for these people. It's like this is my story, and look what's happened to me and my career. Life's a big adventure, and once you get out there, you're going to forget it, and it's something in the past that made you who you are today."
And now that Packard's sexual orientation has been proclaimed publically, he's ready for some on-air adventures, himself, starting with some wild parties with his pent-pals.
"Move over 'The Hills', that's all I gotta say," he said. "There are new kids in town. And one of the things I can talk about is the spring break episode. We do Brooke's first spring break, and mine as well, and Hulk ends up crashing the party, which was hilarious and a lot of fun."
And thankfully Packard doesn't subscribe to the "whatever happens on spring break, stays on spring break" rule.
"There's a kiss exchange between me and Hulk Hogan," he admitted. "In the first episode, I say, 'Gimme a kiss,' and he says, 'Get out of here', but then [in the spring break episode] he gives me a kiss on the cheek. I think he's trying to educate those who don't see that as much. If people see 'Ellen' and 'Will and Grace' on, they'll change the station, but Hulk Hogan kissing Brooke's best friend, and he's gay -- that might make a difference in our community."
For more on Glenn Douglas Packard and to hear more about his coming out story, check out his website.