This image was lost some time after publication.

It's been too long since we've been able to fete that most joyous of Hollywood occasions, "celebrity everyone already knew was gay making it official by coming out of the closet on the cover of a major magazine." Happily, our long wait is over: Lance Bass, former *NSYNC member and current Reichen Lehmkuhl cuddlecake, has decided to put an end to all the lispy whispers, and proudly announced his orientation on the cover of People with a 190-pt. headline trumpeting, "I'M GAY."

"I knew that I was in this popular band and I had four other guys' careers in my hand, and I knew that if I ever acted on it or even said (that I was gay), it would overpower everything," says Bass, referring to bandmates Joey Fatone, Chris Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez and Justin Timberlake.

"I didn't know: Could that be the end of 'N Sync? So I had that weight on me of like, 'Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did," he says speaking about his sexual orientation for the first time with PEOPLE. [...]

"He took years to really think about how he was going to tell everyone," says his close buddy Fatone, 29, who was the first 'N Sync bandmate to find out Bass is gay. "I back him up 100 percent." [...]

Having pursued acting, producing and - most memorably - space flight after 'N Sync went on hiatus in 2002, Bass now is looking ahead to new beginnings. He is in a "very stable" relationship with model-actor-Amazing Race winner Reichen Lehmkuhl, 32, and is developing an Odd Couple-inspired sitcom pilot with Fatone in which his character will be gay.

It must feel as if an incredible weight has lifted from Bass's shoulders, knowing he can now be his true, man-loving self in front of Kathy Griffin's reality show cameras. And we suspect it's actually a savvy career move: Now, instead of being, "that guy from *NSYNC who isn't Justin Timberlake," Lance has the far catchier one-line bio of, "that gay guy from *NSYNC who isn't Justin Timberlake," which should open all sorts of previously off-limits doors at the LOGO and Bravo networks.