Actor Thom Bierdz's return to reprise his starring role on the daytime soap opera The Young & the Restless sounds like something out of—well, it sounds like something that could only happen on a daytime soap opera.
Bierdz first landed the role of Phillip Chancellor III at the age of 24, playing the character from 1986 to 89. His character was written off the show as an untimely death. What's priceless is the comeback: in order to have Bierdz return (which he did for three seasons beginning in 2009), the audience would learn that Chancellor faked his own death, as he couldn't deal with telling his family that he was in fact gay.
Thus the once-closeted Bierdz was able to reprise his role, coming out in Hollywood at the same time his fictional character was on the highly-rated daytime soap. It was a zany twist, and it was also a first in daytime soap history.
The anecdotes about Bierdz's adventures in daytime are just some of the stories he unleashes in his everything-including-the-kitchen-sink memoir, Young, Gay & Restless: My Scandalous On-Screen & Off-Screen Sexual Liberations. The 398-page, self-published tome includes numerous tales of sexual hookups (some hot, others just unfortunate), family trauma (his mentally-ill brother murdered their mother), personal anguish (he was sexually assaulted) and career turmoil (he did work as an actor for decades in the notoriously unforgiving town of Hollywood).
On the phone from his California home, Bierdz says letting everything hang out in the memoir was the only way he could see writing it. "I've nothing to hide," he says, nodding to the years he had to spend in the closet while a young aspiring actor. "I was collecting men's accounts of sexual assaults through social media," he recalls. "And I decided to do a book about them all. But then the book was getting too long, and I realized that I wanted to do a separate book that would be a memoir."
Bierdz says he shopped his memoir around at a few publishers, but wasn't finding a lot of interest, and decided he wanted control over the project anyway. At times, it feels like he could have used a good editor; in his no-anecdote-left-behind style, we hear seemingly everything. He meets a guy and they engage in oral sex, he tells us at one point, but then "the smell of his balls turned me off… slight fecal odor. Not a turn on for me."
The book has the feeling of reading a number of very enthusiastic Facebook posts by someone who is prone to oversharing (something he readily admits to). Indeed, it could perhaps best be classified as a social-media memoir. The lack of filter is essentially part of the point—and there is lots of fun to be had (and Bierdz lets it all hang out quite literally, as he punctuates the book with several nude photos). It helps that Bierdz was very sexually active in a gay epicentre, while also involved in the showbiz milieu, meaning he has lots of sexcapades to unload. He had the kind of boy-next-door looks that are equally at home in a daytime soap or a porn movie, and his memoirs read like a dizzying mix of both.
Bierdz's young dating days included a couple of outings with media mogul and multimillionaire David Geffen, who seemed quite smitten with the soap stud. But things didn't pan out, as Bierdz wasn't quite as taken with Geffen. We learn of his brief foray into golden showers, his dick extension (simply an injection of fat taken from his stomach), and a panic attack he suffered after indulging in BDSM fantasy and realizing he was in handcuffs and couldn't see anything because he was blindfolded.
Through all the sex, soap and tragedy, there is an arc to the book, and it unfolds as an epic life lesson for Bierdz. He realized at a certain point that he was more of an artist, and not really meant to be an actor in such a confining genre as the daytime soap. His experience of reprising his role on The Young & the Restless really drove that home: there were promises of storylines in which he would be able to have a romance with another gay character, but none of that panned out, and his scenes became shorter and shorter as time went on. "It was discouraging," he says of the experience. "And a bit confusing, frankly. I mean, if I were trying to fill five hours a week with stories, I would be trying to reach for something other than heterosexual love triangles."
And that brings us to a paradox about daytime soaps: they have a large gay following, and are often over-the-top camp, but they have remained gay-storyline averse.
"Much of that is the producers assessing who the audiences are," Bierdz says, pointing out it's called a business for a reason. "Some of the soaps would play overseas, so they had to be concerned about how those audiences would receive different storylines."
This was part of the impetus for Bierdz to pursue the life he has now. An established portrait artist, he lives in rural California ("In the woods," as he describes it), writing, painting and living on his own. "A woman friend read this book to give me some feedback, and she found it very liberating, the way I expose so much. If anything, I hope it will help readers to let loose of any shame they might have. People should feel less shame and less repression. I wanted to take a stance against slut shaming."
Something that did strike me about some of the final passages in the book, is when Bierdz shares stories of a recent romance, one that left him feeling insecure and the need to do more exercise to get the right body. In other words, like a very insecure gay teen. It struck me as sad, in a book about getting over so much, getting through so much turmoil, and finding a place of peace, that this aspect of his life felt a state of arrested development.
"I know I'm not totally evolved. I'm still working at being the best that I can be."
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