Baby comes early, Daddy comes out

Broadway and TV star B.D. Wong talks about his new book on the harrowing premature birth of his son—and about why he’s finally ready to speak out in The Advocate

BY Fred Bernstein

May 26 2003 11:00 PM ET

While rebounding
from the death of one child and the life-threatening
illness of another, B.D. Wong won’t be taking it one
day at a time. That “didn’t really work
for Mackenzie Phillips,” he writes in his hilarious
new memoir, Following Foo. “She ended up on
The E! True Hollywood Story.

Don’t
expect Wong to wind up on tabloid TV. Not that he
isn’t famous enough: This spring he ended a
five-season run on HBO’s Oz as the
idealistic priest Father Ray Mukada. In September
he’ll begin a third season on Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit,
in which he plays
forensic psychiatrist George Huang. He’s been in some
20 movies and over a dozen TV shows, including
Margaret Cho’s 1994 sitcom, All-American Girl.

What will keep
Wong out of the gossip columns is his “extremely
solid” 15-year relationship with Richie
Jackson, who is also his agent. Jackson is, in
Wong’s words, “a New York Jew who never steps
off the curb until the light turns green,”
which leaves B.D. “feeling like the Diane Keaton
character in a Woody Allen movie.”

Wong’s
other weapon against the tabloids is that he’s
extremely private. In the 1980s, Bradley Wong
abbreviated his first name so audiences
wouldn’t guess his gender. (He was then starring in
the Broadway hit M. Butterfly as a male
character living as a woman.) The ambiguity felt
right. Even now, during an interview in the family’s
Manhattan loft, Wong parries questions about his
sexuality, his religion, even his age. (He’s
40.)

But while
eschewing labels, he is deeply personal in Following
Foo.
Described on the book cover as “a true story
of intensive caring,” Foo grew out of
B.D. and Richie’s decision to start a family.
With B.D. donating sperm and Richie’s sister Sue
donating eggs, the couple impregnated a surrogate in
Modesto, Calif. Twenty-eight weeks later, during the
2000 Memorial Day weekend, the surrogate went into
labor. The two boys she was carrying suffered from
twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, in which only one
twin receives blood from the placenta; the other gets
it from his sibling. In this case, the donor twin,
Boaz Dov Wong, died shortly after birth. His brother,
Jackson Foo Wong, who weighed 2 pounds, 13 ounces, was
rushed to intensive care. It was during
Jackson’s three months of hospitalization that B.D.
(living first in a motel and then in his
parents’ house in San Francisco) began sending
long, touching, and often hilarious e-mail updates to
friends. One ditty about the wait for Jackson’s
first poop included this verse:

Would Thursday be
turds day? Would Friday, or Sat.?
Would “he bless” us on Sunday With
a skit about scat?

There were also
e-mails “from” Jackson, now age 3, who
describes B.D. as “dad with hair on top”
(Richie is balding) and notes that the actors on
Oz are “pretty sweet dudes” who only
“sodomize each other nonconsensually on
TV.”

The e-mails
(along with online photos) brought responses from hundreds
of friends, including Joel Grey (who revealed that he
had also lost an infant son), John Lithgow
(B.D.’s M. Butterfly costar), and
“Uncle Harvey” Fierstein. Eventually,
Wong compiled the e-mails—outgoing and
incoming—into the book, which will be published by
HarperCollins in June. The father of twin boys myself,
I caught up with B.D. in his Manhattan loft, where he
was buying rock-and-roll memorabilia on eBay while cooking
dinner for himself and Richie.

Jackson looks great. How’s he doing?
I don’t want to say too much. Let’s just
say I have no complaints about how Jackson is.

How does the loss of Boaz affect you?
Every once in a while, I’ll call Richie and say,
“I’m having a Boaz moment.” That
means I’m daydreaming, thinking about “what
if.” It’s not that painful; it’s
more wistful, more curious about the possibilities.
But Jackson is here because of what Boaz did for him. I will
always be grateful to Boaz for that gift.

Does Jackson know that his family is “different”?
I think that’s a pretty sophisticated
concept for a 3-year-old. When he’s old enough
to understand, we’ll tell him everything.

Do you encounter hostility to your two-father family?
In New York it’s a total nonissue. Like
when we registered him for preschool—no one
cared.

How do gay people react to your being a father?
Once, I was walking across the street in Chelsea with
the stroller, and I was about to pass this
guy—he was in a leather jacket, with a goatee.
And I brushed against him, and he said, in the nastiest
voice, “Breeder.”

You are a breeder.
I know. I was kind of tickled.

How long have you considered yourself “out”?
How long have you been in my apartment? [He checks
his watch.
] This is it, baby.

So you haven’t really been out until this interview?
There are degrees of out. I never lied to anyone. I just
didn’t go on the record. I was cagey.

Because?
Because I went into this business knowing I faced a
fairly long list of limitations. Being Asian-American
was one. Adding the fact that you’re gay is
career suicide. At least that’s how it felt.

Have you considered yourself gay since adolescence?
I’m not comfortable being totally definitive
about that. Yeah, I guess so. Anything else would fall
into the category of confusion or fear.

How old are you?
I’m not telling you. I mean, what do I have left
after a Q&A in The Advocate? Let me hold on
to something.

What religion are you?
I’m exploring.

What’s your favorite part of being a parent?
I consider myself very verbal, so I love being
able to reason with Jackson, to explain things to
him.

[Richie walks
into the room and tells B.D., “Jackson pooped in
the potty. And he actually flushed it.”
Then Jackson walks into the room, looking
wistfully in the direction of the toilet and saying,
“Poop come back. Poop come
back.”
]

When did you come out to your family?
When I met Richie. That gave me a reason and the spine
to do it. It’s like with this book; I have a
reason for coming out in this book. God gave me
something—Jackson—in exchange.

You make it sound like there’s a price to coming out.
Some days I think, You’re never going to work
again. I think there’s real reason to worry, as
anyone reading this magazine can understand. The book,
for me, means I’m calling into question the whole
career thing. But that’s OK. Part of what this
book is about is letting the path go where it
goes.

If you’re worried about your career, why did you
decide to write the book?
A lot of people said the e-mails ought to be a book. So
I showed them to a literary agent. I didn’t set
out to write a book. This was an organic situation
that led to a highly creative process. But now
there’s this thing you can get at Amazon. And
if you’ve ever had a remotely similar
experience, it might make you feel better. That’s
incredible. But I don’t want to make this too
serious. It could be a lot of fun for me; it could
open doors. It’s like what John Cameron Mitchell,
who’s a friend of mine, says when people ask
him why he wrote Hedwig and the Angry Inch: “I
couldn’t do another Matlock.

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