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 27 2003 12:00 AM ET

And yet you’ve had many great roles.
Not as many as I’d like.

So you’re not as successful as you’d like
to be?

Every once in a while, when you’re at low
ebb, you say to yourself, Why can’t I have
that? Why can’t that be me? Like Adrien Brody
[accepting his Best Actor award at this year’s
Oscar ceremony]. With that one speech, he’s a
household name.

You’d like to be more famous?
I’m already more famous than I want to be. And
yet at the same time, fame feeds your potential as a
creative person. You’re in a vacuum if you
don’t have a certain amount of fame.

Meaning?
Meaning you cannot be not famous and say to
people, “Read my book.” They
don’t go together.

Have you always loved children?
Always. And yet 10 years ago I might not have been able
to have Jackson. There’s the whole surrogacy
thing and the gay acceptance thing. And 10 years ago I
wouldn’t have been able to write this book.
It’s about discovering the magical power of
electronic communication. I never could have written
letters to 1,000 people and received the love that I got
back.

The e-mails really helped you through it?
Yes, because they were supportive responses and also
because they were diversions from the daily
grind.

Did any of your friends object to seeing their e-mails in print?
One actor wrote a beautiful e-mail with his
boyfriend that said, “We hope that we’ll
be able to become parents too someday.” And then he
wouldn’t sign the release form for the book.
The only possible reason is that he isn’t out.
It really freaked me out and disgusted me. Then I was
affronted—like, “My book’s not good
enough for you?”—and then I wondered,
Ten years ago, would I have been that person? I don’t
know.

How does Richie’s sister, who was your egg donor,
feel about your publishing the story?
You ask that like she might have a bad reaction. I
can’t imagine that happening. She volunteered.
She’s not the kind of person who would pull
back now.

And Shauna, the surrogate?
She’s very proud of her contribution. She has
started an agency where she matches surrogates to
parents.

There was a time when people thought surrogacy was kind
of scary. First, everyone was worried that the
surrogate would decide to keep the child.
We had that fear. And then we went to Growing
Generations [a surrogacy firm that works with gay
couples] and they explained that if anyone changes
their mind, it’s the parents. They only use women who
already have children, who know exactly what they’re
getting into.

The other fear people had is that surrogacy exploited
women, who were selling their bodies for money.
I would never go into a contract with a surrogate who
was penniless. Shauna did it because she wanted to
have a baby for someone who could not have a baby
otherwise. It’s the most altruistic thing you can do.
Shauna said, “I’m so happy when
I’m pregnant; I feel so wonderful.” We took
her to the mall; we bought her maternity clothes. We
treated her like a queen—the Queen of
Modesto.

In the book you touch on your visit to a sperm bank near
Chicago. Can you tell us more?
Well, I got there, and there was one skinny little man
there, and he takes me to a room. And I’m
carrying a bag full of videotapes. But there’s
no VCR.

And?
And [declining to answer] I have to save
something for Jay Leno.

There’s also a scene in the book when
you’re afraid that one of the medical teams
caring for Jackson is abandoning him, and you offer to
tell them about your “cross-dressing
phase” to keep them interested.
Boy, you really read the book.

So can you tell me about your cross-dressing phase?
I’ll tell you about my cross-dressing
days if my son is in peril, in a compromised medical
state. But he’s not, so I don’t have to tell
you.

Do you miss Oz?
I do. Oz was great. The character was
Asian because I’m Asian. Tom [Fontana, the
show’s creator] said, “I want you to be the
priest.” Not “I want you to be the first
Asian-American priest on TV.” It was the first
time somebody came to me and said, “I’ll write
a part for you.”

You don’t like being the first Asian-American this
or that?
I have a fear of labels. If someone labels me, I have to
respond—do I acknowledge it, reject it, deny
it, live up to it, and defy it? Labels can affect your
ability to be yourself. If you’re not careful, like I
wasn’t when I was young, that can take a toll on you.
You find yourself conforming to everyone else’s
ideas of who you are.

So you let other people’s expectations define you?
Yes. And as a result, I have issues with what it means
to be myself. I’ve made great strides.
It’s an ongoing challenge, and it’s aligned
with wanting to be a parent and presenting the best of
yourself to your child. I’d better figure out
who I am before Jackson gets too old and says, “Who
the hell are you? Who am I supposed to be if you
don’t know who you are?”

But you have had roles that weren’t
“written Asian,” right?

I get very, very close to a lot of
nontraditionally cast roles. And then they chicken out
at the end, or they go with the other guy for whatever
reason. In Shakespeare, I’m only allowed to play
Ariel, in The Tempest, because he’s a
spirit, not a human being.

What human being in Shakespeare would you like to play?
Iago.

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