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Baby comes early,
Daddy comes out

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

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."

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.

Could you bring something to the role because you're Asian-American? No. I cannot. It's about the literature, about illuminating the text.

You played Linus in the Broadway revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.It was a really big deal for Charles Schulz to sign off on that. He did not draw a diverse group of kids. But I think in 1999 he recognized that the world is a diverse place, and being so literal on the stage would send not such a great message. I really related to Linus, and I never took liberties with the essence of who that person was.

In 1990, Jonathan Pryce, the British actor, was slated to play a Eurasian character in the Broadway musical Miss Saigon. You wrote a letter denouncing the casting as "dangerously wrong" and arguing on behalf of Asian-American actors, "We may never get to do the work we dream of if a Caucasian actor with taped eyelids hops on the Concorde." That led to a bitter struggle with the producer of the show. What do you think about the controversy now? It was a triumph on the part of the Asian-American community. Until we protested, Jonathan Pryce was going to wear yellow makeup. [Pryce was dropped from the show in 1992.] When we compared it to blackface, people started to get it. Apparently, the lighter the ethnicity, the harder it is for people to fathom.

So it had a positive effect? It was undeniably positive. People didn't understand what we were talking about before that. Everything that's happened since then resonates with that moment.

But if you say that a Caucasian actor can't play an Asian character, why can't someone else say that an Asian actor can't play a Caucasian character? I would say, it doesn't work both ways. It's just one of those things that doesn't.

Back to Oz for a moment: In the last season, Toby Beecher gets to go home; he's a free man. And then Chris Keller frames him, so he's sent back to prison. I found that almost too sad to watch. I wouldn't have had it any other way. It was about Chris saying, "I cannot be without you. I cannot live without you in this place." You have to believe that Chris loved Toby.

What do you say to your fans who are angry they never got to see you in the prison shower? I say, "Send photos. JPEG format only."

Since Oz is over, maybe you can help us understand your character. What was Father Ray's sexuality? That's a really strange question, don't you think? You wouldn't ask a straight person that question.

Sure I would. I'm interested in how an actor plays a priest. I thought you might have some insight on how Ray was able to repress his sexuality. I can't imagine doing it. And yet these people do it. My insight is that the Catholic Church is full of incredible men and women who are leading celibate lives, and we should celebrate them.

And Father Ray? He was straight.

I guess you don't like it when people expect you to know particular things because you're gay or because you're Asian. I know about lots of things that have nothing to do with being Asian, that you would never guess from looking at me. I know all about musical theater. I could go on Jeopardy! and knock off the whole Broadway show tunes category. Also the whole Bible stories category.

Because of your upbringing? No. I wasn't raised in any religion. Because of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Do you believe in God? Yes. I think about God a lot; it's a front-burner issue for me. God is trying to show me that everything is going to be all right.

Are you a Democrat? It's like religion; it's like a lot of things: I don't know what I am. But I'm not a Log Cabin Republican. That I know.

Do you worry about Republicans and the Christian right trying to roll back the freedoms that allowed you to have Jackson? I'm concerned about them and alarmed by them, but I'm not afraid of them. I believe that love and goodness prevail.

What would you say to the president of the United States if you found out he was opposed to parenting by gays and lesbians? I'd say, "I live in your country; I pay my taxes; get over it."

Why do you think so many gay men don't have children? I guess a lot of gay people have issues with their parents, and that must color their ideas about whether they want to be parents or not. One of my friends said, "I can't have kids; I'm a kid, and I need attention." But I think of myself as a kid, as someone who vies for attention.

I've met people who, when I talk about my children, tell me they're happy just having a dog. I had a dog, and I'm sorry to say it's not remotely the same. Remember, the part I like about parenthood is communicating.

Your family has been supportive? Wonderfully, disgustingly gooey all around.

Do you think more gay people ought to have children? Only if they really want to. There's something pure about our bloodline: There are no accidental kids of gay parents. Every single gay parent desperately, passionately wanted to be a parent. That's neat, and I hope we can keep it that way.

Will you and Richie have more kids? We haven't had that period of time yet where things are calm and we can think about having another one.

Would you play yourself in a movie of Following Foo? I don't know if I could handle doing it myself. But I might, for closure.

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