In 1982, a handsome 20-year old named Thomas Alexander Bierdz left his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin for Hollywood. His mission, in his own words, was “to become a movie star”. Bierdz soon found success on a certain daytime drama (Never say “soap”!) called The Young and the Restless. The actor played the role of “bad boy” Phillip Chancellor III for three years. Despite having been “out” in the Milwaukee gay nightlife scene before his move to the West Coast, Bierdz was forced to go back into the closet when he became famous, due to the prejudice against openly gay actors at the time as well as something called a “morals clause”. At his peak of popularity on The Young and the Restless, Bierdz was getting stacks of fan letters, signing autographs at public events, and appearing on many magazine covers . He was indeed a bona fide American sex symbol.
As pop cultural history has proven, however, America doesn’t always treat its sex symbols very well. After his character on The Young and the Restless presumably “died” in a car accident in 1989, Bierdz’ goal of post-Y&R superstardom proved to be a disappointment– despite his looks, talent, and intense popularity on daytime drama. At one point, Bierdz was working as a bartender/waiter for the same celebrities he would normally be acting alongside. In the ’90’s, he even sold his own used skivvies for cash. Still, Bierdz had continued to find acting work with guest roles on TV, in independent films, and on a web series through the years– and when The Young and the Restless brought his character “back to life” in 2009, it made Bierdz the first openly gay actor in a contract role. His appearances on Y&R would continue until 2011. Though tragically underused as an actor, Bierdz has found greater satisfaction as an award-winning visual artist and philanthropist. After 28 years in Hollywood, at age 49, he moved to the mountains in Lake Arrowhead, California (about 86 miles from L.A.), and concentrated on being an artist and author. Bierdz stated of his move: “It was almost like I died and went to Heaven.”
Bierdz’ second book is named Young, Gay, & Restless: My Scandalous On-Screen & Off-Screen Sexual Liberations. Like its name would suggest, it’s a provocative scorcher of an autobiography. Bierdz’ renegade memoir won’t disappoint pop culture fanatics looking for showbiz anecdotes. Some of the star’s famous friends, associates, and/or lovers are actually named (including Andy Cohen, David Geffen, Steve Antin, Farrah Fawcett, Grant Show, and Matt Bomer), while others are referred to cryptically (“a very famous and attractive gay country singer”, “a Baywatch actor”, “another famous older actress”, and “a flamboyant throaty Broadway star”). There’s much more to Bierdz’ book, however, than celebrity gossip. He writes about several family tragedies– which, incidentally, were even more incredible than what Hollywood could create. Originally motivated by his desire to expose the culture of the sexual exploitation of young stars in show business, Bierdz fearlessly shares his stories of desire, love, and sex. He writes about exploring his sexuality as a young gay man in Wisconsin, to innocent Hollywood crushes on fellow actors, to the quest for “Mr. Right”, to navigating the world of gay dating apps and hookup sites as we approach 2019. The actor/artist’s revealing personal stories within the book’s 400 pages (some “vanilla”, some quite “outre”, and some downright disquieting…) are guaranteed to shock many readers, but also guaranteed to titillate and delight many others. While very entertaining to read, Young, Gay, & Restless is also– at the risk of sounding too “clinical”– one of the most accurate, honest portraits of male sexuality that has come out in a long time. No doubt, this is one of the few celebrity biographies that includes a nude centerfold of the author!
Thom Bierdz took the time to speak to me about Young, Gay, & Restless: My Scandalous On-Screen & Off-Screen Sexual Liberations– andmuch more…
JR: Thank you for speaking with me, Thom. Congratulations on the new book.
TB: Thank you!
JR: What I like about Young, Gay, & Restless is that it’s fearless, bold, and honest. It speaks volumes about the male libido, which goes beyond “gay” or “straight”– and even beyond race, ethnicity, and class. It’s what a lot of us want to read, and what a lot of male celebrities would probably love to write about if, excuse the expression, they “had the balls”. (Laughs)
TB: (Laughs) I appreciate you saying that! But of course, I don’t really consider myself a “type” or a “model” for a particular sexuality or anything else. My intent wasn’t to say, “All men are like this!” It was to say, “Hey, I’m in a place where I can share everything– and here it is.”
JR: We can all be grateful for that! I believe that many will read it and think, “Well, maybe I haven’t fully explored my own sexual boundaries, and maybe I have been hiding a lot.” And, maybe they will ask themselves what you ask the reader many times: “Is sex still naughty?”
TB: Excellent! And that’s how I sign the books when they order them from me: “Is sex still naughty?” A lot of straight women are going to read this, and their jaw is gonna drop (Laughs)– so I wanna put this out there: Before you start blaming and judging, think about it: Is somebody really “naughty”?
JR: Well, we have had the tendency to sex shame both genders through the generations– so the fact that you so many male AND female fans who will read this is a great thing. What made this the right time to come out with Young, Gay, & Restless? What made you decide that it was time for people to hear your story?
TB: It kind of makes sense with who I am at this point of my spiritual development. I’m in a place where I don’t care what people think– but I didn’t start out writing this with that intent. A couple of years ago on Facebook when people were accusing Trump of sexual assault, I wrote, “I think I’ve been sexually assaulted several times” and then I explained how. Then, other men started sharing their accounts, so I started compiling a book of those– which I am probably releasing within a month. It will be a book about how men really feel about being sexually assaulted. So, I was merely going to add MY story to that. But then I got so self-involved that– well, 400 pages later I was like, “Wow!” (Laughs) I was getting very self-analytical. But it was amusing, too: to see my path and where I came from. I imagine that we can ALL identify with sex being amusing when we don’t know anything about it, right?
JR: Right! Speaking of “amusing”: That’s another reason I enjoyed the book so much. It’s fun to read! I love the humorous parts, such as when you wrote, “Fortunately, most guys were honest when it came to sex. They usually disclosed when they had a disease, a lover, or a chainsaw– but some did not!”… or when you were trying to explain the hanky code to your mother! It is moments like that when the book really comes to life. Your personality really comes through.
JR: How has the response to Young, Gay, & Restless been so far for those who have read it? I know that your dad wasn’t too crazy about the idea of the book at first!
TB: My dad just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand why anyone would enjoy reading it. And, he DIDN’T read it– so he wouldn’t understand that it’s not just reading about my sexual experiences that people would like. It’s about my honesty. They’re gonna like my speaking about being neurotic, and my life patterns that keep coming up, and my life choices. Like you said, it’s probably one of the most honest books out there. That’s what people are telling me, and that’s what I want to hear. That’s what I want to give people. If they’re paying me a few bucks to read my book, I want to GIVE them something. I don’t want to give them a publicist’s version of my life. I want to give them something authentic.
JR: Many of your fans have looked upon you– and still do– as a bona fide American “sex symbol”. But how do you feel when you hear that term? What does it mean to you?
TB: That would be an ego trip if I believed it. I mean, I do photograph well from some angles– but I don’t consider myself that sexy. I always wanted to be! I talk about being on The Young and the Restless and wanting to look like these other soap hunks– the straight guys. So when I hear that, I just think, “That’s an ego thing.” and that I wish it were true. Even though I think it sounds so superficial, hey… I love it! (Laughs)
JR: Right! So, in the book you speak a lot about your career in Hollywood, and speak a lot about your sexual coming of age and exploration through the years. However, you also share some extraordinary challenges that you’ve endured through the years: your brother Troy murdering your mother, and then your brother Gregg committing suicide. Did you ever ask, “How much am I supposed to take in this life? How am I going to overcome this?” Because, those tragedies would be a lot for ANYONE to handle.
TB: I’d be less able to overcome those if I didn’t believe in life after death. I’ve always did believe in that. It made all the difference. For instance, I didn’t really believe that my mother was really dead; I believed that she was going somewhere else, and that my brother really shouldn’t have done that because it was really stupid. When Gregg killed himself, I thought, “What a shame. What an awful shame that he did that.”– but that was it. I really didn’t think that he was gone forever. So, that made a big difference. I don’t look back at my life and think, “Oh, it really sucked.” and that my life was so hard. My social anxiety was hard. But I think that a lot of people have things worse than me.
JR: Good point! So, a lot of people think that all TV stars become millionaires automatically: If you’re in a TV series, you must be wealthy. But as anyone in the business knows, that just ain’t necessarily true! It’s a career, like any other– and you’re going to have your highs and lows.
TB: Yeah! I think about one percent of those in the Screen Actors Guild actually make a living at it. Even though I was on a soap opera, in my biggest years I was making $120 grand a year. But that was only three years of my life that I was making that much. It’s different if you have a series in syndication. Then you’re set. But soap operas don’t really replay. They did replay The Young and the Restless overseas a lot, and one year I got a check for almost $80 grand in residual, which was unexpected and amazing. But soap operas generally don’t replay. That’s what’s interesting about my book. When I look back, I had these millionaires and billionaires pursuing me– and yet for decades I was worried about how I was going to pay the rent. So, it’s kind of interesting: I write about how I slept with someone for a waiter’s job in Wisconsin, yet I never slept with anyone for money when in Hollywood. I just put it all out there. I find it amusing in sorting through all this stuff. I don’t regret any of it. My life has been great. Even when I didn’t know when money was coming, it did eventually come. I was never homeless.
JR: You came out at a relatively young age– not to the public, but to yourself. In the later chapters of the book, you write about such current phenomena as dating apps and hookup sites. Your book really chronicles a piece of American gay male history– through your eyes.
TB: True! That’s kind of exciting. Of course, that wasn’t my intent. That was just the reality. I’m so old now (laughs) and things have changed!
JR: I’ve seen the photos! You are NOT old! So, given that you’ve seen and lived through all these decades of gay life, what would you say has been the biggest or the most interesting change in our culture?
TB: When we were growing up gay, my generation thought that we were the ONLY ONES– and that we were going to Hell. Today, I don’t think that any gay person could think that they were the only one. I don’t think that that’s possible.
JR: You mentioned before how happy you are living in Lake Arrowhead, But did you ever wish, even for a moment, that you could be back living that fast-moving lifestyle you were living in the big city?
TB: No! (Laughs) I really don’t! I’m open to acting because it helps pay the bills and because it helps get my name out there so that people will buy my art. But no, I don’t miss it. Not one bit. As I’m talking to you, I’m looking out at 10,000 evergreens and at my two little rescue dogs. One of them has a bone and the other one is on the bed. This is just perfect. I love it. As I discuss in the book, I’m not an extrovert. I went to the city for a purpose: to be a movie star. And I didn’t get it. So, I moved away and I’m much happier here.
JR: It may be hard to believe that someone can be an actor and be in the public eye, yet still call themselves an introvert. I get it, because I know a lot of experienced performers who still feel anxiety and hesitation before they are about to go on stage or have to speak in public. People laugh when they may say, “I’m really a very shy person.”, but only another introvert could truly understand that.
TB: That’s why I dedicated my book to tequila. A couple of drinks and I go from being the neurotic artist to the smiley soap star that people want to see.
JR: (Laughs) A lot of gay men fear getting older, thanks to the constant idealization of youth in our culture through the decades. In Young, Gay, & Restless you are very open about your age and about the changes that you’ve gone through since your days on the soap. What does being 56 mean to you?
TB: It’s just a funny number to me. I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I’ll have to age like other 56-year olds. Not for a second do I believe that. Nope! So, it’s just funny. It’s just a birth certificate number for me. I think that my belief system will define my age. And, there’s proof to that too. There’s a biological age, but there have been so many tests and studies that prove that belief is so important too. I will continue to watch and to be inspired by 80-year old pilots and 120-year old Tibetan monks and 80-year old bodybuilders and stuff like that, because I want to concentrate and focus on that. Are you familiar with the Seth Books by Jane Roberts?
TB: You might like those. They are even read aloud online. In the 70’s, Jane Roberts channeled Seth, an energy personality. I’ve been a spiritual seeker my entire life, and nobody has overridden Seth. It’s the most true stuff I’ve ever heard. One of my favorite posts of Seth’s/Jane Roberts’ is “You get what you concentrate upon. There is no other main rule.” You can apply that to age, or whatever…
JR: While we’re on the subject: You look really great and you’re in perfect health. In your book you credit that to a vegan diet, meditation,and taking time to appreciate nature… and, also, freeing yourself from too much digital stimulation as well. We’re talking about “digital” as in electronic, not fingers! (Laughs) What else do you attribute to the healthy body and healthy mind?
TB: I would say a belief system is paramount. We as human beings have the answers inside of us. At this point I don’t need medication. I feel sorry for people who watch TV all the time. I don’t watch TV. Every couple of seconds, they try to sell you a medication. It’s like 100 times a day. You start to believe what you see.
JR: True! So, do you keep in touch with anyone from your Hollywood days?
TB: I correspond with about ten of The Young and the Restless actors on Facebook. One of them just lost her house in the California fires. It’s really sad. I’m friends with my exes, so we talk occasionally. I’m not a big “social animal”, but I am on Facebook all the time. That’s my social life!
JR: Speaking of Facebook: You have a LOT of followers on social media. How do you feel about human interaction in the digital age?
TM: It’s amazing. It can be a source of frustration sometimes, because I’m not incredibly computer literate. But it has enabled me to live in the woods– so I love it.
JR: In a later chapter in Young, Gay, & Restless, you wrote about how you were interested in re-kindling a potential romantic relationship with a certain retired pop music star (Cue “Y.M.C.A.”!) who you had first hooked up with back in Key West at age 21. I won’t give his name here (Buy the book if you want to find out!…)… but I have to know: Is there an epilogue to that story?
TB: Not at this point. We’ve not yet met in person, and if it happens, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. As I say in the book, I don’t think that there is necessarily one other person who is going to “complete” me. I’m open to a partner, but it certainly doesn’t have to be him or any other particular guy! But I thought that it was so interesting– 35 years later, the interest is still there. I was so “inhibited” back then, and it did come full circle.
JR: That’s great to hear! Anything else you’d like to tell your fans– besides, of course, “Go buy the book!”?
TB: (Laughs) No, I think we’ve covered everything! I’m in a very unique place where I can be so honest. I don’t have boss saying, “You better not write that!” I don’t have a partner saying, “You can’t write that!” I don’t have kids saying, “Dad! That’s too embarrassing!” So, that’s why I can offer some really revealing material– and sometimes it IS embarrassing. But so what? I want people to be liberated. I want them to come away thinking that sex isn’t so naughty– as long as you’re not hurting anybody. Right?!
JR: Right! As long as it’s between two consenting adults. Or three, or four, or five…! (Laughs) Thank you again for speaking with me, Thom!