The Beauty of Black and White Versus The Dark Shadow of Sexual Assault: A New Interview With Artist/Author Thom Bierdz

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Back in the crazy decade of the 80’s, actor Thomas Alexander Bierdz Jr.— better known to the masses simply as Thom Bierdz— became a Hollywood heartthrob and bona fide sex symbol for his iconic role as Phillip Chancellor III on the popular daytime drama The Young and the Restless.  Bierdz’ post-Y&R acting career would continue with many diverse roles on TV, in the movies, and on a web series.  While contractual obligations kept the actor from “coming out” while he was on The Young and the Restless, Bierdz would eventually earn the distinction of being the first openly gay daytime drama (Never say “soap”!) actor in a principle role when the he came back to the show in 2009.  In 2018, Bierdz shocked and delighted both his longtime fans and pop culture junkies alike with his no-holes-barred memoir Young, Gay & Restless: My Scandalous On-Screen & Off-Screen Sexual Liberations– his second published book.  The sexually-charged tome was both a titillating celebrity autobiography and an unapologetic, searingly candid look at the American male libido during a heady and hedonistic time in Hollywood history.  Bierdz’ book was revealing in more ways than one: He treated his reader to a few “au naturel” photos, showing that the is still indeed a sex symbol at age 56– although sporting a beard and chest tattoo that Phillip Chancellor III clearly did NOT have!
tbBierdz has recently released two new books: Anonymous True Accounts: How Men REALLY Feel About Being Sexually Assaulted, and 100 Black and White Nude Male Prints & 100 Black and White Photos of The Artist.  Bierdz self-published both books– and that’s about where the similarities end.  As you may have determined from the titles, these books will be very different experiences for his audience.   Anonymous True Accounts: How Men REALLY Feel About Being Sexually Assaulted is a raw, unedited compilation of the personal stories of 60 male survivors of sexual assault.  The stories were told to Bierdz when the author reached out and asked his social media followers to share their experiences about the subject.  There’s no common thread running through all these men’s revelations.  Some of their recollections are very brief, while others are quite lengthy.  The situations, settings, and time periods of when the abuse took place are widely variant.  The sexual assaults written about in the book range from an embarrassingly unexpected ass grab at a gay club by a stranger, to a long-term incestuous relationship, to outright physical violence– complete with bruises and bleeding. The victims ranged in age from five years old to well into adulthood, from all economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds.  Likewise, the perpetrators of the assaults came in all varieties– from strangers, to relatives, to high profile (albeit unnamed) celebrities and politicians.  It’s worth noting that not all the perpetrators were other males.  Bierdz occasionally injects his own conversations with the participants, mostly his inquiries about the after-effects of the assaults.  Those after-effects included guilt, shame, difficulties in future relationships, and even self-abuse.  None of these 60 stories are easy to read, and some are profoundly disturbing.  As a warning, some of the stories may be a trigger for sexual abuse survivors.
tb3In contrast, Bierdz’ coffee table style art book 100 Black and White Nude Male Prints & 100 Black and White Photos of The Artist, promises to be a more happy experience for the reader– or, more accurately, the viewer.  The title, well… pretty much says it all.  The first half of Bierdz’ hardcover book celebrates the beauty of the male nude, with everything from surreal and  abstract creations to Bierdz’ series “Fantasy Gay Marriage Nudes”, in which he painted straight pop culture icons in pretend gay marriage vignettes.  The second half of the book features photos of Thom Bierdz from childhood to the present, showing both his public persona (career highlights) and a few naturalistic, playful shots revealing the artist’s everyday private life.  Bierdz is not shy about sharing his own nude photos, of which there are a large number in the book.
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Thom Bierdz left the adrenaline-infused, celebrity-obsessed environment of Hollywood several years ago for a quiet country life in the mountains of of the San Bernardino National Forest, where he is concentrating on his artwork and on self-publishing more books.  With his devoted dog competing for attention during our conversation, Bierdz took the time to speak to me about his new books and his future creative endeavors:

JR: Hello again, Thom!  Greetings from New York City.  How’s life in Lake Arrowhead?

TB: Right now I’m up against the window, because I’m on a flip phone so I don’t want to move around too much.  But where I’m positioned, I’m looking out the window and I can see this snow out in the forest, and it’s raining, and it’s just beautiful. It’s perfect here!
JR: Wow!  You got some rain in California?  I know you all need it!
TB: I know.  Finally!
JR: So… Congratulations on your two new self-published books!  The first one, “How Men Really Feel About Being Sexually Assaulted”, is a collection of anonymous true accounts.  When you first reached out and asked other men about this issue, did you expect the large amount of responses that you were going to get?
TB: Yes, absolutely.  I first put this issue out there on Facebook several years ago when Trump was being accused of sexual assault: I shared that I believed that I’d been sexually assaulted several times. Then, all these gay guys started telling me, “Well, I was too!”  But nobody was really talking about it.  So, yeah.  I knew that there were lots of people who had stories.
JR: I read the whole book, and I must say that most of  it was NOT easy to read.  Some of those stories were just really hard to get through…
TB: I know!  There was one story where you have ask yourself, How could a guy be so cruel? A grown man who tricks paperboys into the basement for gang rapes and stuff?  Oh my God– what some of these guys had to deal with.  It was unbelievable.
JR: What was it like for you to read these the first time?
TB: Oh, I just felt so sorry for them.  I had told about my own sexual assaults in my second book:  I had been touched inappropriately, and one time I was drugged by a photographer and I was unconscious, and when I was waking up I saw him removing my pants and going down on me.  But I never endured any pain.  So, I don’t know what that’s like.  The only pain I endured was a chest tattoo that I paid for.  Other than that, I haven’t dealt with pain.  So, to think about these young boys that had to deal with that– and there were so many of them– I don’t know. What do you think about it when you read it?  What’s your response?
JR: I think that in many of these cases, it’s a situation where a young person may simply have been sexually taken advantage of– especially when that person is particularly naive, or if they are gay and they just came out, or they may be just exploring their sexually for the first time.  It’s too easy to be sexually taken advantage of by someone who is older, or more experienced, or who is in a position of power… The victim may have put themselves in a compromising position, and they may wind up regretful afterward.  There’s been a lot of talk about that with the rise of the #MeToo movement, and what had gone on in Hollywood.  I think there’s a bit of a difference between that and downright abuse.  I think that predators have something of thing of a sixth sense of what they could get away with– and when they see see the opportunity, they jump on it.  
TB: Yes, I have heard a lot of stories like that.  There does seem to be an intent to groom or to violate in a lot of these cases.  In some cases, that worked.  That’s why I wanted to collect a variety of stories and opinions and experiences.  A handful of these guys did not regret being abused.  They kept the fantasy going, even to today. I did that because I hate when people are “supposed” to feel something or “expected” to feel something.  I hate that more than anything.  That’s my pet peeve.  We all have unique minds and unique experiences.  We shouldn’t be expected to have one particular feeling from any particular event.  Do you agree?
JR: Yes!  I know it may be a bit idealistic, but I just wish that all of us had more of an innate sense of what we really want and what we really don’t want.  People would then be able to avoid these situations almost instinctively.  And, when we reach a point in adulthood where we are finally empowered, we can say, “Yes, I’m ready for this experience.  Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be be bad, but I’M the one who’s making the decision here.  I’M the one who’s consenting.”
TB: That’s whats hard about reading these stories, because so many of these subjects were kids.  They weren’t developed.  They didn’t know how life works.  They didn’t know how you could attract certain situations or avoid them.  And plus, a lot of these stories were written years ago, when they felt so bad about being gay that maybe they attracted that  because they felt so “dirty” and they should be “punished”.  Times are different today.
JR: Also, they were unlikely to report the incident because they  were too “ashamed”.  But in your collection of stories, some of the victims DID report the abuse and they were either not believed, or suffered even more emotional turmoil because of it.     
TB: Right!  To have a rape counselor say, “No, I’m sorry. Only women get raped.”…  Can you believe that?
JR: Wow!  Did you discover any common theme or element running through all these stories?  The reason I ask is because if there was a common theme, maybe we could find a way to empower both men AND women to avoid this in the future.
TB: No, I really didn’t. Did you?
JR: No.  Most of the stories were clear cases of cruel and sometimes violent abuse, and a few were a case of being sexually taken advantage of rather than outright abuse.
TB: But then you have the case of the hot high school coach who asked to shower with the student.  Now, of course we know that’s against the law…but we can understand a teenager having that fantasy.  I certainly had that fantasy.  As I share in the book, I had incest fantasies about all my male relatives: I was hoping that my uncles would touch me or that my dad would touch me or that my grandfathers would touch me. So, that’s one interesting thing I bring to the book: Here’s somebody from the outside who’s never been molested and never endured incest, yet I’m intrigued by it.  So, I’m asking these guys, “What was it like?  Did you hate it?  What did you feel? What could come from it?”  Because essentially this point, I feel that it would be a negative outcome no matter what happens.  I would never recommend incest.  It can remain my fantasy, but I don’t think it could be productive, because here’s the thing: How few people love you unconditionally.  If all of a sudden sex is pushed into it, then you’re no longer loved unconditionally.  You’re loved CONDITIONALLY.  And I find that that’s a violation.
JR: A straight boy having a crush on a female teacher is nothing new.  Hey, there were even songs written about it!  A crush is OK.  Sadly, as we have learned from the news, some teachers actually fulfill that student’s fantasy, which is a violation not only of the law but also a violation of trust.  But of course, there’s always that fantasy: For a gay boy it  would be normal to have an innocent crush on a handsome older role model.
TB: And I want people to talk about it!  I live in the woods.  I don’t have an employer.  I don’t have to be careful about what I say.  I don’t have to walk on eggshells.  I can be pretty courageous, like an artist.  I can say, “I have incest fantasies.”  So what?  I like golden showers.  So what?  But people are afraid to talk about certain subjects– and that’s a conversation that needs to happen, I think.  Because too often, groups and mobs point a finger and say, “NAUGHTY!” without really getting introspective about it and letting people feel what they really feel.  They’re shamed before they have a chance to really feel.
JR: Right!  When you think about it, it’s just patently ridiculous.  How could you tell someone else that their fantasy is “right” or “wrong”?  
TB: People do it all the time.
JR: People may do it all the time… but when you put it into words, it makes absolutely no sense.
TB: It’s insane!  That’s why I stay away from words like “right” or “wrong”.  I would never tell anyone that what they’re feeling is wrong.  I personally think it’s fine if you find some of your relatives sexy.  It’s natural.  I think it’s normal– although people will argue that, because they’re TOLD that that’s bad.  But we come from from the Bonobo chimpanzees.  They are our nearest relatives.
JR: Yes!  We do share about 99% of our DNA with the Bonobo chimp!
TB: And they’re constantly screwing everybody!  (Laughs)  What do our urges go back to?  Where were our urges from anyway?  I don’t want anyone to be shamed for their urges.  It’s fine if your urges are illegal and you’re going to take measures to avoid that.  That’s great. But I don’t want anyone shamed for their feelings.  I don’t think that’s healthy at all.
JR: It’s funny, because in New York City we have the Museum of Sex.  If you ever make your way back to New York anytime soon, you have to check it out.  They have a whole exhibition dedicated to sex in the animal kingdom.  You can learn a lot about human behavior from studying animal behavior– especially that of the Bonobo chimp, our closest relative. They are one of the few animals that has sex strictly for pleasure, not for reproductive purposes! 
TB: I’m 56, and I’m in really good shape.  I don’t have insurance, and I don’t go through a doctor.  I try to be natural.  What I do for testosterone is collect pine pollen from the Ponderosa pine and make a tincture.  One of the best sources of protein and natural testosterone is from the pine tree.  You can look up “pine pollen” on YouTube.  There are many videos on how to do it.  It’s one month during the year where you can collect it. Here, it’s May.  You can get your free testosterone for the whole year.  I make it into a tincture; I mix alcohol with it and have it it with some nettle root, which I collect by the creek.  That’s to make sure the hormones stay as testosterone and don’t convert to estrogen– which can happen when someone takes extra testosterone.  I just doubled my dose, and my hormones started going crazy!  I don’t have a sex life right now, but I’m masturbating way more than usual.  I have to recognize that there’s something biological here.  There’s a need.  So I totally understand other people when they have these sexual compulsions.
JR: Wow!  Pine pollen.  I gotta try that!  Once you pass a certain age, who couldn’t use more testosterone?  If you discover a tincture that can increase sensitivity down there, let me in on it… because, sadly, we lose some sensitivity when we get older.  A urologist friend of mine says “Have sex less often and masturbate less often, and you’ll become more sensitive.”– but who wants to do that? (Laughs) So, back to the book… What did you learn about yourself in the process?  Was it a positive experience, or a negative experience, or somewhere in between?
TB: Well, it it’s not like it came out of my own experience or activity. It was a cognizant receptacle where I was receiving other people’s information.  I wasn’t surprised in any way about what people offered me.  But I was more interested in what they did AFTER the ordeal.  How did they deal with it?  What did they think about it?  What do they think about it now 40 years later?  So, it didn’t change me, because it really wasn’t a hands-on experience.
JR: Gotcha!  Now, on a different note: You also just released a coffee table-quality book of artwork, named “100 Black And White Male Nude Prints & 100 Black And White Photos Of The Artist”.  To me, in contrast to the book  “Anonymous True Accounts: How Men REALLY Feel About Being Sexually Assaulted “, this book is a joyous experience.  It really celebrates the beauty of the male form and your own life.  How did the idea for that book come out?
TB: Well, here’s the thing: I tried to get literary agents and publishers for 30 years and I was rejected.  I don’t know why.  I’m a good writer.  Was I not famous enough?  Young, Gay, & Restless, which you read, was a good, shocking book.  But it didn’t get a publisher.  So, I published it myself.  Now that I know how to do that, being the creative guy I am, I’m publishing ten books this year.  Four of them are art books, because I’ve got a thousand art images.  I have been painting my whole life.  So, 100 Black And White Male Nude Prints & 100 Black And White Photos Of The Artist was easy for me to put together.  It was already a self-publisher.  At that point, I was going through Amazon.  Color was so expensive to self-publish on Amazon.  It was crazy.  I found out later that it was cheaper on Barnes & Noble.  Anyway, because I have painted the male nude art figure in several styles, I was able to create this pretty cool coffee table style art book.  And, because I was self-indulgent– and, “Why not?!”– I added 100 of my best pictures from throughout my life. It’s from me being a kid, to me bartending in Milwaukee in a cowboy hat, to me being on Hollywood Squares, to me being naked.  Again, why not? (Laughs) Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis thing.  Who can stop me? (Laughs)
tb5JR: Well, I certainly enjoyed it!  So, was it a conscious attempt to do the book in black and white?  Do you have a particular affinity for the black and white artwork and photos?
TB: No, not really.  I just did that primarily for price.  But now that I realize that Barnes & Noble will print in color for much cheaper than Amazon, I am going to have four more hardcover color art books.  I’m doing that by the end of the year, so I’m excited about that.
JR: I like color and black and white… but I have learned that black and white has a few benefits.  If we strip away the distraction of bright color tones, or of too many colors competing for attention, then you’re left with JUST the image…
TB: Yes!  And the contrast. That beautiful contrast.  Yeah, I got you!  I do appreciate that.
JR: I think it worked really well with the self-portraits, because you have very strong, sharp features.
TB: Cool!
JR: Do you recruit models for your paintings?
TB: No.  I work from photographs.  I don’t paint people in person.
JR: A lot of your fans will be happy about the nude photos too! 
TB: I’ve written very “heavy” books before.  My first book Forgiving Troy was about forgiving my schizophrenic brother for killing our mom over 30 years ago, and my reunion with him.  Young, Gay, & Restless was amusing but also heavy.  There were a lot of stuff and obstacles in there as well.  I didn’t want this book to be “heavy Thom Bierdz”.  I didn’t want it to be “work”.   It’s just a pretty art book. (Laughs)
JR: What I like about your self-portraits is that they are not retouched.  They have a very natural look about them.
TB: I’m not perfect! (Laughs)  But here I am at my age, still trying to get into the best shape ever.  I have never been in my “best shape ever”, so here I am still trying to get there!  I think that’s cool about my age: I’m excited.  I always have stuff to do.  I’m always excited about projects.  I feel bad for anybody in their 50’s who thinks that they are “washed up” and that the best is over.  I don’t think that at all!
JR: That’s so great to hear!  So, what else do you have in store in the near future?
TB: Not only do I have four new beautiful coffee table style art books on the way, but I have two spiritual books coming out on March 1st: My Tarot Deck, which I created; and 100 Miraculous Stories: They Want To Help Us, a collection of spirit guide accounts.  I’m also President of the American Art Awards, so pretty soon we are going to recognize the 25 best galleries and museums in America– who in turn are judging art from around the world in August.  That’s kind of my side job, which I also get into from my cabin in the woods.  There’s always something to do.  All my life, I have pretty much always done what I wanted to do: work on creative projects. If you go to my website, you can check out videos, you can see all the links to my books.  You can see it all on www.ThomBierdz.com!
JR: Wow!  That’s great to hear!  Congratulations again! 
TB: Always a pleasure to talk to you!
JR: Same here!
(Read my first interview with Thom Bierdz from 2018 here.)
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You can learn more about and buy Bierdz’ artwork and books at his official site, www.ThomBierdz.com.

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