When I came out to my mother the night before I left home for my sophomore year at NYU, her first fear was that I was sick. Her second was that my life would be a lonely one.
The three summer months leading up to the announcement had been torturous. I worked a minimum wage job at a local bank, and spent my days counting money while obsessing over how to go about telling my parents, the clock sluggishly ticking towards the Labor Day deadline I had set for myself. I was so distracted that one day, to the consternation of the branch manager, I cashed a forged check for $500 to a minor without an ID. My body moved through the world on autopilot while my thoughts were trapped in the twisting crevices of my spinning brain.
I couldn't (and still can't) blame my mother for her initial assumptions of a gay man's fate, because I had spent the better part of my adolescence silently terrified of the same things. My earliest awareness of gay men was that they were dying from something that no one could explain, and so the only conclusion I could draw with the little information I had was that they were dying because they were gay. I was yet unaware that many good, but afraid, people were making the same naive assumption.
Then, one spring afternoon in the fifth grade, as I ate a bowl of cereal while channel surfing, I happened upon an episode of The Sally Jesse Raphael Show that featured gay teens and the parents who rejected them. I broke into instantaneous tears when I looked into the eyes of the boy being interviewed. It was the very fulcrum that separated my childhood innocence from treacherous adult life, because I recognized him, and I knew why. We were the same, he and I. I knew that day that I was doomed.
I now realize that coming out to my parents was most traumatizing, not because I was truly afraid of their rejection, but because I was afraid that my own acknowledgment would somehow make the fear more real, as if the speaking of it was a confirmation of doom.
I am often shocked at the life I enjoy as a 33-year-old, openly gay actor in New York City, when compared to the early dread of what would become of me. I am happily bewildered by the fact that my struggle with sexuality has been such a key ingredient to my success, as I've gotten the chance to portray many an outsider struggling to find his place in the world.
My parents, too, are shocked at their own evolution, from scared and uneducated parents of the only gay person they knew -- to modern, open minded advocates for diversity. The small town I grew up in now boasts several gay families, often in attendance at neighborhood parties. My mother even brags to her girlfriends that, with a straight son and a gay son, she gets the best of both worlds.
When Terrence McNally sent me the first draft of Mothers and Sons, I knew it was essential that I do it. He is, after all, our most prolific and important chronicler of the gay movement, and this play completes a career-spanning arc that left me breathless after the first read.
In the real-time duration of 90 minutes, Terrence brilliantly presents us with four distinct generations -- all of whom have a completely different definition of homosexuality, and what it means to their own lives.
The fear and dread of the past is still very present in Katharine, played by Tyne Daly. She is a fly trapped in amber, blind to the fact that the world has changed even one bit since the tragic death of her son to AIDS.
Cal (Frederick Weller), her son's lover, is a survivor, a man who has been to hell and back, and is fortunate enough to have found a second chance at love and happiness.
Will, the 30-year-old husband and father who I am lucky enough to play, is a confident and proud family man, one who grew up in a relatively accepting world.
And our six-year-old boy, Bud (Grayson Taylor) is a child growing up with an inherent and unshakable understanding that families (and people) come in all different shapes and sizes. He is the great hope.
I was admittedly intimidated to learn that Terrence wrote the role of Will in Mothers and Sons for me. He is a young man who loves completely freely and without shame, who believes that happiness and health are his birthright; these are concepts that I have had to work very hard, and with varying levels of success, to accept into my own life. Bridging the gap, and moreover, making a distinction between my earliest fears and my present opportunities has been the challenge of my life. In that vein, Will Ogden is a much further stretch for me than one would assume -- and this is why I knew I must play him, because it is he who has something to teach me.
When I prepare each day for the show by putting on a wedding ring and waiting to make an entrance with the beautiful boy who plays my biological son; when in the play, I hug my husband or discipline my son in the same, casual, familiar way that my parents did; when I talk about the pure joy of being a father, I am reminded that it's all actually possible. The young me who sat in fear watching that talk show over twenty years ago begins to recede, and he is overshadowed by a man who is beginning to believe that he deserves happiness. It gives the concept of "faking it 'til you make it" a profoundly practical application.
As I mentioned, I have gotten very good at playing outsiders. I think the true joy of playing Will Ogden is that, despite his being a minority -- as he says in the play, "Gay dads still merit more than passing interest even in the metropolis known as Manhattan" -- he's the purest insider I've ever played. He's in his body, in his heart, in his experience with effortless ease. The world is his for the taking, and there is no room for shame.
In Mothers and Sons, my son asks why gay men couldn't get married in the past. I reply that the world wasn't ready for the three of us -- we were waiting for him.
I think I've been waiting for this play. And I do think the world is ready for it. It's the first time a legally married gay couple with a child has ever been portrayed on Broadway, and beyond the honor and privilege it is to be chosen to portray it, I have a feeling that someday I'll be telling my own child about the gift that Terrence McNally has given us -- the gift of possibility.
Few plays on Broadway today speak as urgently to our times as Mothers and Sons, the 20th Broadway production from legendary 4-time Tony® Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, now in previews at the Golden Theatre with an official opening night set for March 24th. In the play, Katherine -- portrayed by Tony®- and Emmy-winning Tyne Daly in perhaps her most formidable role -- visits the former lover of her late son twenty years after his death, only to find him now married to another man and raising a small child. A funny, vibrant, and deeply moving look at one woman's journey to acknowledge how society has evolved--and how she might, Mothers and Sons is certain to spark candid conversations about regret, acceptance, and the evolving definition of "family." Daly is joined by Broadway vet Frederick Weller (Take Me Out), Tony® nominee Bobby Steggert (Ragtime), and newcomer Grayson Taylor, under the direction of Tony® nominee Sheryl Kaller (Next Fall). For more information and tickets, visit www.mothersandsonsbroadway.com.