Friday, March 11, 2011

Thom Bierdz on "Forgiving": The WLS Interview, Part Two

In Part One of our interview with THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS's Thom Bierdz, the acclaimed artist and outspoken actor shared details of his return to Y&R on March 15th, as well as intimate details of his process writing the top-selling book "Forgiving Troy."  In Part Two below we explore ideas of "forgiveness," the ups and downs of going public with his family trauma, and how his paintings serve to help himself and society.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What does “forgiving” mean to you?
Thom Bierdz: Growing up when I did as a gay man, when the entire world doesn’t want you and thinks you're disgusting, you know what it’s like to be subjected to that.  So a lot of gay people grow up very compassionate, or some turn around and are very bitter because they feel powerless.  Growing up as a gay man I was very sensitive early on, and very compassionate.  I instantly forgave my brother because what else can you do?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: But what does that mean?

Thom Bierdz: I think a person can remove themselves from a dysfunctional relationship.  So whether I forgive my brother for killing my mother or not, it’s not going to help me to hold on to that resentment and hate.  He killed her.  She is gone.  But I don’t have to be around that, and I’m sure you deal with people who cannot seem to break away from what is potentially harming them, and that is sad.  It was my choice to go back into my brother’s life and seek him and try to be there as a big brother for him. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was he thankful for that?
Thom Bierdz: He certainly is. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Is it true that he was planning to kill you next?
Thom Bierdz: Yes.  Even before he killed her he sent me death threats and sketches of how he would kill me, which I totally dismissed because I didn’t think he was capable of murder.  Now I look back and think, “That is just so fucked up, why would he want to do that?”  But I understand why he wanted to do that. He felt powerless.  I articulate it in more detail in the book. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you ever seen a documentary called, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele”?
Thom Bierdz: No. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It is a wonderful documentary about a survivor of Auschwitz who declared that she was going to forgive the Nazis who killed her family and performed painful experiments on herself and her sister.  She said forgiving wasn’t about saying it is okay something happened, it is about letting go of pain and hatred so we no longer carry these feelings into our present lives.
Thom Bierdz: You carry that bitterness and it turns to cancer inside of you.  You forgive someone for you.  And you move on.  You don’t have to have them in your life. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: A lot of people can’t even forgive a relative for saying the wrong thing at Christmas.
Thom Bierdz: Totally! I’ve gone on dates where someone has said, “I haven’t talked to my brother in ten years.”  That just breaks my heart.  A brother or a sister is a very special thing. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Why did you decide to go public with this?
Thom Bierdz: I really felt like what I was experiencing was unbelievable.  That is why I had to share some very embarrassing moments in the book and some things I am very ashamed of.  I wanted the reader to see that I am absolutely honest about everything that went on.  I didn’t care if they disliked me.  It was more important that they read the story and saw it in its entirety.  I didn’t have to make this so important.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone else spend this much time writing about something so hard. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What have been the personal consequences of focusing on these events?
Thom Bierdz: I’m a very open guy.  But there are people in my family who aren’t willing to share what I am willing to share.  That has been a consequence.  Also, when you drudge that up all the time, your head is there all the time. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Does talking about it interviews like this bring you back to that emotional time?
Thom Bierdz: It doesn’t.  With you I’m surprised I’m so emotional.  But I’m emotional out of the specialness and the wonderful love that is still through there.  That is what I am overcome with right now.  I’ve been dealing with my mother’s death for a long time.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you gone to therapy?
Thom Bierdz: No, I really didn’t.  My dad was a psychotherapist.  He was divorced from my mother.  My mother didn’t speak very highly of him.  He’s a nice guy.  As a young gay boy who was condemned by society and the church, I knew early on that no one was going to tell Thom Bierdz what to do.  Including a therapist.  I have been over analyzing myself and other people for a long time.  I think I am my own project and I know myself better than anybody can possibly think.  What do your clients think? Are they resistant to you?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Typically no.  I think I’m non-threatening to others, in part because I don’t hold to traditional models of psychoanalysis that present the therapist as the “Authority.”  I do evidence-based forms of Cognitive-Behavioral therapy which is collaborative, educational, and usually short-term. 
Thom Bierdz: Do they say, “Why do you think I’m this way?” And then do you tell them it has something to do with their childhood?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: No. Because I am not the holder of “Truth.”  What we refer to as “Truth” in our lives is relative and is constantly being changed and rearranged in our minds.  What I do offer are tools and methods that help people make healthier choices regardless of why they did things in the past.  Just because someone gets insight into why they do self-destructive things, it doesn’t follow that they will do those things differently.  That is why you hear about people lying on the couch for thirty years and not feeling any better.  Cognitive-Behavioral is about changing thoughts, beliefs, and actions, in order to have more enriching and healthier lives.
Thom Bierdz: It is tough for people to swallow that you can change your mind to choose do things differently. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Maybe.  But even with a complex analytic understanding of self-destructive behaviors, it doesn’t follow that you’re going to feel any better until you change your mind and change your actions. 
Thom Bierdz: I’m a believer that your life is not made up of genetics, that your life is made up of thought patterns.  Even if schizophrenia runs in family, there is still the thought pattern of schizophrenia in that family.  Like, if there is a salad in the room, I am hungry for salad.  If diabetes runs in a family, there is a thought of pattern of, “This is what it is to be a diabetic.  She’s diabetic, he’s diabetic, oh look this could happen to me.” There is still the debate. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Aside from therapy, however, you said you have found relief and healing in your writing and your art work?
Thom Bierdz: Absolutely.  I look at my life.  I have been self-centered deliberately, and I am not apologizing for that.  That’s the great thing about being me.  Being gay, I never accidentally had kids, I don’t want kids.  That would be such a responsibility.  I look at my life and see I’ve had all this time to do my creative pursuits.  That’s pretty cool.  But I do take accountability that I did that.  It’s so horrible when you hear about teenagers having kids.  It’s like, “My God, what are you doing?” I have a dog, I’m happy with that.  This is the life I have created. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When did you start painting?
Thom Bierdz: I always painted.  But I never thought it would be my profession.  It was just something I always did.  About seven years ago one of my boyfriends was showing my work to a woman who worked in a Beverly Hills gallery.  She was really impressed with it and wanted to be my agent.  Not long after that I started making my living as an artist.  Mostly what I do are portraits of people’s pets, or family members who are deceased.  I get a great amount of satisfaction from that.  I am having a party in two weeks for my cover of Frontiers Magazine, revealing three of my new paintings, at Eleven on March 18th at 11pm.  Anyone can come.  I will be revealing three of my new paintings in the series called, “Gay Celeb Paints Straight Celebs Gay.” 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tell me about this series.
Thom Bierdz: Here’s what it is.  Like I said, I don’t have kids, I don’t have things I have to do, I don’t have a regular job.  I lie in bed awake.  So what do I do when I’m lying awake?  I ask, “God, what should I be doing? What can I be doing?” God doesn’t answer me.  But I realized that with my talents right now I can show America that it’s not scary to have huge gay icons.  We don’t have a gay President, we don’t have any huge gay politicians, we don’t have any huge gay movie stars.  It’s nonexistent.  The money backers and distributors are afraid that being gay would ruin their earning potential.  With this show I took thirty of the most famous straight men in the world, and paired them up in gay relationships in the paintings. I did it to show people who might be a little freaked out by it that it is sweet to see these guys together.  I hope people will see this with the relaxed idea of the inevitable future being something they welcome instead of something they are afraid of.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please go to Part Three where we discuss his process of coming out of the close and his reasons for being so open about his private life.  Plus why has Phillip's return to Genoa City been so brief and infrequent?  Find out in Part Three!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at [email protected].

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