Posts tagged “gay

Today Marks the 5th Anniversary of the Publication of My First Novel

Songs for the New DepressionIt’s hard to believe that my labor of love, my first novel, Songs for the New Depression, was published five years ago today. Over 12 years in the making, the main character in the book was inspired by the illness and subsequent death of my once-partner, Shane Sawick. While that character, Gabriel Travers, may have Shane’s biting wit, the darker traits the character exhibits are not really Shane’s at all, but mine. When I was younger, I was driven by my insecurities which, allowed to fester, could make me incredibly nasty. Happily, I’ve worked through much of that, but that memory–of treating others with disdain, keeping them at arms length through dripping sarcasm–still hangs over me today, helping to remind me of how to best treat those I love, and the consequences such narcissism can have on one’s soul.

To this day, “Songs” remains to the creative accomplishment of which I’m most proud. Not only did I keep a promise to myself over that long, 12-year stretch just to finish the damn thing, but as I’m not by training a “writer,” I still feel satisfaction in the final product. Of course, there are piddly things that I wish I could clean up, but I was able to tell the dark, redemptive story I wanted to tell, in all its messiness.

I never envisioned how much I would learn on that journey to publication, about book formatting, publishing, marketing, video production, website design, and so much more… To think, at my then-age of 46, I would be on an upward learning curve at that particular stage of my life was awesome–and rather remarkable.

Even more remarkable was to learn of the book’s reception and how it touched people. I received notes from folks sharing their stories of love and loss in the age of AIDS, and tributes to those they cherished. One reader read the novel four times, at last count, and found a continuity error both my editors and I had missed! (One of those ‘piddly things’ I wish I could go back and fix.)

I didn’t write the book for reviews or awards, yet was pleasantly surprised when both came freely. I’ve shared them below, but just as important for me in hearing the positive remarks was in learning the negative.

On one person’s website, they castigated me for being misogynistic and trans-phobic, which–if you’re remotely aware of me and my activism–you would know that I am not. Still, I had to take in that criticism and let it resonate. While the character of Gabe is both misogynistic and trans-phobic (truly, he is anti-anyone-but-himself), I had to really consider the possibility that the emotions he expressed were somehow, by osmosis, my own. Given this criticism, I tried to step back and consider the book as a whole. In doing so, I realized that almost all of the nurturing characters offering him a chance at redemption are women (save Jon.) Ultimately, women are the ones reaching out their hand to save Gabriel, most likely because, at my core, I wish my mother would do the same for me.

Five years is a long time. Since then, I’ve published a book of short stories (Gifts Not Yet Given), been through a brutal custody battle, and moved with my family to an entirely different state, where we live a much more peaceful mountain life. While I’m at work on a memoir, it’s been slow going, at best. Part of that is due to our emotional and financial recovery from that legal struggle, and part is a bigger issue: How do I tell a truthful account of my life, in an entertaining way for the reader, and yet in a way in which honors all involved?

Happily, I think I’ve finally found that key, and I look forward to sharing that book with you. Hopefully sooner than another five years!

Cheers,

Kergan

*****

SONGS FOR THE NEW DEPRESSION

indiebookawards2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award – LGBTQ
Independent Literary Awards – LGBTQ Shortlist
Best Books of 2012 – Out in Print Reviews
Best LGBTQ Literature of 2012 – Indie Reviews
Top 5 Books of 2012 – Alfred Lives Here
Top 10 Books of 2012 – Butterfly-O-Meter Books

Advocate.com raves that “Kergan Edwards-Stout has crafted a work of fiction reminiscent of some classic tales in Songs for the New Depression. Even better, Edwards-Stout’s debut boasts the kind of dark humor that made Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors, Dry) a household name.”

Kirkus Reviews (“The World’s Toughest Book Critics”) calls it an “engaging debut… Edwards-Stout infuses reality and hopefulness into a bittersweet story about compassion and personal growth.  A distinctively entertaining novel written with moxie and bolstered by pitch-perfect perspectives.”

Five-time Lambda Literary award-winning author Michael Nava says, “”Songs for the New Depression is an affecting novel, written with great literary flair.  I recommend it.”

Buy Now!
The critically acclaimed debut novel of Kergan Edwards-Stout, Songs for the New Depression, is available now in hardcover, paperback, and all e-Book formats, and can be purchased at BarnesandNoble.com, Amazon.com, and other fine booksellers.

What’s It About?
Gabriel Travers knows he’s dying; he just can’t prove it. Despite his doctor’s proclamations to the contrary and rumors of a promising new HIV drug cocktail, all it takes is one glance into the mirror to tell Gabe everything he needs to know. His ass, once the talk of West Hollywood, now looks suspiciously like a Shar-Pei, prompting even more talk around town.  Now almost 40, and with the clock ticking, Gabe begins to finally peel back the layers and tackle his demons — with a little help from the music of the Divine Miss M and his mom’s new wife, a country music-loving priest.

Praise for Songs for the New Depression
“Edwards-Stout’s satiric wit belies a smoothly written, circumspect story.” Library Journal

“Simply stunning… This tale of love and life constantly brought me to both laughter and tears. To those of us who loved and lost this is an important read to assist your reconciliation. It has mine. To those who have heard the stories, this love letter should be required reading. The characters are nicely carved and as they come to terms with moral decisions, it ultimately to me was all about getting through ones life awake and alive.”  Dana Miller, Frontiers Magazine/Los Angeles

“Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written… You’ll read this once for its emotional impact and again to see how the author achieves it. But no matter how many times you dive in, you’ll be impressed.” Out in Print Reviews

Songs for the New Depression is a thoughtful read that should speak to many.” Midwest Book Review

“Compelling, beautifully written debut novel… The author’s darkly comic, brutally honest prose reads like poetry and has a melodic flow that is equally funny and heartbreaking. Gabe’s story is bittersweet, heartfelt and profound… A quintessential page-turner and the product of a truly gifted author.” Edge on the Net

“From LA to Palm Springs to Paris, over the course of 20 years, Kergan Edwards-Stout takes us on a beautiful journey. The characters are dynamic, interesting, and real, and the relationships are painful and funny and romantic and sexy and sad all at once.” Q Magazine

Songs for the New Depression is an affecting novel, written with great literary flair. I particularly enjoyed its portrait of Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s, as well as the author’s brave willingness to write about the AIDS epidemic at a time when so many of us seem to want to forget that terrifying era. At times laugh aloud funny, and at other times intensely moving, it is the first of what I hope will be many books to come from Kergan Edwards-Stout. I recommend it.” Michael Nava, author (Five Lambda Literary Awards, winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature)

“Many tout this book as an important piece of fiction that should be read by all because of it’s portrayal of AIDS. I’ll give them that. I would add that it’s not only an important piece of fiction because of the message, but it’s a great piece of fiction writing regardless of the message.” LGBT Book Review Blog

“The laughs make the book deceptively breezy. Songs shines with psychological truth and historical accuracy.” A&U magazine

“Edwards-Stout has written a wonderful book in which he takes on AIDS and depression from a personal point of view and he does so with great style and wit.”  Amos Lassen, Reviews by Amos

“This is a work that will make you both laugh and cry, and fair warning: it is difficult to get through certain portions of the text because Edwards-Stout is quite explicit in detail, which is testament to the fact that he is such a brilliant writer. This is not one to miss.” Liberty Press

“Five Stars.”  Bob Lind, ECHO Magazine/Our Bookshelf

“If a roller-coaster ride of sadness and humor sounds right up your alley, then look for Songs for the New Depression by Kergan Edwards-Stout. This is the story of a man who knows he’s dying, knows he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life, and knows that he needs to fix things before the end. I won’t tell you the end. Read the book.” Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez syndicated column

“Involving, emotional read… Songs For The New Depression touched me and stayed with me.” Alfred Lives Here

Songs for the New Depression is an enjoyable and addictive read.  In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself not answering texts and neglecting your Facebook updates as you finish the book in one read.  I did.” Q Vegas Magazine

“The NY Times ought to be reviewing Songs for the New Depression, not the likes of me.  It is a beautiful book, and, I think, an important one.” Ulysses Grant Dietz, author

“One of the most emotional, touching, heart-wrenching, and intelligent stories I’ve read in a very long time. With a dark wit reminding me of David Sedaris, this story examines the life of a man who’s made many mistakes and, at the end, has managed to learn a few lessons… The language is sophisticated and elegant, each word precise, depicting clear images and evoking specific emotions. The description, whether of location, food, clothing, people, or emotions draws the reader into the moment as if it were actually happening. As a result, we experience Gabe’s highs and lows on a powerful level, truly understanding Gabe, his limitations, and his dreams.Wrapped up in a sad story, illustrated with disappointments and heart-break, is a story of hope and understanding.” Top2Bottom Reviews

“Kergan Edwards-Stout’s Songs for the New Depression is a bold reminder that life, especially in its most difficult moments, is worth living.  His characters are real and poignant, his writing is magical, and his message is timeless. Life is at its most precious when we are faced with our own mortality. It is an important book.”  Charles Perez, author of Confessions of a Gay Anchorman and founder of the No Shame Project.

“This is an incredibly important book.” Chapters and Chats

Songs for the New Depression is an impressive, innovative, and dynamic love story. Rich, witty, and vivid, this is a heart-wrenching, hilarious and sometimes shocking journey of an everyman-narcissist who finally finds redemption in embracing his humanity and ultimately reunites with the hero he was always looking for between the lines of Paris, Bette Midler, and all things fabulous. I found myself singing along until I was able to shout, ‘Amen!’” Steven Fales, Confessions of a Mormon Boy

“This book touched me at the core of my being!  It is a story of love and devotion, and a self examination of a dying man… I read this book in just a couple of days because I could not stop once I started reading.” Book Talk With Charla

“Kergan Edwards-Stout has written a masterpiece. A bravura debut novel, its heartfelt message is ultimately timeless.  It is easily one of the top ten books I’ve enjoyed in the past decade.  Once you start this one, you won’t be able to stop.” Carey Parrish, author of Marengo and Big Business

Songs for the New Depression carries you away on waves of humor and sadness as we follow the protagonist as he deals with his search for love, acceptance and his battle with AIDS. Far from being maudlin, it is extremely sensitive and ennobling. A fine work that will leave you wanting more.”  Robert Michael Morris, star of TV’s The Comeback and author of An American Scrapbook


What I’ve Read: Winter 2016

Now that we’ve moved to beautiful and peaceful Colorado, I find I have much more time to enjoy one of my favorite pastimes–reading! In this day and age, and given my social media-deformed short attention span, it’s been challenging to find the time to linger over a good book. This Christmas, determined to change this pattern, I asked Russ for three books: And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality (Mark Segal), Immaculate Blue (Paul Russell), and Based on a True Story (Jameson Currier.) Being the excellent husband that Russ is, he did exactly as instructed, in turn providing me with hours of literary pleasure. Each, in its own way, is worth reading. While I had issues which prevented me from viewing them as truly great reads, you might love them, and that’s part of the fun of reading!

And Then I DancedMark Segal is a legendary LGBT activist. Not only was he at Stonewall–yes, THE Stonewall–but he famously interrupted CBS News with Walter Cronkite, as well as countless other moments of activism, each of which seem to be recounted here. (He must’ve kept one hell of a diary.) And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality (Mark Segal) documents his many efforts and, as a history book alone, is a fascinating read. However, I really wanted more Mark. Who is he, at his core, besides an activist? What drives him? Does he have a personal life? Including such details might’ve helped to flesh out what is, at its core, a recitation of events. “I did this, then this, then this.” He takes pains to acknowledge other activists, but every time it seems that he is getting close to an emotional or revealing personal moment, as a writer he pulls back. This might be due to his job in newspaper publishing, thinking only the factual is important, but as a reader, I closed the book wanting more insight into him. His chapter on the toll of AIDS gives a hint as to the emotion he holds under the surface, and the memoir could have used more telling moments.

Immaculate BlueImmaculate Blue, by Paul Russell, was just named a finalist for Best Gay Fiction in the 2016 Lambda Literary awards. Russell is a wonderful storyteller and writer, and I’ve enjoyed many of his other books, but I personally didn’t connect with this one. It builds on characters introduced in his earlier The Salt Point, which I didn’t read. Perhaps that would’ve helped in enjoying this, as the story circles around four friends, reuniting after 20 years apart, and insight into who they were earlier might have shaped my view. But my problem was that regardless of who they might have been back then, I didn’t enjoy who they are now. In particular, one lead is so unlikeable and his story so dark and improbable that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I actually found myself more interested in some of the secondary characters, in particular a deaf boy, but as the story focuses on the four, it is with them that we are stuck. I’m a bit surprised to find it named a Lammy finalist, but Russell clearly has great skill, as past works have proven.

Based on a True StoryAnother 2016 Lammy finalist is Jameson Currier for his collection of essays Until My Heart Stops, which I look forward to reading. In his novella, Based on a True Story, four men gather at a mountain cabin over Thanksgiving, and slowly reveal the tale of an off-screen couple. In many respects, this reads as an extended monologue, interrupted by attempts at fleshing out the four “main” characters. While the tale is impactful, it is also not surprising, with the outcome easy to guess early on. Still, I liked these characters and wanted to spend more time with them, and that’s always a sign to me of a tale well-told.

Now, I need some new books. What should I read next?

 


When Sean Sees the Light

Esther CastMy heart goes out to Sean Horenstein today, an old friend from my UCLA theater days. In our show “When Esther Saw the Light,” in which Sean played Grandpa, he was completely obscured by the pillowcase he wore on his head, and while he didn’t like it, he was graceful about it–even when I made him wear it during the curtain call. The show went on to win Best Play in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival, and our trip to perform in DC was memorable for all. In the years since, Sean moved to Nashville and married his now-hubby, Stanley Joel Churchwell.

Sean HorensteinFor the past many months, Sean has bravely been battling cancer, and given its continual advancement and resistance to chemo, in January Sean made the decision to no longer continue treatment. Now, it seems, his journey’s end is quickly approaching. Please join me in sending out positive thoughts to Sean and Stan. Here’s to you, Sean, and your beautiful face.

UPDATE: Sean passed away in his sleep at 1:45AM on Wednesday March 9, 2016. He will be deeply missed.

Behind the scenes: Michael Sargent, Wade Skeels, Jeremiah Enna, Brian Omeara, Steve Brown, Kim Gibilterra, Michael Korn, and David Thomsen. Cast: Pamela Silverman, Kathleen Hartigan, Pia Pia Romans, Steve Schaeffer, Rebecca Delfino, Debra Guarienti, Catherine Skillman, Sean Horenstein, Jack Black, and Jeff Maynard


Our Summer

Russ, Kergan, Mason and MarcusDearest family and friends,

Russ and I have for many months been wanting to share with you the ordeal our family has been facing, but haven’t been able to, until now. As most of you know, I adopted Mason with my now-ex, and I was the stay-at-home father for the first year and a half of Mason’s life. Upon our breakup, I became Mason’s primary custodial parent and have served in that role to this day. Our family quickly grew to include Russ and Marcus, leading to many years of amazing adventures, emotional bonding, and terrifically fun times.

Once we had made the decision to put our house on the market, we discussed this with Mason to find out if he wanted to move with us to Colorado or remain in California. He said he wanted to be with us, as we are the only family structure he has known, and he has reaffirmed that decision many times over. Thus, we were shocked several months ago to find that my ex had filed suit for full custody of Mason, which would mean he would remain in Orange County and we would have only a few visits with him each year. Ever since, our entire family has faced a whirlwind of emotions. Not only have we had to deal with the tremendous stresses of selling our house, buying a new one, and the subsequent pack/move/unpack–while also fulfilling our full time jobs–but we have had this emotional legal battle hanging over us the entire time, ripping our family apart. We have been so saddened to have Mason taken from us over the summer, as moving him wasn’t permitted by the court until this matter was settled. Marcus has missed him terribly, and Russ and I have had countless sleepless nights. You simply can’t imagine how horrific it is to potentially have your child taken from you, against his wishes.

Finally, after months of hearings, court investigations, and testimony, on this past Monday the judge finally ruled that Mason could move, and we flew back to Colorado that same night, as Mason had already missed the first day of school.

Today, we are relieved, but exhausted and emotionally tapped out.

Needless to say, we have appreciated your support throughout these months. One of the many reasons we moved to Colorado was for a less-expensive life, as I have been struggling to pay back debt, only to find ourselves with what will be over $50,000 in legal fees. I’ve opened so many credit cards to cover the attorneys fees, and have no idea how to pay for them, which only serves to make my stress even worse. (I would prefer to work this debt off, so if you know of any freelance writing projects or marketing work which could be done in the evenings, please let me know.) Reluctantly, on the advice of friends who want to help us out, we’ve also set up a GoFundMe account, should anyone like to contribute. http://www.gofundme.com/272329d4

Still, as daunting as the debt may be, that is nothing compared to the incredible relief we feel to have our “Boo Boo” back home with us. Our family simply wasn’t the same without him. And we are especially grateful to all of you for your support, encouragement, and prayers.

Family has always been paramount to us, and we are so grateful to finally have ours back together.

Love,
Kergan and Russ

P.S. Please don’t leave any negative comments about my ex. This entire episode has been so emotionally draining, we want only positive energy moving forward. Thank you for respecting our wishes!


A Note to My Republican Friends. (Yes, I Have Some.)

republican-democrat-battle1This is to all my Republican friends: Many of you have told me that while you yourself have more liberal social views, you vote Republican because you see that party as being for limited government and a strong economy. PLEASE CONSIDER THIS, THOUGH: Your actions in voting Republican are leading to the death of the planet, as your leaders disavow climate change and are indeed working to ban even the phrase. Your leaders, putting corporate profits above ecological sensibility, continue to push for deregulation of corporate oversight, and that deregulation and lack of oversight leads to increased pollution. This, despite a mountain of evidence that our earth is changing quickly, and not for the better. Devastation of species and the environment are imminent, and YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you have told me that while you personally support LGBT equality, you feel that Republicans actually are–at their heart–LGBT allies, but are just appeasing the louder voices of the party’s right wing base. But your actions in voting Republican are leading to laws which discriminate against the very people you claim to support. People can be turned away, simply from ordering a meal, or holding a job, or having a roof over their head just because they’re gay. What year are we living in, you may ask? Good question. Just remember, YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you have said that while you support tighter gun control, to avoid the kind of mass shootings we’ve seen, you don’t want your guns “taken away.” Well, guess what? In the last 10 years, your guns HAVEN’T been taken away, have they? At the same time, your vote has led to inaction on behalf of stricter laws. We DON’T HAVE tighter gun control laws, which means senseless killings and mass shootings will continue, and YOUR VOTE LED THIS TO HAPPEN.

Many of you say that you think Republicans are better in terms of national security. Yet the biggest terrorist act against the U.S. occurred during a Republican President’s watch. YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN.

Many of you say you want a peaceful, diplomatic foreign policy, yet voted for a man who led us into two ill-considered and expensive wars, killing countless in the process. YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN. Meanwhile, Democratic Leadership is trying to bring peace to areas of strife. You might not agree with every decision made, but it is all with the goal of peace–yet the Republicans in Congress seem determined to screw up even that. Just remember, if an Iran agreement isn’t reached due to Republican interference and war occurs, YOUR VOTE LED THAT TO HAPPEN.

And finally, for those who vote Republican due to fiscal concerns, just remember this: It was your Republican President who got us into the financial crisis and collapse in the first place, and it was a Democratic President who got us out of it. The economy has now gained nearly five times more jobs under President Barack Obama than it did during the presidency of George W. Bush, and the unemployment rate has dropped to just below the historical average. Corporate profits have nearly tripled, and stock prices have soared. ALL THIS ECONOMIC ADVANCEMENT, from a Democrat, not a Republican.

Now, you may want to quibble the details–and I’m sure many of you will–but my point is this: YOUR VOTE MATTERS, and your vote is killing the planet, creating discriminatory laws against LGBT people, ensuring pay inequality for women, enforcing a lower-than-liveable minimum wage which leads people to poverty, and so much more–none of it good. Yeah, the Democrats have problems too. Lord knows, they ain’t perfect. But they aren’t trying to kill the planet either. Peace.

Wisconsin Bans Phrase “Climate Change” When Discussing, Uh, Climate Change


Put a Ring on It: Why Marriage Equality Matters

02-Kergan-Russ-Wedding-Ceremony-331-colorWhile the LGBT community continues to battle discriminatory legislation in Indiana and states contemplating similar such laws, it gives me some measure of comfort to know that this month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the long-raging debate over same gender marriage. For some, the court’s eventual decision will be solely intellectual, but for me, that verdict will be extremely personal, and it is my every hope that marriage equality will be the resulting law of the land in all 50 states. After almost 12 years together and raising two children, my partner Russ Noe and I were legally wed in California on June 7, 2014. That moment was a lifetime in the making and as the gold wedding band slid onto my finger, I was fully cognizant of all that it meant, both legally and emotionally… For as it happens, in my recent history, I’ve experienced inequity more fully than most.

One fall day in September 2001, I lost almost everything I held dear when I stumbled upon an email not intended for me. In it, I learned that my then-partner of six years, “Rob,” had broken the commitments we’d made and that, in fact, I’d been lied to from the start of our relationship. As that email glowed onscreen, I remember looking over to where our infant son lay sleeping, wondering what our collective future held. Rob and I had created a life together, had a commitment ceremony, bought a house, and adopted a child… I’d given up my career to be a stay-at-home dad, only to soon discover that while I was the primary caregiver, with a stronger emotional bond to our son than Rob, I had no legal parental rights whatsoever. Should Rob so choose, he could lawfully banish me from my child’s life.

I couldn’t imagine losing my son, nor how devastating that might be for him emotionally. He was my touchstone, and I vowed that somehow I would find a way for us to remain together.

I was urged by my attorney not to confront Rob about all I’d discovered and instead wait until my rights were settled, as I was then undergoing a process known as a second parent adoption. And so I returned home, plastered a smile on my face, and attempted to act as if everything were fine. I went about my daily life, taking care of our house and son, though I was tormented and wracked with fear inside.  During this period, I even went with Rob to one of his therapy sessions, only to hear the therapist say that the only issues in our relationship were my doubts about Rob’s faithfulness, and that Rob was a moral and ethical human being. For one hour I sat, boiling inside, unable to stand up for myself and all that I’d discovered to be true.

Rob and I had stood in front of our family and friends, declaring our love and commitment toward one another. We called each other “husbands” and combined our finances, which were intended to be shared 50/50. We acted like a married couple and built our life like other married couples, but we didn’t have the same legal protections and benefits as our peers. This discrepancy became even more pronounced as time passed.

After two months of silence, unable to confront Rob, a court case in California placed all second parent adoptions–including mine–on hold, determining them to be incompatible with state law. To clarify this confusion, the California State Supreme Court would have to eventually rule on the legality of second parent adoptions, which could take months. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to remain silent indefinitely, I finally confronted Rob about all I’d discovered. In the process though, in order to ensure my rights were established, I pretended to give him hope that our relationship could be salvaged. I told him that we should take time apart and live separately, to see if we could mend the rift and find a way forward together as we had intended, as a family. In other words, in my attempt to hold onto my son, I became a liar, just like Rob.

We sold our house, and on the day it closed escrow, Rob went to the bank and took out the proceeds, leaving me what he alone determined to be “fair.” I had no choice but to live with that, and any other crumbs he offered, as I had no legal recourse. In the eyes of the court, we were no more than roommates, and I couldn’t afford to rock the boat until my parental rights were firmly established.

Eventually, a court date for my adoption was established. Even as Rob stood next to me in the court room, I waited, breathlessly, afraid he would halt the proceedings and take away this child whom I loved so dearly. At last, the judge signed the paperwork and the adoption was complete. After walking to my car, I sat in the front seat, holding my son and crying uncontrollably, grateful to no longer be afraid and for the ordeal to finally be over.

I had been in a similar emotional state before, in 1995, when my partner Shane Sawick died of complications from AIDS. In that situation, I endured months of anxiety, not to mention the physical and emotional toll of being a daily caregiver, but I did so all with the knowledge of how his story would play out. I knew that the end would come and I knew what it entailed. Still, when it did, it was agonizing.

At the time, I thought that never again would I experience anything as painful, but the prospect of losing my son and the months of uncertainty and turmoil that provoked proved far worse to my psyche.

It took me a long time to fully work through my anger and learn to trust again. Moving forward wasn’t easy, but I did it, with the support of my son and those I loved. That journey led me to Russ and the subsequent adoption of a second son.

Almost one year ago, as the sun shone brightly on a beautiful June day, Russ and I stepped out into our garden wedding ceremony, walking behind our sons, who served as best men. They each had written notes about the importance of family which they read to our assembled guests. Russ and I shared our vows, which we’d also written, publicly proclaiming our promises and commitment to the life we had crafted. At the end of the ceremony, as Russ slipped the gold wedding ring onto my finger, all the emotions and moments of my life seared through me, reminding me of the road I’ve traveled, the battles fought, and the promise of things to come.

Our rings are just simple bands, nothing fancy. But they are durable and signify the legality of our union. They are gold wedding rings, meant to last a lifetime.

This originally appeared on KerganEdwards-Stout.com. Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, was the recipient of a Next Generation Indie Book Award. His collection of short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, was named on multiple “Best Books of the Year” lists. He is currently at work on a memoir, Never Turn Your Back on the Tide.

Photography by Sara + Ryan, flowers by Untamed Designs, and event coordination by Bridal and Event Lounge.


I’m on Rated G Radio Thursday March 26

Garrett Miller Looking for some great conversation? Join host and hottie Garrett Miller and me as we chat about the topics of the day on Rated G Radio. It all happens on Thursday March 26, 7pm Pacific/10pm Eastern. You can follow the show at Super Gay Radio and call in with your comments at 323-657-1493.

Last time we chatted, we covered everything from the Long Beach port shutdown to Lady Gaga, and everything in between that is gay-gay-gay, so you know you’re in for a good time!


Twenty Years Ago Today…

Shane - LouvreIt is astounding how our bodies hold and store memories, filing them away, only to open their drawer unexpectedly to remind us of their presence. I had planned on sleeping in late this morning, as I rarely do anymore given that we have kids, but our dog Toby was whining to be let out. Even so, I tried to remain half asleep as I did so, returned to bed, and placed an eye mask over my eyes. On my first deep inhale to restore sleep, though, I immediately woke fully: today marks Shane’s last full day of life, exactly twenty years ago.

It seems impossible that so much time has gone by, as so much of him and that experience remains within me, prompting memories such as this. I think of him often and relate to our children each year, as we unpack Shane’s trove of nutcrackers, just who he was and what he meant to me. And yet I’ve also packed so much into those subsequent years (a commitment ceremony, the birth of Mason, the unexpected and dramatic breakup of that relationship, subsequent costly court battles with my ex, the years of trying to heal, eventually meeting Russ, adopting Marcus, getting married, writing books and embarking on countless other new adventures), that the length of time also seems substantial… As if another life, one so disconnected with the life I lead today.

Just a few weeks ago, on March 5, I turned 50. It was twenty years ago, on the day of my turning 30 in 1995 that we checked Shane into the hospital, where he would die two weeks later.

That year, we had planned for me a simple 30th… Given Shane’s months of decline, I could not bear any major celebrations, of attention being placed on me instead of Shane, and instead opted for my family to join us in L.A. for dinner and cake. When I called my mom to tell her that couldn’t happen, as Shane would be in the hospital, her words and tone communicated to me that she felt as if his health were a direct attempt to sabotage her plans.

For this year’s birthday, I opted for no celebration as well. For some reason, I just didn’t want the attention. I took my birthday off Facebook, blocked the ability of people to post to my wall, and decided instead to have a simple family dinner. Many thought that I was hesitant about turning 50, but I have no qualms about aging. I wear my years on earth and my varied experiences as a badge of honor. But this morning I realized that my reluctance for attention is also tied into Shane and what he was going through 20 years ago on this very day.

Shane and Kergan - Eiffel TowerIn the fall of the prior year, 1994, we’d gone to Europe. I’d never been and Shane wanted to return, both as a likely last-hurrah and to share it with me. While he’d had a few minor health incidents in the months leading up to our trip, as well as a decline in t-cells, he was still relatively healthy. But our 5 week journey to France and Italy took an increasing toll on him as each day progressed. By the time we got to Rome, from which we’d depart, it was physically apparent how taxing the trip had been–you could see the strain on his face. All of the walking and stairs had been too much, and those last few days he would journey out from our hotel only once each day, to quickly take in a sight, sometimes just from a taxi cab window, and then we’d return back to the hotel again. Too weak to go out for meals, I’d bring him takeout–he was craving McDonald’s–and I became inordinately familiar with their location near the Spanish Steps.

Upon our return to the states, his health began to quickly spiral downward. He began having mobility issues. Walking down a straight corridor, he would suddenly veer to the right or left, or stumble. Driving, he would either abruptly stop short, or too far into a crosswalk. It soon began to affect his speech, as his words became muddled.

His eventual diagnosis was Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML), which essentially is a lesion which grows on the brain and increasingly affects the motor skills.

Shane Michael SawickIn just a few months, he went from a vibrant young man, filled with exuberance about life and excitement about our upcoming trip, to a bedridden, shrunken figure, rarely leaving our bed.

While we had hoped to keep Shane at home and comfortable, his body and organs began to fail him, leading to his hospital admittance. In just two short weeks, he lost the ability to speak, as well as the ability to blink to signify “yes” or “no,” and even to squeeze my finger. He was fully alert inside, with all of the knowledge and emotions he’d always had, but he was completely unable to communicate any of it. Each night, after his mother had returned to our apartment and all visitors were gone, I would crawl up alongside him in bed. I would talk to him about my love for him, share the news of the day, and remind him of all the wonderful things we’d experienced together. I talked often of Italy and France… Of the countless kitties of the Pitti Palace. Of the jasmine-like scented grapes we ate in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. And of our last night ever of sex, in Rome, when it became clear the end would soon come.

Shane and friends - Boothbay Harbor, MaineI hold Shane up today, as I have continually over the twenty years since. In that time since, his dear mother has died and his beloved sister, whom I think he loved most of all, has bravely battled cancer. Shane’s best friend Vivian still lives on, but Shane’s L.A. circle of friends has drifted apart. We lost David to AIDS not long after Shane’s death. Another of the group with AIDS came close to dying, but through the miracles of an experimental treatment is alive today. I know Shane would be disappointed to know that this dear group of guys, with whom years of memories were made, would not survive his passing. In many ways, he was the glue, and his absence led to consequences none of us would have imagined.

Shane Michael SawickAnd so today, on the 20th anniversary of his last full day on earth, I hold up Shane Michael Sawick. Without loving him, I don’t think I would have come to love myself. Without him, I would never have become a writer. And without him, I couldn’t have grown up enough, to have explored myself enough, to be the father and partner that I am today.

Shane died on March 22, at 12:22am. He was surrounded by his family and friends, and we played a tape cassette of his beloved Bette Midler singing his favorite song, “Shiver Me Timbers,” as they pumped morphine into his veins and he took his last breath.

He will not be forgotten.


Interview with Award-Winning Novelist David Pratt

Looking After JoeyDavid Pratt, Lambda Award-winning novelist for Bob the Book, is back with a funny and touching new novel, Looking After Joey (Wilde City Press). In it, Calvin, a single accountant, must look after Joey, a porn character who unexpectedly steps through the TV into Calvin’s life–and can’t go back. Calvin’s friend Peachy comes to the rescue, declaring that he and Calvin will teach Joey what he needs to know to be a gay man in this world—from Cher and Liza to how to cross the street without getting hit. But on a deeper level Joey’s presence causes Calvin to reevaluate what he desires, and his yearning for connection propels everyone through the story, as they find themselves forming a family of choice.

As our work shares many themes, primarily those of love and family, I appreciated the time Pratt took to connect to discuss our definitions of family, particularly their meaning for us as gay men.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: David, thank you so much for taking the time to chat! As you know, I was a big fan of Bob the Book, and was so pleased to hear of your new novel. One of your gifts as a writer is in bringing objects to life. In Bob the Book, you animate a book, and in Looking After Joey, you create depths and layers in a porn character.

David Pratt: In Bob, I actually created humans in the guise of books, who live as books might if books were sentient. In Looking After Joey, it’s Joey’s vulnerability and curiosity that bring him alive. He’s a porn character who crosses into our world, like a baby bird fallen from the nest. His reactions to what we call “real life” are hilarious and touching. Or both at once, as when he sees his first handicapped person. There is humor to it, but the scene is also gripping.

Edwards-Stout: Key to my enjoyment of the book was the role that family plays in it. Your lead character, Calvin, is on a quest to find a relationship, but ends up finding much more than that. It occurred to me, though, that while I know much about you as a writer, I don’t know much about your personal life, aside from your relationship with your partner, Rogério. How did you meet him? (more…)


Rated G Radio Appearance

Looking forward to chatting once again with the personable Garrett Miller and Rated G Radio! Garrett Miller I’ll be on-air Thursday February 19, 7PM (Pacific), and while I have no idea what we’ll be talking about, our conversations are always stimulating!

UPDATE: It’s a good thing RatedGRadio​ is not televised, as my IPL photofacial today left me looking–well–lobsterish. Garrett Miller​, I look forward to talking to you tonight at 7PM Pacific. Anyone wanting to listen in or call with a question, check out the phone number and streaming broadcast here.


Fun to See Our Family on The Huffington Post!

Christmas 2011After being interviewed by Corinne Lightweaver of RaiseAChild.US for this The Huffington Post article, I flashed back to when I first met our youngest, Marcus, in his foster home. When my social worker and I walked up to the door, Marcus–without knowing me or why I was there–ran up and gave me a hug. I took that as a sign… (I ignored “the sign” of my next visit, when I took him to a park and he cried for two hours uncontrollably.)

There was also another child there at the foster home, Christian, who was about 11. He was a beautiful kid, loved basketball, and he asked if I was there to adopt Marcus. I told him that I might be, and it was clear to me that as happy as he was that Marcus might be adopted, he knew the chances for himself were slim. I walked away from that home happy that I’d just met the newest member of our family, but also sad that I couldn’t manage to take Christian as well…

Did you know that the number of LGBT people willing to fost-adopt children FAR OUTWEIGHS the number of kids in foster care??? Simply by making adoption by LGBT people across the U.S. legal, we could provide houses for all the kids in foster care. Astounding, and sad–for all the “Christians” in the world–that we can’t do just that.

Thanks to Corinne Lightweaver and Raise A Child, USA, for the chance to chat! Read the interview here!


My Son’s First Interview!

Wedding June 2014So proud that our older son, Mason, is turning into such a fine young man. He agreed to be interviewed by Rainbow Riot, which is a literary magazine for teen youth with LBGT parents, and he did such a great job. LOVE this kid! Check it out here!


Read It: Bob the Book

Bob the BookIf ever I become a book, I want to be like Bob. This Lambda Literary award-winning book by David Pratt is everything you want a book to be: smart, funny, thought-provoking, unique, and heartfelt. Admittedly, I had this sitting in my To Be Read pile for far too long, as I didn’t think I’d fully embrace a book about a book, but now that I have, I readily proclaim–I’m in love with Bob…

Now, how do I break up his current relationship with a cute hardback?David Pratt


Throwback Thursday: My Finest Acting Moment

DynastySo today’s ‪#‎TBT‬ comes with a story… When I started at UCLA, I wanted to be an actor. The truth was, though, that as I hadn’t yet explored my soul, I wasn’t very good; all artifice and posing. My favorite shows at the time were DYNASTY and KNOTS LANDING, and when they were on, I’d hide in my dorm room with a towel blocking the bottom of the door, so no one would think I was there and disturb me. I was convinced it was my destiny to end up on DYNASTY. I thought–if only the casting director would see me–they’d write a role for me as the teen son of Alexis: a brooding, sexy, tormented young man. I was so thoroughly certain this would happen that I actually practiced my DYNASTY title sequence, walking and turning to look directly into camera, smoldering, as if caught unaware.

As luck would have it, I heard about a special day-long Cold Reading class on campus, taught by none other than the casting director of DYNASTY. I knew that once I made an impression on him, I would find myself on the show. I spent much time picking out just the right outfit and concentrated on this brooding character I’d conjured in my imagination.

There were about 100 actors in the class that day, which was held in a lecture hall, so very little chance of me even meeting the man; still, I felt certain. The whole morning he talked about the key points to cold reading, which requires you to not have any preconceived ideas about the scene, as you have no time to even read it. It is all about being “in the moment.” Finally, as we broke for lunch, they announced that when we returned, one guy and one girl would be selected at random to cold read for the class. MY CHANCE–AT LAST!

All through lunch I ran through imaginary scenes in my head, each one more emotive and darker than the last. I probably even practiced my squinty “sexy pout” a time or two. After lunch, he asked for volunteers who wanted to read, and every hand in the class shot up, including mine. And he picked me! (I knew it!!!)

As the woman and I stood up and walked to the front of the room, we were handed our sides. We began to read, and I tackled it with all the force and passion I’d been storing up since my early days of first watching DYNASTY. I was intense, in a bad way–but befitting an Aaron Spelling production. I was Hamlet, only to find out mid-scene that the piece I was reading was witty, light Noel Coward-quipy comedy. I was utterly mortified, having committed to this part, but had no choice but to see my folly through to the end. After we finished and I returned to my seat, I could feel the other actors shrink away from me, fearful of catching my bad-acting bug.

Which is why I’m a writer.

‪#‎DontCountYourChickens‬ ‪#‎EpicFail‬ ‪#‎WorstAuditionEver‬ ‪#‎IamJoanCollinsSon‬


My Wedding Vows to Russ

Last night I was fortunate in finally being able to legally marry my wonderful Russ, after almost 12 years together. Our wedding had a French theme and was a joyous celebration of our love, commitment, and family. Thank you to all who attended, and for the support and well-wishes of our friends and family. Here are the vows I wrote and read, and the boys played a part in as well…

June 7, 2014

My beloved Russ,

We stand here today, before family and our dearest friends, entirely mindful that we are a product of our pasts. At the same time, we are fully invested in this sacred moment, publicly proclaiming our commitment to one another and detailing our vision for our collective future.  We can’t change where we’ve been, even if we wanted to, but together we can move forward with grace and consideration, charting together a map for the road we envision our lives to follow.

We both came into this relationship with a sense of purpose. As many people here know, we first met on Match.com. (I was attracted to his hair.)  Meeting with common intention, it took us a while to realize that the goals we’d each initially had had already been fulfilled. But the friendship that first formed between us during that on-again/off-again time provided the foundation for this life we now share.

As my profile back then stated, I lead an ordinary/extraordinary life. I was looking for someone to enhance the extraordinary factor, which you have in spades.

French writer Andre Breton noted that “Love is when you meet someone who tells you something new about yourself,” and you’ve done just that for me.  When we met, I was a struggling single dad, with an amazing two-year-old son and a dead-end job. While I’d had creative aspirations, I’d decided to focus on raising Mason, and my identity quickly narrowed. But in me, you saw a writer, and encouraged me to follow my passion.  You saw a person of spirit, and now our church family has become one of our strongest sources of support.  You saw more than my surface, and opened my eyes to the possibility of a new way of living.

One of the things I mentioned in my profile was that I was looking for someone to lovingly challenge me, and you’ve done that as well. While we initially saw our differences as obstacles—something to get over—we finally realized that these aspects of us were actually complementary. Your drive at work inspired my career determination. Your zeal for fitness inspired my love for boot camp.  And your creativity and unique take on the world helps inform everything from our home, to the trips we take, to our spirited family dinners. We continually bring out the best in each other, encouraging personal growth.

When it comes to our boys, you tend to not get the credit you deserve. Not only do you work tirelessly to create the best possible life for us, but your love, guidance, and support—even telling the kids five million times to pick up their clothes—all of that plays an instrumental role in shaping Mason and Marcus into becoming the best people they can be.

French dramatist Victor Hugo wrote, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”  Neither of us is perfect, and never will be. But despite that knowledge, we continue to love, and our love grows only stronger as the years progress.

It seems only fitting that we are now taking this step into matrimony. We could have done this before, but today the time, place, and the people feel “right.” We are both committed to each other, to our children, and to completing our journeys together. And so this I vow to you…

Trust. I was a bit bruised, lacking in the trust department, when we first met, but you quickly cured me of that with your forthrightness. I vow to you my trust.

Faith. I believe in you, Robert Russell Noe. You have such gifts and creativity, and I fully support who you are. I believe you can do anything you attempt, and I place in you my faith.

Commitment. You’re it. There will be no other. This I vow to you.

And, most importantly, but not lastly, love. I love you. I believe that somewhere along the line, you never received the vital message that you are worthy of love, and lovable. But you are. And I want you to feel love—to experience love—and vow to show you every day that you’re worthy of love.  

Mason: I vow to show you my love.

Marcus: I vow to show you how much I love you, Pappy.

And, finally, if there is anything lacking in our relationship, I think it is spontaneity and surprise. While we came together born of purpose, we didn’t have those fireworks and ringing bells—the romantic notion of love—that many have. You and I made the decision to be committed to each other and the kids, and in our day-to-day attempts to ensure we do everything necessary to keep our lives afloat, sometimes romance and surprise take a back seat to practicality. But that ends today. I vow to you, Russ, romance, spontaneity, and surprises…

And that starts right now. (I then launched into singing “La Vie en Rose” with guitar and accordion accompaniment–with the intro sung in French, which I don’t speak!)


GIFTS Named Finalist in 2014 Indie Book Awards!

awardMy thanks to the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for naming my collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, as a finalist in the LGBT category! It’s always gratifying to have others acknowledge your efforts, and I so appreciate this recognition.

I was honored when the Next Generation Indie Book Awards tapped my debut novel, Songs for the New Depression, for the top LGBT award in 2012, and having my next book be honored by them this year is humbling indeed.

Thank you!


Thank you, “Being Gay, Becoming Gray”

Much gratitude to the wonderful and inspiring Paul Boynton, author of “Begin with Yes,” who asked that I contribute something to his blog “Being Gay, Becoming Gray.” I appreciate the empowering site and accompanying Facebook messages, and I hope you’ll check out my contribution here. Thanks, Paul!


Free Short Story for Easter: The Stepping Stone

Gifts Not Yet GivenHi everyone! In celebration of Easter, I’m sharing with you a short from my collection Gifts Not Yet Given, which was included on multiple Best Books of 2013 lists. If you like it, the book is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers. I hope you enjoy it, and tell your friends!

Best wishes,
Kergan

 

The Stepping Stone

LOOKING AT HIS PALE, THIN TORSO lit by the unforgiving fluorescent, Gerald frowned.  His brittle arms hung limply at his sides and his sharply drawn face seemed composed only of triangles.  In all, there was something about his naked physique that reminded him of a plucked turkey.  Turning sideways, his gut jutted forth insistently, and it was clear to Gerald that his mother’s plan was succeeding.

Lolly had been clear from the beginning: she saw no career prospects for her son, given his interests in Star Wars, Star Trek, comic books, Japanese anime, and precious little else.  She could see no path forward for him, other than one she herself orchestrated.  While Gerald generally agreed that he lacked social graces and professional skills, having long been below average in all respects, there was something about his mother’s machinations that reminded him of Jabba the Hut.  And when Gerald really thought about it, the similarities didn’t end there.

His mother had always been corpulent, and her lumbering appearance at school events had filled him with shame ever since he could remember.  But, while embarrassed by her size, it was her demeanor that irked him most.  Lolly lacked faith in him, and in all of humanity, both of which she found continually disappointing.

Still, when she first learned that the mall was hiring, Gerald had been optimistic.  It was a stepping stone, she’d said, surely to lead to bigger and better things.  And, the first season in the role, he allowed himself to believe it.  It would be dealing with the public, challenging and improving his skills, but with a level of remove the costume allowed.  And it would be easy, he figured, to simply sit in a chair and wave.  But being the Easter Bunny turned out to be more difficult and less entertaining than he’d anticipated.

He was not allowed to hop out to his throne in the photo area; it was mandated that he walk, his hand held firmly by any of one of the part-time girls unattractive enough to have been denied employment by the mall’s hundred or so fashionable retail establishments.  Hopping had been deemed an insurance liability as well.  There was also an underlying fear that, mid-jump, he might somehow trip, sending his gigantic head rolling off and scaring the waiting line of children, which apparently had happened before.

In truth, there was never much of a line and it was easy for Gerald to see why.  The feeble Easter Bunny offerings could in no way match that of Santa Claus.  Kids looked forward to seeing Santa, to impart their holiday wishes, ask questions, or simply to get their annual photo taken.  With the Easter Bunny, the children generally didn’t have anything to say.  They’d sit, dutifully, and smile, but Gerald never received anything like “Hey, Easter Bunny, what are you gonna bring me this year?” as all knew the answer was “Eggs.”  Not much mystery or surprise.  At most, Gerald would get an “Aww, you’re so cute!,” to which he’d nod or pat the kid’s shoulder. 

Not that he could have responded any other way.  Unlike Santa, Gerald wasn’t allowed to speak.  Whereas the voice of Santa could be replicated, with his bellowing “ho-ho-ho’s,” no one quite knew what the Easter Bunny sounded like, and management was against the idea of Gerald talking, no matter how many different character voices he auditioned for them.

The biggest difference between the roles was that, with Santa Claus, the essence of the person playing the part still came through, despite the beard, padding, and round glasses.  Much could be communicated by the way the actor moved, spoke, laughed, raised his eyebrows, or smiled, whereas Gerald was saddled with a wire-framed helmet, through which he could see dimly through the darkened eye screens, the only light coming from its nostril holes.  It was easy to get depressed in the suit, which tended to accentuate his ongoing feelings of inadequacy.

After only a few hours on the job, Gerald’s hope that this would become, as Lolly said, a “stepping stone” was pretty much dashed.  He’d already been thrown up on—twice—and watched as a young girl ate her own boogers.  Still, Lolly was hopeful.

“It’s the first day,” she’d said.  “It’ll get better—mark my words.  Pretty soon you’ll own that mall.”

While Gerald knew this would not be the case, there was little else he could do but trudge on.  He made it through that season, and the next, and the next, until he had three seasons of Easter under his belt, which was beginning to feel increasingly tight.  Lolly had begun to fatten him up to better his chances of becoming Santa Claus.  Though still too young for the role, Gerald merely shrugged.  It did no good to argue with her.  Lolly had found him his first and only job thus far, which was much better than his own track record. 

The problem was, there wasn’t much he liked to do.  Add that to his few admirable qualities and even fewer skills, and about the only work for which he qualified was janitorial in nature, which simply would not do for Lolly.  She did, as she liked to say, “have standards.”  And so she continued to support her son, from one spring to the next, plying him with rich, fatty foods, in preparation for phase two of her plan. 

While Gerald didn’t especially want to be fat, he didn’t feel as if he had much choice.  After all, becoming Santa as well would mean that instead of being employed for only three weeks a year, he could add on an additional six.  To keep both jobs, though, the trick would be to become large enough for Santa, but still thin enough to be the Easter Bunny.  It was odd, really, because when Gerald thought about bunnies, they all came with a full, rounded silhouette.  The costume, however, was very trim, as if all rabbits were emaciated like Bugs Bunny.

And so he began his fourth spring season, thirty pounds heavier than his first, and found himself in the bleakly lit break room with its fidgety vending machine when Amy walked in.  She eyed him suspiciously, standing there in his rabbit suit, holding his head with one hand and a Snickers bar in the other.

“Nice,” she pronounced, but there was something about the way she stretched out the word, her voice arching high on the “I,” that made Gerald certain she hadn’t meant it as friendly.  Still, he couldn’t help but notice how smooth her skin looked, or the bewitching green of her eyes, or the wink she gave him as she headed into the women’s locker room.  Smiling to himself, he put his bunny head back on and hopped out to the photo area, management be damned.

It was a week before he next saw her, heading for the food court in her red, blue and yellow Hot Dog on a Stick uniform.  At least we have that in common, he thought.  Ugly costumes.

From talking to Jose, the counter help at Sbarro, he quickly learned her name—Amy, that she was five years younger—a senior in high school, and that she only worked weekends.  Which meant, as Easter was quickly approaching, Gerald had only one more weekend to make an impact—or at least a more positive impression than his first.

 

Gerald knew better than to share anything about Amy with Lolly, as she would poo-poo any prospect of love.  From his earliest years, he could remember her words and sayings hanging over him, slightly dampening his heart.  Yet she always delivered them as if she were being helpful, with the two of them co-conspirators of some sort.

“You know, love, that math isn’t your best subject!  Or science.  Or—.  Hmm…  Well, gee!  Guess you can’t have everything!”

 “It’s you and me, kid, til the day we die,” she’d grin.  “Who else would have us, right?”

“Lord knows you didn’t inherit my smarts, but I’m sure God gave you something!  It’s our job to figure out what.”

“It’s terrible, really, the way your face turned out, but you’ll grow into your looks, some day,” she’d chuckle.  “That’s what prayer is for!”

It was as if, with every remark, she was giving both smile and slap.  It was odd, really, to live with someone, to have been born of them, to have someone so close, and yet feel as if they hated you.  Lolly was never out rightly mean; instead, she coated each bullet with a titter, as if she didn’t mean it.  Still, Gerald felt certain that she did.

Before meeting Amy, he thought this was to be his destiny: Lolly, the occasional job, and his bedroom, where he ate, read, slept, and stayed.  Stepping out from his room was reserved only for bathroom breaks or a quick dart to the kitchen or front door.  He rarely engaged Lolly, though she would go to great lengths to zero in on him.  She was constantly offering food, or a bit of news, or the offer of a backrub.  But as time went on, Gerald, who had once acquiesced to her every request, found himself saying no much more often.

And Lolly noticed.

 

The next Saturday, Gerald arrived at the mall at 8:00 A.M., though Amy didn’t usually get there until 9:30.  He wanted to ensure that there was no possibility of missing her, and so he sat in his car, near the entrance, binoculars at his side. 

Conscious of his previous attire, Gerald had taken great pains in his appearance.  He’d woken, in the middle of the night, to clandestinely iron one of his few clean button-down shirts.  After returning to a fitful sleep, he envisioned several different scenarios in which he’d best connect with Amy, but none felt exactly right.  Finally, at 7:00 A.M., he showered, shaved, put on after-shave, and even did 10 push-ups, which felt a little bit like victory.  He did all of this quietly, in order not to wake his mother.  He had no idea that Lolly had lain rigid, eyes open, staring at the ceiling, listening to every creak and moan the old house made.  He couldn’t fool her, for Lolly was a sly one.

Once she’d noticed the change in his demeanor, she immediately took to root out its cause.  It bothered her to no end that Gerald had changed—or rather—that something out of her control was changing him, leaving her in the cold.  She had a right to know what was happening, she reasoned, and one morning waited, until he’d left for work, to strike.

Peering out the window, she watched as his taillights disappeared, then quickly headed into the kitchen.  Pulling open the door to the laundry room, she rummaged about, reemerging with a pair of rubber cleaning gloves.  Slipping them on, she tiptoed to Gerald’s door, though there was no reason to do so. 

Inside, the air of the room was sour, and the scent of something strong—was it pizza?—filled the air.  Resisting the urge to open the window, Lolly surveyed Gerald’s room.  It was just as she’d expected: clothes, shoes, and silly comic books strewn about the floor, his trashcan overflowing with crumpled papers and soda cans, and a thin layer of dust coating the dresser and TV set.  Again resisting the urge, this time to clean, Lolly skillfully stepped through the mess, careful not to disturb a thing. 

Quietly, she opened each dresser drawer, lifting the clothes and searching with her fingers, like a sieve combing through sand.  Aside from some loose change and three dog-eared Playboy magazines, the dresser had been a bust.

Crossing to the closet, Lolly slowly pulled out the hinged shutters, fearing God-knows-what could suddenly come tumbling forth.  But the closet was relatively bare.  It seemed that most everything previously contained within currently blanketed the carpet, creating a patchwork quilt of clothing.  Rifling through the few shoe boxes on the top shelves, Lolly was disappointed to find nothing but shoes.  She felt through pants and jacket pockets, picked up and examined every t-shirt, sniffing each, hoping to detect a lingering scent, until she picked up a hand-towel which she was fairly certain had been abused.

Her hunt seemed to be in vain until, underneath the bed, Lolly finally struck gold.  She discovered several spiral notebooks, bound together with thick rubber bands.  Gerald had never been a particularly good student, so it wasn’t likely that he’d saved homework. 

Pulling out one from the bottom, she opened it, and was astonished to find herself facing one of the most beautiful pencil drawings she’d ever seen.  She wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, but it looked quite futuristic in nature.  Some kind of unique creature; half-animal, half-human.  But what really took her breath away was how life-like it was.  Staring into its eyes, Lolly almost felt threatened, as if this beast could leap from the page, taking her down in one swoop.

Flipping through the binders, she found more and more images.  Some were just quick sketches, but others were so detailed they could have been hung in a museum.  Certain pages, Lolly averted her eyes, as there were drawings of enlarged genitalia, of both genders, with people and creatures involved in all manner of unspeakable activity.  And yet, mixed between the filth were pages of unfathomable beauty: lush gardens, with flowers, and magnificent structures.  Imperial kings and monsters of every kind.  One sketch, of an old and large woman, staring directly at the viewer, giving them the finger, even looked suspiciously like Lolly.

She pored through each, mystified that these had been crafted by her son.  How could Gerald be the source for both such splendor and depravity?  He’d never shown the slightest proclivity toward art, nor any other form of creativity for that matter.  And, even if these were his creations, why had he kept them hidden?  It would have saved me years of worrying, Lolly admitted to herself.  He actually has a marketable skill, after all.  Just think of the money we could make!

Lolly put such thoughts aside, as tailoring a career plan for Gerald would have to wait.  Knowing now just how much he had kept hidden, Lolly was determined to discover the source of his sudden and unwelcome happiness.  It wasn’t that she didn’t want him to be happy, exactly, but she wanted to be the inspiration for such happiness.  It was disquieting to think that someone or something had found a way to intervene, allowing a sinister cloud to hover above their previously happy existence.

Picking up the final spiral, Lolly immediately soured.  Drawn on the front was an elaborate heart, out of which poured music notes, hot dogs—even a bunny.  She was very confused, for Gerald had never been the sentimental type.  The matter became clear when she saw what was inside.  Page after page of a woman—the same woman.  Or girl.  Lolly wasn’t quite sure.  The image was youthful, but there was something stylized about the way she’d been drawn that made her feel a little too coquettish; indeed, she looked more than a bit slutty.  While some poses were simple and casual, in others she was dressed in what looked like leather, or with devil ears, or bearing a whip.  In one, she was doing something awful with a corndog.

Lolly put down the books with a sigh.  She’d known that this day would come, eventually, but that didn’t mean she liked it.  After all, most girls were irritating and Lolly knew Gerald wasn’t bright or interesting enough to keep their focus for long.  But this one—Gerald was clearly transfixed and it would have to be dealt with.

Restacking the notebooks in the order in which they’d been found, Lolly bound them.  Surveying the room, which looked just as it had when she’d entered, Lolly felt confident her intrusion would not be noticed and quickly scurried out to begin crafting a plan of her own.

As he sat in his car, waiting for Amy, Gerald knew none of this.  He was so focused on the employee entrance, not wanting to miss his beloved, that he never saw his mother’s battered Oldsmobile enter the lot and park on the periphery, some distance away.

 

It was nearing 9:30 A.M., when both he and Amy were expected, but she still hadn’t shown.  Gerald felt a growing sense that something was wrong, that she wasn’t coming.  And so it was with relief that he suddenly spotted her, pulling her silver Hyundai into a shaded spot and installing her car sunblock above the dash.  He noticed her checking her makeup, and as she pulled out lipstick, carefully applying it to her puckered mouth, Gerald couldn’t help but wish that the tube were him.  As she stepped from her car, Gerald did the same.  He was hoping to make their meeting look casual, sauntering toward the entrance as nonchalantly as he could.  As they got closer, someone behind called out “McAllister!” and Gerald felt a firm hand clamp down upon his shoulder.

 “Saw you coming in—cutting it a bit late, are we?” Tony grinned as Gerald turned toward him. While irritated at having his plan interrupted, he was also nervous to see his boss as the cause.  They rarely spoke and when they did it was usually because Gerald had done something wrong.

“Aww—I still have plenty of time,” Gerald whined.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Amy enter the break room and tried to steer Tony toward it.  “The costume doesn’t take that long.”

“I’m just joshin’ you, McAllister,” snorted Tony.  “Relax!”

“Yeah,” attempted Gerald, “I knew that.”  He stared toward the break room, knowing it held both Amy and the entrances to the locker rooms.  In one, Amy would be changing, and he should be in the other.  He glanced at the clock behind Tony, wishing he’d get to the point.

Seeing his eyes dart to the time, Tony turned to him.  “Forget about the kids, McAllister.  Who cares if the Easter Bunny is a little late?  It gives their folks more time to shop!” he laughed, though he wasn’t remotely funny.

Gerald smiled, because he knew he should, and waited.

“What I’m thinking, kid, what I wanted to talk to you about, is Christmas.”  Gerald stood, nodding, as he counted the minutes ticking by.  Amy needed to be at the food court soon, leaving him little time to act.  “I know you wanna be Santa,” Tony continued.  “You’ve made that clear from day one.  And I gotta admit, I thought it would be years before you’d be ready.  But you’ve impressed me, truly.  The skills you’ve brought to the Easter Bunny…”  Gerald had no idea what Tony was talking about.  Skill?  He sat there, dead as a doornail, and sometimes waved.  “And all of those funny voices you’ve done for us—Wow.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ferraro,” Gerald said, nonetheless.  “I’m glad you’re pleased.”

“And skinny!  Boy, when you first walked through the door, I thought, no way!  Unh huh—No Santa for McAllister.  But today…” With a smile, Tony gestured, as if Gerald’s belly had won an award.  “Just look at you!”

Gerald tried to smile.  This was what he’d wanted, after all.  What he’d worked for.  And here it was, being offered to him on a silver platter.  Lolly would be so pleased.  Then it hit him.  None of this had been what he wanted.  This dream had been Lolly’s, right from the start.  Even as he shook Tony’s hand and headed toward the break room, he felt his stomach turn.  While Gerald had no grand vision for himself, nor any idea of what he wanted to be doing, fattening himself up just to be Santa Claus was not it. 

Amy stepped from the women’s locker room, bobby-pinning her hat, and almost collided with him.

“Sorry!” she squeaked.  “My bad!” 

Gerald stopped her.  “Wait!”

She looked at him square on, expectantly.  While Gerald may not have known what he wanted to do with his life, it was clear, as he looked at her, that he wanted Amy.

“I’m Gerald,” he managed.

“Yeah, I know.” she said, smiling.  “The Easter Bunny, right?” Amy laughed, connecting the dots. 

“Yes,” Gerald said, ducking his head.  He wasn’t certain if her laugh was playful or mocking, but either way, he liked the sound of it.

“Wow—that means you only have one more week’s worth of work, huh?”

“Yep,” he nodded.  “And you only work weekends?”

“If it were up to me, I’d work every day.  I love it,” she smiled.  “But my parents—well, they’re strict about a work/life balance and homework and shit.”  Even the way she said “shit” Gerald found appealing.

“Could—um?” Gerald stuttered, trying to find the words to ask her out.

Amy glanced at the clock and Gerald knew his moment was passing.  “Would you like to go out with me?” he asked.

She looked at him, surprised, and was about to respond when a call rang out.

“Yoo-hoo, hon!”  Gerald spun about, to see Lolly standing behind, bagged lunch held high.  “You forgot something!”

Incensed, Gerald stepped toward Lolly, only to see Amy shrug and grin, darting off toward her job with a wave.  Lolly had ruined his moment.

“What are you doing here, Mom?” he mumbled crossly, attempting to remain calm.

“I just thought you’d be hungry,” she smiled sweetly, swinging the bag in front of him. 

“You know I don’t bring my lunch!” He could feel heat rising from his skin, his face flushing in anger.

“That was before your big promotion,” Lolly laughed, gaily.  “Only a few more months before your debut!”

“How—?”  Gerald’s confusion quickly cleared as he put the pieces together.  Lolly had engineered his first job and would engineer his last.

Abruptly turning on his heels, Gerald walked away, slamming the men’s door behind him.

For a moment, Gerald waited, half expecting his mother to follow.  Catching his breath, he could not believe what a dunce he’d been.  All these years, he’d followed his mother’s orders, her every wish, simply to make her happy.  What about his own happiness?  Had he ever had it?  Or had Lolly snuffed it out, like a candle flame between two fingers?

Gathering himself, he quickly dressed, determined to be the best damn Bunny imaginable.  Lolly may have gotten him the job, and even orchestrated the promotion, but Gerald alone could create success or failure.  He had that in his power, and he knew he had something to prove: to Lolly, to Amy, and, most of all, to himself.

 

Later that night, Gerald opened the front door as quietly as he could.  Peering into the living room, he saw that all lights were on, which was odd, but the house felt quiet. Seeing lights on in the kitchen as well, Gerald silently crossed toward it.  Stepping in, he found Lolly, dressed nicely, sitting at a set table.  She’d used the nice silver and even opened a bottle of wine, though she never drank.  She hadn’t heard him come in, but looked up, noticing him, and smiled.

“There you are!” she tottered, as if they hadn’t experienced anything out of the norm.

Gerald stood, staring at her.  This is the woman who has made my life miserable, he thought.  My mother.  My only living relative.  And all she wants is for me to be unhappy.

Something on his face must have registered with Lolly, as she immediately changed tact.

“I was only trying to help, dear,” she admitted.  “You would’ve never gotten that job without a little nudging.  I was hoping we could celebrate!”

He stood, stalk-still, and his silence—his strength—scared her.

“Was I wrong to do that?” Lolly asked, confused that her efforts had not been inspiring.  He should be grateful, she figured.

Gerald simply turned, leaving his mother alone at her table, and went into his room, closing the door firmly behind.

Lolly sat, her blood beginning to boil.  She’d been directly and resolutely shut out by her child, for whom she’d done everything.  Who was this harlot who had him so smitten?  How could she have so quickly enraptured him, leading him to rebuke his own mother?  She must be dealt with—that much seemed clear.  The question was, how?

 

Gerald was up half the night, determining how best to proceed, and had come up with a plan.  It was simple, clean, and seemed foolproof.  He packed up some clothes, toiletries, and the money he’d hoarded from his annual job, which turned out to be quite a lot, as Lolly had always paid for everything.  But he knew he couldn’t count on that anymore, and wouldn’t have wanted to anyway.

Creeping outside at 3:00 A.M., he put the things into his trunk, closing it as quietly as he could.  Looking up toward the house, he saw a curtain shift, ever so slightly, and knew he was being watched.

More determined than ever, he walked back inside, calmly turned off his light, and went to bed.

 

The next morning, Gerald awoke with a start to realize he’d overslept.  After a speed shower, he was off, leaving Lolly and house receding in his rearview mirror.  Just a few minutes later, however, Lolly herself emerged from the house, and the look on her face was one that would’ve scared a cat.  Checking her rather large bag, which matched her outfit perfectly, she patted something within with what looked almost like affection.

Pulling into the mall lot, Gerald saw that Amy’s car was already parked, sunblock up as usual, and knew he wouldn’t have much time before her shift began.  Running inside, he took great care with the wrapped package tucked under arm, as if it were fragile as glass.  But Amy was already at work, leaving Gerald’s only option to intersect her on break.  He placed the package carefully in his locker, dressed, and began his trek out to the photo area.  He didn’t see Lolly, sitting some distance away, obscured by a rather large sunhat and dark glasses.  But she saw him.

 

The line that day seemed endless; partly due to the encroaching holiday and partly as Gerald’s thoughts never really left Amy.  While in his mind he saw them together forever, what he really wanted, more than anything, was a date.  A simple meal or coffee at which they could talk, shedding ridiculous costumes, work, and problems far behind.  After all, he wasn’t even sure if they were, in fact, like-minded.  For example, what kind of music did she listen to?  While he had a hard time envisioning her singing along to pop, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility either.  She could be into rock, or emo, or even blues, for all he knew.  There was an element of retro about her, which led him to believe her musical tastes would somehow surprise, but until they talked, face-to-face, he couldn’t know for sure.

Gerald had never experienced the slightest discomfort wearing the bunny suit, but today he did.  It was itching and constricting, and he couldn’t wait to get out of it.  He realized that was the same feeling that he’d felt that morning, just before leaving Lolly’s.  He’d been trapped, all these years, lulled into obedience, but the simple idea that something more was possible gave him hope, fueling his desire to smash the chains and, once and for all, set himself free.

At break time, Gerald quickly shed his skin, neglecting his meal, and ran to the food court, package carefully tucked under arm.  It was peak time for lunch, but Gerald knew this was his only chance.  It was now or never. 

Lolly was there as well, eyeing him over a magazine, from which her dark round sunglasses protruded, accentuating her mammalian features.  She watched as he approached Hot Dog on a Stick and noted how nervous he was.  Gerald eyed the long line, then tried to catch Amy’s eye, but she and her co-worker were oblivious.  Lolly saw him circle about the stand, trying to find a way to make contact, before glancing to the clock hanging inside.  He had little time to make his move and Lolly noted confidently that he would likely choke, simple as that, relieving her of the need to intervene.

Knowing his time was limited, Gerald was undeterred, and shoved his way past the line of people.

“Hey!” someone shouted.  “We’ve been waiting!”

Gerald ignored the man, instead calling out, “Amy!”  Startled, she turned, almost spilling the lemonade she’d been filling. 

“What are you doing here?” she hissed.  “I could get fired!”

He shook his head, as if he knew better.  “I just need a minute.  Please!”

Amy exchanged glances and shrugs with the other counter girl, then motioned.  “Go down the hall.  First door on your left.”  He virtually ran to it, waiting for her to unlock it from within.  The minute she opened it, he stepped in, shutting it behind.

They stood for a moment, neither quite sure where this was going.  The kitchen area was warm, and the din of the crowd just on the other side could still be heard, making their already urgent moment even more urgent.

“Yes…?” she led.  “What was so important?”

“I—You’re only here today.  Then you’re not back until next weekend, and I’ll be gone,” he noted insistently.

“Okay.  So?”

He sighed.  She wasn’t making this easy.  But then he realized his conversations with her had always been, until now, in his head.  She wasn’t privy to his thoughts and how most revolved around her.  She didn’t know that he had his car packed up—ready to go where, he wasn’t quite clear.  But he knew he had to tell her.

“I—I think I’m—” he stuttered.

“I have to get back to work,” she urged.

Gerald couldn’t think of the right words to say.  It seemed a lifetime with Lolly had drained his every ounce of courage.  Instead of talking, he thrust the package he’d been holding awkwardly into her hands.

“A present?” she managed.  “Whatever for?”

“Just open it,” Gerald managed, conscious that time was ticking quickly past.

Amy unwrapped it, revealing a beautiful portfolio.  “But—”

He motioned for her to continue.  Unlatching the clasp, she began looking through the pages, at the pictures of her, each more unique than the last.

“I—Is this me?” Amy was in awe.  No one had ever done anything like it.  There were drawings of her on horseback, as a warrior, fairy, dancer, and more, all in fantastically ornate settings.  She motioned to one.  “Is that me as Princess Naboo?”

Gerald was amazed that she knew his favorite Star Wars character.  “Yes,” he smiled.  “Do—do you like it?”

She couldn’t even respond.  It seemed overwhelming.  Here he’d been, in the same mall, watching her, and yet she had barely noticed him.  It was a lovely gesture and there was something about his timidity and artistry that made her want to know him better.  She looked up into his eyes and what she saw there startled her: if you could envision him without the extra weight, he was actually quite handsome.

Reaching up, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Can we meet for dinner tomorrow?  My treat!”

Gerald could barely believe his good fortune.  “I—uh—Sure!” he smiled.

She turned, stashing the portfolio on the supply rack.  “Sorry to art and run, but I need to get back!”

He nodded, realizing that he was already late for his post.  Turning, he left, back out the hallway to the food court.  Both he and Amy emerged, only to face Lolly, hat and glasses off.  She stood next to the waiting line of customers, and spoke, addressing both them and the line.

“Here they are!” she bellowed.  “My son—and his harlot…”

No one knew just quite to make of her, but Gerald felt himself sinking within.  He had no idea what she was up to, but he knew Amy would likely not be interested in someone with a mother such as his.  He tried to stop her.

“Mother…” he hissed.

Lolly ignored him, instead approaching the counter and leaning in toward Amy, who was trying her best to ignore her and focus on her waiting customer.

“Sweet talk you, did he?” Lolly grinned.  “Show you his drawings?”  Though talking amiably and quietly, there was nothing remotely charming about Lolly.  “Pretty, aren’t they?  You probably felt all special, knowing of his little crush on you.”

Amy turned to her customer.  “Just the lemonade?”  Instead of answering, the customer took a good look at Lolly and backed quickly away.  Amy turned, to see what had repelled her customer, only to find herself staring at a large drawing of herself, doing intimate things with a corndog.

“Oh my God—”

Lolly laughed, turning about so that everyone around her could see the picture, which she’d had enlarged.  She nodded toward Gerald, “He seems so innocent, doesn’t he?  All doe-eyed and sad.  Pathetic really.  Still, I could see how you might feel sorry for him.  Bet you’d even date him, huh?  Except for this.”

She continued to display the image and was gathering quite a crowd.  Amy whispered to her co-worker, “Get security.” 

Gerald stood, somewhat helpless.  His every hope, his window of freedom, seemed to be closing.  And it was all his doing.  He’d allowed his desire for Amy to morph into a weapon, designed solely for him.

“You’re crazy, Mother.”  The words came so quietly, they were almost inaudible.  But Lolly heard them.  She turned, quite quickly.

“Come with me.  We’re going home.”

“No, we’re not,” he replied, as calmly as he could.  “I’m not going with you.  I am not coming home.  Ever again.”

The words were like shrapnel and the cry Lolly uttered as she sunk to her knees filled the food court, echoing out in ripples.  Falling down, sobs wracked her large frame, but no one made a move to help her.

Gerald looked to his mother, then to Amy.  Amy’s eyes were on his, locked, and he nodded to her.  “How about we make that date right now instead?”

Nodding, Amy backed into the kitchen area, reemerging from the hallway with the portfolio in hand.  Lolly had repulsed her, but there was something about the way Gerald responded that made Amy think there might be more to him than she’d imagined.  He’d been chivalrous and kind, and that strength needed to be rewarded.  Besides, even if Lolly had meant to scare her with that erotic drawing, it only served to make Gerald infinitely more intriguing. 

Lolly looked up, her face streaked with tears and makeup, just as Amy reached out, taking Gerald’s hand.  They walked away, never looking back.  The job she’d envisioned as a stepping stone had indeed been just that, but instead of bringing her and Gerald even closer, it had proven a toe-hold to a path that would only take him further and further away. 

Pulling herself up from the ground, she glanced around at all of the people staring.  She had no idea what to do or where to go. 

With a resigned sigh, she turned back to the abandoned counter girl.  “Gimme a corndog.”  And she was given one, immediately.  On the house.

Gifts Not Yet Given is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.


Interview with Author of Out Gay Star Leslie Cheung’s Biography

Book Cover - Leslie Cheung - FinalA film and music superstar in his homeland of Hong Kong and throughout Asia, Leslie Cheung broke barriers as an out gay man, finding international success acting in such films as Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. Acclaim, awards, and fans followed, which made it all the more shocking when, on April 1, 2003, Cheung lept from the 24th floor of a hotel room to his death. Nigel Collett’s extraordinarily detailed new biography provides a glimpse into Cheung’s path to stardom, his relationships and struggles, and the pitfalls of fame. The author of Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Collett kindly shared more with me about the man ranked as the favorite actor in the 100 years of Chinese cinema and whom CNN called the “Most Beautiful Man from Hong Kong Cinema.”

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Like many Americans, Leslie Cheung first appeared on my radar with his starring roles in Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. You had a similar experience. What is your earliest recollection of him?

Nigel Collett: I watched Farewell My Concubine in ’97 and saw him then onscreen for the first time. Alas, I never met him or saw him in the flesh, though I was in Hong Kong the day he died, and drove by the Mandarin Hotel when the mountain of flowers was being gathered on the road side where he fell. As I discovered more about him, I came to see the story as a classic tragedy–a gay man brave enough to be himself in the brash entertainment world of this city, felled from a uniquely prominent position by a condition beyond his control.

Edwards-Stout: Long before making a splash in the U.S., Cheung was a huge star in Hong Kong and Asia. You write about how, for almost 30 years, he was at the forefront of the Asian art and music scene.

Collett: Leslie overcame a complete absence of education or training to establish himself first as a TV star, then as a film star and singer, by dint of his own talent and irrepressible self-confidence. He was in the forefront of all the major entertainment waves that turned Hong Kong into an independent cultural entity in the ‘80s and ‘90s and for many he came to encapsulate the city itself. His appeal was far wider, though, for his films and music reached out to Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the great Chinese diaspora across the world. He is probably the biggest Hong Kong star worldwide ever.

Leslie CheugnEdwards-Stout: Like many struggling actors and singers, Cheung didn’t experience fame immediately. He had a great number of steps forward, only to face setbacks. What about his personality was instrumental in moving himself toward success?

Collett: Leslie had huge belief in himself. In his early days, no one thought he could sing, and no one taught him to act. He had huge dedication and patience in getting what he did exactly as he wanted it to be. He was humble enough to learn from other stars and to credit them when he did, but he was never a follower. He was always seeking to take his art to the next level, to be cutting edge. He had no typical role or single type of music. His career was a flowing pattern of development and change.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung was friendly with Danny Chan, a fellow entertainer and Hong Kong star, but eventually their friendship ended. What brought them together, and what drove them apart?

Collett: Leslie and Danny were brought together by a gay star of an earlier generation, the highly flamboyant Roman Tam. They were both gay, both unattached, and though they weren’t each other’s types, they were looking for fun. They burned the midnight oil together. It was showbiz that broke them apart. Danny’s singing career took off first, and he was at the start a classier act on screen. Leslie had to play second fiddle, and didn’t enjoy that. It was Danny, though, who caused the breach. He could see Leslie was by far the better actor and resented him. After the breach, there’s no sign Danny minded much, but Leslie did.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung first found international recognition through his starring role in John Woo’s film, A Better Tomorrow, and later with Farewell My Concubine. How did Cheung deal with this increased level of notoriety?

Collett: Leslie was always conflicted about his fame. Stardom and success was what he sought, but he did not like the shallow lifestyle and perpetual hounding by the media which it brought. He wanted to treat people honestly and live what most would have felt was almost a simple life, but he couldn’t. He hated the way the media lied about him and hounded him about his sexual orientation. It drove him to Canada to escape and be himself, but he couldn’t shake off the need to achieve, to be a star. It was one of the conflicts, I guess, that came together in the clinical depression which eventually killed him.

Edwards-Stout: You write extensively about Cheung’s success in music, with which many Americans may not be familiar…

Collett: Leslie started out wanting only to be a singer, but he couldn’t sing. Audiences taunted him with having a ‘chicken’ thin voice and booed him off stage. It took him years of training and working on his voice before he could turn his belief in his voice into reality. When he did, he found the sweetest, silkiest Cantonese singing voice of his generation. He could be really raucous and loud, too; some of his early numbers were more like western sixties rock than anything of the time, but he got them dancing in the aisles at all his shows

leslie daffyEdwards-Stout: While initially, in his early days of stardom, Cheung publicly dated women, you detail his life as a gay man. Eventually, he came out as openly gay, which is rare for any celebrity, let alone in his cultural environment. In sketching out Cheung’s early days, you note that nothing about his story foretold the fame he would eventually achieve. But what led to his strength in living as an openly gay star?

Collett: I think it was the same huge belief in himself that made him a successful performer and allowed him to come out in public, something no other major Hong Kong star had done and which none would do again till 2013. His coming out was helped by the megastar status he had achieved. Before he reached his pinnacle, he had to be as discreet as most. By the time he was back in Hong Kong in the ‘90s, he was virtually unassailable. Even them he wrapped himself in a cloud of uncertainty which only gradually dissipated. Many young gay men today accuse him of timidity, but I think that is totally unfair. For his day, he was the bravest man in Hong Kong’s entertainment world. At the end of his life, he had given Hong Kong the message that it didn’t matter whether you loved a man or a woman, as long as you loved. That was revolutionary back then.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung took a huge leap, starring in the gay-themed Happy Together, which he knew would likely lead to being asked about his sexuality.

Collett: Leslie’s acceptance of an openly gay, and in fact a very sluttish, role in Happy Together was, I think, timed deliberately. He was in the process of drawing back the veil about himself. Hong Kong was gradually changing, opening up a little. It was time, he thought, to push the envelope. Wong Kar Wai’s art house films were as safe a way to do this as any. He was expected to be outrageous, off beat. In the event, the film had no adverse effect on Leslie or his career at all, rather it helped establish his position as an actor internationally.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung found happiness in his relationship with Daffy Tong, his childhood friend and later lover, who survived him in death. What made their relationship work?

Collett: Daffy was the rock on which Leslie stood. His mercurial talent needed a stable base from which to flourish. Daffy put up with it all, never let him down, never betrayed him, was always there to go back to. More than this, Daffy was a highly talented man, a financial expert who could manage their joint lives and relieve Leslie of all their worries. Daffy, too, was an elegant, very attractive man. They were opposites that made a whole.

Edwards-Stout: Battling depression, Cheung eventually took his own life. In your view, was this a result of years spent living in the closet, mental health issues, career challenges…?

Collett: There must have been things that sparked off the depression which killed Leslie, but we don’t really know what. It had to be something to do with his career, perhaps the attacks he’d received in his last world tour concerts, or his personal life, conflicted thoughts about his mother, maybe. Once it took hold, the depression was both physically and mentally debilitating, humiliating to a man who had always put such store by his abilities, looks and relationship with his public. It destroyed his life to such an extent that it was better to abandon all he loved and die rather than carry on. That point of blackness is inconceivable to anyone who has not gone through such mental pain. The effect of mental illness is still a taboo subject in Hong Kong, and Chinese society generally. Leslie’s life will help those families struggling with depression to know it can affect anyone, that it is just a medical condition, and that you have to get help.

Edwards-Stout: In life and death, Cheung has amassed a devoted following of fans. What do they gravitate to, and what legacy has he left them?

Collett: Leslie’s fans came to him through their love of his music and his performances on the screen, both large and small, but they stayed with him, and even now, over 11 years after his death, they stay with him because of his warmth, simplicity and humbleness of character. Leslie valued people for who they were, no matter how great or small their place in the world. He was kind, genuine, and generous. He touched each of the fans he came in contact with, and they love him still.

Nigel Collett’s Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing can be found at Amazon and other fine booksellers. Originally posted on KerganEdwards-Stout.com.


Thanks to Author Carey Parrish for His Lovely Review of GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN!

Gifts Cover Low Res (427x640)I so appreciate the lovely review of Gifts Not Yet Given at Sole Focus. Carey Parrish is a talented author (Marengo and Big Business) whose books I’ve enjoyed and I was delighted to read his review of my new book. In part, his review reads:

Very few writers can touch a reader’s heart but Kergan Edwards-Stout knows how to do just that. Gifts Not Yet Given easily jumped onto my top ten books read in the past year and it will remain a favored selection in my library. With so many writers competing in the literary world today, it takes a true author to rise above the pack, and Mr. Edwards-Stout is one of those few gifted storytellers.

His full review can be found here.  Thank you, Carey!


Garrett Miller: Chasing His Dreams with Eyes Wide

Garrett Eyes Wide iTunes CoverGarrett Miller’s Rated G Radio is burning up the airwaves every weeknight, covering the latest in news, entertainment, and culture, culminating in a Friday night dance party. In addition, he’ll be joining Lance Bass for a day as co-host of Dirty Pop on Sirius XM OutQ 109 on Tuesday, February 18th from 3:00-5:00 PST. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Miller when my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, was released, and meeting him later in person, I was struck by the drive he’s shown in ensuring his dreams come to fruition. Not only is he active with his radio show, but Garrett is also a singer, with a new song, “Eyes Wide”, and accompanying EP. Just a year ago, however, he had none of these  and was on a completely different life path. Graciously, Garrett agreed to chat about his radio show, singing career, and what led him to change course at this point in his life.

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Garrett, thanks so much for making time to catch up. We first met when you interviewed me for your Rated G Radio, and it’s fun to be on the other side of the interview for a change! (more…)


GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN is on ANOTHER “Best Books of 2013” list!

Gifts Not Yet GivenMany thanks to the fun blog of Canadian Brahm Kornbluth for including Gifts Not Yet Given in his Alfred Lives Here top 5 book list for 2013. I was honored he included my debut, Songs for the New Depression, on his list last year, and flattered to find Gifts there this year! He says of Gifts:

The second book from an author who was on the list last year, Gifts Not Yet Given is a collection of short stories, a format which unusually doesn’t hook me, but these did. Three stories stayed with me: “The Stepping Stone” about a geeky son and his mother from hell, “Holes” about a life devastated by disease, and the title story about a family still struggling with a choice long in their past. These stories are original and intriguing, and the characters are strong and flawed, loving and broken.


GIFTS NOT YET GIVEN Lands on a “Best Books of the Year” List!

Gifts Not Yet GivenHow could my day possibly get any better??? Well, by finding out that my new book, Gifts Not Yet Given, made a “Best LGBTQ Books of the Year” list! WOO HOO!

“Edwards-Stout writes beautifully, and the stories are charming and uplifting.”

Thank you, Queer Books with Julie!


This Holiday, Share Your Gay Gifts with the World

Like many other LGBT people, I grew up thinking that I was all alone in the world. I knew of no other gay folks, either in or out of the closet, and this absence of role models likely contributed to my then sense of solitude. It didn’t help that within my own dysfunctional family, I had secrets to keep about who I was, which created a wall between me and them. In those pre-internet days, I would scour every book and newspaper in hopes of finding the slightest reference that someone else might be gay like me.

At Christmas time, I have fond memories of watching The King Family TV holiday specials in the 1960s and 70s, where a large family of varied talents would gather together in a faux-living room to sing and spread holiday cheer. There was something so nurturing about the bonds the family seemed to share, which gave me not only comfort, but an idea of what family could actually be. Still, while I wanted to be a part of that family–to be loved and valued as one of its own–I didn’t see myself reflected in the faces staring back. Would it have made a difference to have known that one of the King Family was actually gay?

King Family member Cam Clarke was then only a child himself, but would go on to be a sought after voice-over artist and out gay man later in life. Indeed, as we celebrate the holiday season, it is difficult to separate the season from the LGBT individuals who helped contribute to it through their creations of song and craft.

You can’t get through the holidays without catching a refrain from one of renowned vocalist Johnny Mathis‘ countless Christmas classics, yet how many will know that Mathis is an out gay man? Think of the dazzling (if over-priced) ornaments created by famed designer Christopher Radko, also a gay man. Indeed, in towns all across America, audiences will flock to see ballet performances of The Nutcracker, unaware that its composer, Tchaikovsky, was gay. Writers as distinctive as Truman Capote and David Sedaris have shared Christmas memories through their books. Victorian poet Christina Georgina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Love Came Down at Christmas” were both turned into popular Christmas carols, but most people do not know that her brother later burned the love poems that she’d written to women. Even as we shop through the malls, buying gifts for one another as Wham!’s “Last Christmas” plays in the background, most are likely not aware that the founders of Stonewall Kitchen, makers of tasty gourmet food items, are gay, or that Tim Cook, president of the ever-popular Apple company, creators of iTunes, iPads, and iPhones, is also gay.

Yet how much more powerful would it be if LGBT people proudly claimed our history, calling it out, and coming out ourselves in the process? We each have certain gifts to contribute to the world, both large and small, but key to giving is to give authentically, as out and proud LGBT men and women.

The most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, was painted by a gay man, Leonardo da Vinci. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was conceived and crafted by another, Michelangelo. One of history’s most successful commanders, Alexander the Great, was gay. Gertrude Stein, of “a rose is a rose is a rose” fame, was lesbian, as are tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. One of the most popular plays in America, the quintessential Our Town, was written by a gay man, Thornton Wilder, and one has to wonder how being gay shaped his views on small town life.

In my new fiction collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, the characters (particularly those who are LGBT) are each facing a moment in which their choices and actions will define them, for better or for worse. It is that way for each of us; the way in which we choose to operate in the world makes a difference. Do you have a moment to spare to help someone in need? Do you have stories which might assist others lead better lives? Are you living your life in truth and sharing your gifts with others? What do you have to contribute to society?

Regardless of what your gift is, the more important aspect is that you be honest in sharing it. Tell people who you are, as LGBT individuals, and show them that your contributions to the world matter. Without us, there would be no “Send in the Clowns,” “Come to My Window,” or Glee.

This New Years, revelers will celebrate the passing of one year and the dawn of another, and as they do, they may be listening to a popular song being sung by one of the top music superstars of his day. And while many may infer that he is gay, as the singer has yet to come out publicly, his is one gift that we can’t yet count.

Tell your story. Live authentically. And make the Yuletide gay…

Kergan Edwards-Stout’s new collection of holiday-themed short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, was recently named a “Perfect book to give everyone this holiday season” by the nationally syndicated column, The Bookworm Sez. It is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.