The Dating Game : A Coming Out Story

My mother is 75 years old, wears cha-cha heels, plastic earrings and a snap-on ponytail. Yeah, that's my mom. She's the kind of gal who still wears a Wonderbra and her boobs say, "I wonder how we got up here?"

On my 24th birthday, my mother took me to lunch in Beverly Hills and asked me if I had ever had sex with a man. I said, "What do you mean?" She replied, taking a long drag on her cigarette, "What do you mean what do I mean?"

People often ask me when I knew I was gay. I tell them it happened on a Thursday, we had a big meeting Elton John's house and, last week, they picked me.

Actually, I knew I wasn't straight in the summer of 1971, coming home on the bus from Westside Jewish center camp. Michael Jackson's "I'll Be There" was playing on my transistor radio as I watched all the kids pairing up boy/girl, boy/girl and realized I was not going to be one of them. This started my career in heterosexuality -- it became my job to find a wife, or at the very least a girlfriend.

My first real girlfriend was a gal named Liza Bernski. I was 16. I was driving in my 1968 Camaro with my friend Bobby Chernoski. He had really layered hair, which was very important to him. We were on our way to see A Star is Born with, yes, Barbra Streisand (so gay, I know). Still on my quest to be a bona fide heterosexual, I notice this girl sitting at the bus stop. She's wearing a long maxi-dress with a reddish perm and the sweetest smile. Determined to find a girlfriend, I put on my best Burt Reynolds look. We stopped at the red light. I did the most heterosexual thing I could think of and started to flirt. She got in the car (it was the '70s).

It was the biggest mistake of my life.

From that day on, I made Liza Bernski my girlfriend. She lived with her mother in a house at the end of the block with an unmowed lawn and a car in the driveway on cinder blocks. Looking inside, there were tons of old boxes and spaghetti splattered on one of the windows. Liza's mother was from somewhere in Europe, with a slightly faded English accent. I could never figure out where she was from, and she never gave me a straight answer. Her mother was really smart, though. She was always taking a class in painting or going to a ballet recital or a lecture or something. I didn't know from this. The only book in my house when I was a kid growing up was my mother's copy of Erica Jong's Fear of Flying. She had it on her nightstand for 10 years... I don't think she ever finished it. My dad only read the Jewish News.

Her mom: "Lizz..a... Lizz...a. Tell Jason to come into the house for duck soup."

Liza: "Mother! I don't want him in the house! I can't have him in the house!" Liza was embarrassed for me to see the condition of her home.

But Liza Bernski was a girl, she liked me and that was my only requirement. I was thrilled that I had a heterosexual girlfriend to show to my family! I was so relieved, too -- I thought I'd been cured!

We started seeing each other a lot. I was dating and she was a girl, my plan was working. And then we had sex. She was the only woman with whom I was ever able to have sex with. For some strange reason, she made me feel like I was a "straight man" and that I could take care of her. But I think something terrible happened to her that I never could figure out, and it's all very convoluted and sad. She never wanted to talk about "it." I'm sure it involves why the reason the spaghetti was on the window and why they never cleaned up.

Liza Bernski and I dated, on and off, for almost five years. She would always ask me if I was gay and I would always tell her I wasn't. I just couldn't tell her the truth -- probably because I hadn't told the truth to myself.

When I was 19, just beginning my career as an actor and living on my own in my bachelor apartment, I saw an ad in Variety asking for contestants for the hottest game show on TV, The Dating Game. I was still with Liza Bernski, but things were not going well and I needed the money. I auditioned for the show -- I was so cute with my layered hair and my nice body -- and they asked me to be a bachelor.

On the show, the "bachelorette" asked three different, eligible bachelors questions like, "If you were a fruit what fruit would you be?" The first guy would answer "a banana!" -- trying his best to impress. I answered with my pre-prepared jokes that had nothing to do with the questions because I was so insecure and scared. But the audience and the bachelorette laughed.

I was so bizarre and so completely insane that I won. I won the date. The bachelorette who picked me was also an actress who needed to make some cash, and she had a boyfriend who didn't want her to go on a date with a crazy person like me. So I had an extra ticket to five fun-filled, jammed-packed days in Mexico City. This was the perfect opportunity to save my dying heterosexual relationship with Liza Bernski. I asked her if she would be my Dating Game date.

Second biggest mistake of entire life.

So I went on this sort of crazy, insane trip to Mexico City with my actual/supposed girlfriend. The show gave us two hotel rooms, because in those days you could not sleep in the same
room on a "first date." I insisted that Liza Bernski sleep with me because I was supposed to be practicing straight sex. Unfortunately, she wouldn't have sex with me on the whole trip. Spending so much time with each other in a different county, it finally dawned on her that I was not in love with her. I broke her heart.

On the last day, Liza Bernski arranged a tour of this beautiful Mexican museum. As we were looked around. I noticed these two handsome Latin boys, one who looked just like Esai Morales in La Bamba. He was just breathtaking. When he glanced at me, my heart missed a beat. He looked like an angel sent right to me. I still remember this beautiful Mexican man as if it was yesterday. This rush of feeling washed over me when he stood next to me... it was so intoxicating, but just felt so right. The attraction was so strong, even now I get goosebumps thinking about him. I had never had that feeling before, and it felt so pure and simple and right. I don't remember his name... I don't remember anything he said.

But I do remember... he was what I wanted.

The tour guide suggested we all meet later that night at a gay disco because, "we should be open to new experiences." Wink, wink -- I guess he knew something I didn't. I had to go, and even though Liza Bernski was so angry she wanted to rip my head off she joined us. She was probably figuring she'd catch me doing something gay that would prove she'd been right all along.

At the disco we waited for hours, but my beautiful fantasy man never showed up. I danced with Liza Bernski for the last time.

That night in Mexico City, in a country where I did not speak the language, I knew I was gay.

And I had to tell my mother.

When we got back in the good old USA. I dropped Liza Bernski off at her house in my 1968 Camero, the same one I picked her up in at that bus stop five years before. I didn't see Liza Bernski again until 15 years later at a Soup Plantation in West Hollywood. She came over to me as if one minute had passed. I said, "Hi Liza, how are you?"And she said, "I'm a doctor now. I'm Dr. Liza Bernski." I said, "That's wonderful." She replied, like I had just broken up with her, "And, yes! I am still angry with you!" I looked at her, "You know Liza, I'm gay and I'm sorry that I treated you so badly... you know I really am sorry." There was a split second her eyes filled up with tears. She said, "Yes, I knew it." I could she was still hurt.

She had gotten chubby. For some reason when somebody who was mean to me gains weight, it makes me smile inside just a little. But with her, it didn't... because I was wrong. I was really wrong.

I'm still looking for my Esai Morales, and the dating game continues... so in case you wondering, I'm single.