30 Days Of Pride: Rediscovering An Old Friend Through His New Book
Sometimes we embark on a sojourn with an old friend, and in the process, we rediscover them anew, learning things we never imagined about them. I recently had the fortune of just such an experience when my friend and fellow author Dwight Allen O’Neal invited me to mentor him on his latest project, an introspective memoir about his life in and out of the entertainment industry entitled Shoulda! Coulda! Woulda!. It’s a candid retrospective focusing on the mistakes Dwight made on his way to fame, and how they have shaped and guided him on his forward march to success. As the “gay boy next door” who became a well-known “gaylebrity”, Dwight has achieved and attained much — screenwriter, producer, beauty mogul, media personality, and passionate LGBTQ+ advocate — that adding “author” to these sobriquets seems almost inevitable.
However, writing a novel, especially one in which you reveal your foibles to the world, takes discipline, courage, and dash; it’s not an endeavor for the timid. I began working with Dwight in a minor role, tightening up his prose a bit, walking him through the finer points of continuity, doing the foreword. The glimpses of Dwight’s life illustrated in the book’s pages were a revelation even to me. I’ve known and written about Dwight and his many exploits for fourteen years, so I might be forgiven for imagining I knew a great deal about him as a friend and artist. My bold assumptions were challenged as I worked my way through his chapters.
In going over his manuscript, I met a different Dwight from the glamorous, ebullient star the public knows from his TV and film appearances. The Dwight Allen O’Neal of Shoulda! Coulda! Woulda! Is a down-to-earth Dwight, Dwight-at-home, Dwight in love, Dwight without the spotlight, makeup, and red carpet. Thus, Dwight is at once a sympathetic yet persistent figure, a young Black gay man trying to navigate an often hostile society, an artist seeking his dreams, a human being stumbling along the way like we all do. There is hilarity and darkness here: Dwight dealing with the tea and shade that are de rigeur for those of us who are “family”, Dwight being set upon by a famous, much older man when he was still in his late teens. I found so much of my old friend in his words that I had scarcely imagined. Yet here he was, writing the chapters of his life most of us would not dare read out loud about ourselves.
In working with Dwight, I took stock of my own missteps, too, and I have made some epic ones. I allowed grossly toxic individuals to stay in my life for far too long. I timidly accepted the judgment of society about my sexual orientation instead of challenging it earlier, come what may. I sought acceptance from people ad groups that were never going to offer me a seat at their table, no matter what I said or did. As Shoulda! Coulda! Woulda! Depicts Dwight holding up an unvarnished mirror to himself, so, too, did working on it bring me to a state of self-examination, as well. In all this, the value of the experience became plain to me: I understood more about myself, in the process of knowing more about Dwight.
That’s the power of the written word, to make people think and reflect. Dwight shows how he was educated by his experiences; in turn, they might help another young gay man, just starting out, perhaps unsure of his direction, to better navigate the minefield ahead of him, and steer a truer path toward his future. It is fitting, then, that Dwight chose today, the first of Pride Month, to make the book available to the public. It is a time for all LGBTQ+ people to reaffirm their pride in themselves and the community. So, too, does my old friend, by standing proudly in his truth. You can order print or Kindle versions of Shoulda! Coulda! Woulda! here. It was a privilege to receive the gift of discovering new things about an old friend. I think you’ll find it illuminating, too, in more ways than you expect.