The Front Runner with Leon Acord

Hello!

Today we meet Leon Acord and we’re talking about the book that saved his  life: The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren.

Leon Acord is the author of the memoirs Expletives Not Deleted and Sub-Lebrity: The Queer Life of a Showbiz Footnote. Leon created, wrote, and starred in the TV series Old Dogs & New Tricks on Amazon Prime Video. On stage, he has performed in numerous West Coast premieres at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, including Last Sunday in June, Dreamboy, and Thief River.

The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren was published in 1974. With 10 million copies in 7 languages, this landmark classic is the most popular gay love story of all time. The novel follows Harlan Brown who is a tough, conservative track coach hiding from his past at a small college. Billy Sive is a brilliant young runner who is gay and doesn’t mind who knows it. When they fall in love, they enter a race against hate and prejudice which takes them to the ’76 Olympics and a shattering, shocking conclusion.

Content Warning

We have a conversation that references and has a general description of sexual assault. If you are in need of support, don’t go through this alone. There are people ready to help. There is the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color network to find a provider near you. There is Forge, who focuses on supporting trans and non-binary survivors. CenterLink can connect you to your local LGBT center. And there are a number of lifelines that you can call for immediate support: the GLBT National Help Center 1-888—246–7743, the Trans Lifeline 1-877—565-8860, the Black Line, created with an LGBTQ+ Black Femme lens 1-800-604-5841, and the DeQH hotline for South Asian/DESI LGBTQ individuals, family, and friends 908-367-3374.

Connect with Leon

website: leonacord.com
instagram: @leonacord
threads: @leonacord
facebook: facebook.com/leonacordactor

Our Bookshop

Visit our Bookshop for  new releases, current bestsellers, banned books, critically acclaimed LGBTQ books, or peruse the books featured on our podcasts: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

To purchase The Front Runner visit your local bookstore!

To purchase Leon’s memoir Expletives Not Deleted visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9798449228505

To purchase Leon’s memoir Sub-Lebrity: The Queer Life of a Showbiz Footnote visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9798622243110

Become an Associate Producer!

Become an Associate Producer of our podcast through a $20/month sponsorship on Patreon! A professionally recognized credit, you can gain access to Associate Producer meetings to help guide our podcast into the future! Get started today: patreon.com/thisqueerbook

Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Ida Göteburg, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Creative and Accounting support provided by: Gordy Erickson
Permission to use audio clips from the audio book Expletives Not Deleted provided by Leon Acord
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

Quatrefoil Library

Quatrefoil has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

Before we begin our episode today, we want to provide a listener advisory: there are references to and general descriptions of sexual assault. Please listen with your care in mind. We have queer-specific resources to support you and/or your loved ones on our website and in the show notes.

[theme song]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Hey everyone. Well, something truly special has happened. Last week, this podcast, the one you are listening to right now, was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Podcast.
We were stunned and excited and disbelieving and now just feeling joy that GLAAD chose to uplift the guests, authors, and books we talk about on this show.

LGBTQ fiction sales have been soaring in the United States for the past four years. And driving those sales have been LGBTQ romance. And it feels fitting that today we’ll be talking about a ground-breaking novel that mainstreamed queer love and it’s role in providing healing after trauma for our guest. Plus, later in the show, something unique: a special conversation with our Executive Producer Jim Pounds.

For those new to the podcast, my name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m an essayist, a Lambda Literary fellow, and now, a GLAAD Media Award nominee and you’re listening to This Queer Book Saved My Life.

[theme music ends]

Leon Accord
Chapter 3. I didn’t choose to be gay, but…

The other day a friend and I were discussing the ridiculous notion that being gay is a choice rather than a biological disposition. He asked quote, “What man would choose to be gay? Being straight is so much easier.” I thought about that for a moment. Is it? Knowing what I know now, I realized that if we did get to pick the team on which to play, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the team I’m on. When you’re gay, you’re an outsider from day one. Before you even admit it to yourself. You’re outside society looking in. And that particular vantage point is not to be dismissed. This changes your outlook on everything. You don’t buy the party line. You question convention. You can react, instead of being a stoic straight guy. You accept all shades of gray in society with little to no judgment because you know that most societal misconceptions are just that: misconceptions.

[light-hearted curious music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
We are listening to the essay “I Didn’t Choose to Be Gay, But…” From the memoir Expletives Not Deleted by Leon Acord, which came out last year and the audio book will be coming out this spring. Leon is our guest today and like so many queer creatives he hails from the Midwest.

Leon Accord
I was born in Indiana. I grew up on a series of farms. I aspired to be an actor, although writing was something I always did and took for granted. My parents were always like, “Be a writer! Don’t be an actor.” No, I had to try to be an actor. More recently, kind of as I get older and the parts thin out, I’ve been focusing more on writing.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Leon created, wrote, and starred in the TV series Old Dogs & New Tricks on Amazon Prime Video. On stage, he has performed in numerous West Coast premieres at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, including Last Sunday in June, Dreamboy, and Thief River.

What I love about Leon’s story is how it was a bookstore that he found in high school that helped him connect to his queer identity.

Leon Accord
Most people in Indiana and rural Indiana in the late 70s, early 80s, kind of felt like they were the only gay person alive, which I kind of felt that way until late in my senior, junior year. I discovered this bookstore called Little Professor Books in Kokomo, Indiana. They carried After Dark magazine. And I bought a couple issues and it’s like, and this is before I ever read Front Runner. This was, you know, back in high school. right after dark and kind of realized, oh my God, there’s this whole gay world in New York, stage and literature and I’m not alone.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And what was the book that saved his life?

Leon Accord
The queer book that saved my life is The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. You know they say it’s the most celebrated gay love story. I wouldn’t qualify it that way. I would just say it’s one of the greatest love stories, period.

J.P. Der Boghossian
The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren was published in 1974. It follows Harlan Brown who is an athletic director. He meets Billy and they fall in love. Billy is track star training for the Olympics. And when Billy takes up a teaching position, Harlan and Billy move in together and have a commitment ceremony. Harlan goes onto coach Billy to the 1976 Olympics. The novel is important because it was the first queer novel to be a bestseller and critically acclaimed. It tackles anti-queer discrimination in higher education, it is a positive gay love story, which was very rare in the 1970s, and it confronts homophobia in sports. This is a very basic synopsis, and obviously we will get into much more detail. Here is my conversation with Leon.

[music ends]

J.P. Der Boghossian
So, Leon, can you share a little about your life leading up to reading The Front Runner? Take me through that.

Leon Acord
The summer before my senior year, I took a two-week theater workshop at Indiana State University and became really good friends with this woman named Robin Hammer, who described she was a self-professed fag hag. She used that word, I mean, it’s so offensive now to say it. It’s amazing how we would just say it without feeling guilty back in the day. Anyway, we became really good friends. We kept in touch by letters and, you know. shared my whole coming out experience at the beginning of senior year. That New Year’s Day, she was having what she called a happy hangover party and invited me down. Now, this was in Indianapolis, which was about an hour and a half away from my house.

One of the guys at the party, let’s call him Eric, he was making drinks. He was 6’3″. He had bright red hair. He’s actually an extra in Ghostbusters at the end. If you see the extra with the bright red hair, that’s him. Robin invited him to spend the night. And I’m like, So we’re in Robin’s bedroom. I’m up on the bed. The two of them are on the floor. And they start making out. I’m like, oh, okay. And Robin said, well, why don’t you come down here and join us? So I did.

The next day, actually I was spending two nights at Robin’s house. The next day he came over, we went to Rocky Horror Picture Show. And he’s like, and we had a scheme. He’s like, okay, after Robin goes to bed and her parents are asleep, I’m gonna come back to her house and park in front of her house and just come out once everyone’s asleep. So I did. Oh my God. It was like a moment out of Front Runner. The first time I’d ever been with a guy, kissed a guy made out with a guy in a car in the winter. It was probably 20 degrees outside.

From that point we wrote letters and called each other on the phone and he would come up. He would go and stay at Dee Dee’s house, and I would meet him there on weekends.

I was just so excited about the future, about being, I wanted to be the gay Mary Richards. Anyway, the day after high school graduation, we moved to Indianapolis the day after high school graduation so I could spend the summer with my new boyfriend before he went to college in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

J.P.
Oh my god! That’s my college! I’m an alum!

Leon Acord
I told you it would come up in my story. Anyway, so I moved to Indianapolis expecting the start of a great big gay life. I really wanted to be like the modern gay, you know. It was, I don’t know, like the early 80s, before AIDS hit, it really felt like we were on the verge of really breaking through to acceptance.

And I really wanted to be a part of that and push it forward. So I moved to Indianapolis and I couldn’t get a job. It was a horrible recession. Within just a few weeks, I was broke. One bright spot, I got cast in a small part in Little Abner at Footlight Musicals. One night coming home from rehearsal, I accepted a ride from a guy who pulled up on the street, and got in his car, and was sexually assaulted. As a result of that, I caught a minor STD, but it was still an STD. Our apartment was robbed.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Oh my god.

Leon Acord:
So by the time fall came, and my boyfriend was ready to go to New York, I felt depleted, I felt devastated, I felt kind of destroyed and so broke that I had to call my parents and say, can you come and collect me and can I move back home? And what I did, I just felt completely destroyed, not only just on a personal level because I couldn’t get a job, I couldn’t make any money.

I just felt like all the feelings I had about the gay community, about a gay future, about being part of this brave gay world that was starting to emerge, it just felt bogus to me.

J.P. Der Boghossian
I want to take a break here to say that in this next section we have a general description of sexual assault, if you’d like to skip past it, please fast forward to the 13:35 minute mark AND we have queer-specific resources to support you or loved ones on our website and in the show notes.

Leon Acord
The sexual assault, I’d never. I never told anyone, well, I certainly, you know, I told a couple friends, I told my boyfriend. STD, that was, that was awkward.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
Because I didn’t realize I had it until after I had sex with the boyfriend. So then I had, you know, I had to drag him off to the clinic with me. Fortunately, he did not have it. But anyway, the, the sexual assault, I, It was funny when the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were going on a few years ago, I actually got the nerve to tell my mom about it, that I was walking home from rehearsal. I was just exhausted because we had been rehearsing a dance number all evening. And I was at a corner taking a break. It was like a ten block walk home. It was about 85 degrees, really humid. And as I’m standing there, this car pulls up, and this dude says, “do you want a lift” Now I’m fresh off the farm, complete innocent, completely naive. I thought, well, how nice.

When I told my mom, you know, during the Kavanaugh hearing, she said, “Well, I don’t judge you, where you came from. It was commonplace to give someone a lift down the road.”

But between that, the sexual assault, and then like a week later, coming home and finding our apartment had been robbed. Fortunately, they didn’t find our rent money, which was stashed away in a closet. Not being able to get a job. By the end of those three months, I just. Again, I just, I felt dirty.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
I felt used. I felt ashamed. And you know, just six months earlier, I was so proud of being gay, I couldn’t tell enough people that I was gay. And now I just, I wanted to hide. It was.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
It was a tough summer. It’s still tough for me to talk about even after all these years, even though I’ve kind of, I don’t have any PTSD from it, but it’s still, I hate to blame the victim, but I just, every time I think about it, I think, Leon, how could you have been so stupid to get into a stranger’s car?

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Well, I can’t tell you how to feel. But, I kind of agree with your Mom, like, how would you know?

Leon Acord
And you know, even though I got into the guy’s car, I didn’t give him permission to have his way with me.

J.P. Der Boghossian
No. No. Absolutely not. You moved back home from Indianapolis, would you like to share how were you navigating this?

Leon Acord
I was so angry. So defeated. I did a lot of reading while I was staying at my parents’ house because I still couldn’t find a job. A lot of reading. And I went back to my favorite bookstore, Little Professor Books, and I picked up the front runner. Now I’d, I had seen the front runner at bookstores before. It had a very provocative cover. The original paperback. Um, I wanted to buy it, but I was always too embarrassed because, you know, taking a book with that kind of cover up to a cashier in Indiana, I just,

J.P. Der Boghossian
Wait, what was the cover?

Leon Acord
It’s Harlan Brown, the coach, in a towel, like he just came out of the shower, and Billy Sive sitting on a bench, putting on his tennis shoes, while he’s wearing skimpy little shorts and a tank top. You know, it’s not terribly overt by today’s standards. Back then, it was like, oh my God, this is a gay book. But anyway, Little Professor, they sold After Dark. I felt if there’s one safe place to buy this book, this is the place. So I bought it and I took it home and just fell in love with it, read it in one sitting, became completely obsessed by it. My parents by that point had sold the farm. They had this house in the woods in this like hilly wooded area. which kind of looked a lot like Prescott University’s described in the book, which is where the story takes place. I was an aspiring actor and I became, I’ve never told anyone this before, JP, so I would take the book that winter, snow on the ground, I would jog up the hill to this wooded clearing area behind my parents’ house. and I would act out scenes from the book.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Aww…

Leon Acord:
I was a tall, thin kid, blonde, curly hair, and I really identified with Billy Sive so much. I loved his radical, it wasn’t really radical, because he wasn’t in your face about it. But I just so fell in love. I would go up and I would act out scenes and you know, fantasize about, oh my God, if this ever gets made into a movie, I wanna play this part. I imagine Gil Gerard from Buck Rogers playing Coach Harlan.

That whole winter was about that book. I think I reread it three times. And it really did save my life. It kind of replaced that cynicism. Well, I’m still kind of a cynic, but it brought my romanticism back. It gave me hope again. It made me feel like, no, there is a way to have an honorable gay life out there. It’s not all just sex and drugs and partying and going to bars. which is another thing I identified with Billy because he kind of, you know, was detached from all that. It just, it gave me hope for the future and recharged my spiritual batteries. And also, I have to say, Harlan Brown is one of the hottest characters.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Hahaha

Leon Acord:
I had, I had such a crush on him, which seems crazy to say you have a crush on a fictional character. But, you know, he was

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Oh, that happens all the time on this podcast. So yeah, it’s a thing.

Leon Acord:
He was an ex-Marine. I remember Billy describing how he was attracted to Coach Brown’s hairy thighs. Ah, that was. The book is so romantic. It’s interesting. I reread it last week. And it’s a hot book, but it’s not really sleazy. The sex scenes are very understated, very romantic. And I just. the kind of gay life I wanted. That was the kind of gay romance I was looking for and eventually found, thank God. But yeah, it did save my life because I was really at a point where I just… for the first and only time in my life I felt real shame about being gay.

I mean, I wasn’t suicidal or anything, but I just had so little hope.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Hmm.

Leon Acord:
So little pride. I’m forever grateful to Ms. Warren

J.P. Der Boghossian
What was your relationship like with your family at this time?

Leon Acord
My family, they’re so supportive now. But you know, remember this was like 1980, 1981.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
I had a, back then, before the days of cell phones, you know, I grew up in the country, so my best friend was a toll call, which means, you know, at per minute charges when you were called this person. I came out to him first, his name was Mike Dibble, a great, great friend, and ran up a huge phone bill. to the point that when the phone bill came, I intercepted it before my parents got it. So, oh my God, how am I gonna pay this off? Finally ended up giving it to my mom. She’s like, why did you run up this phone bill? What are you talking about? And I said kind of vaguely, well mom, I have something going on in my life. I have to talk to someone about it and I don’t think you would understand. And it was like a light bulb went off over her head. At that time, she was really kind of supportive. We love you, if you wanna see a therapist. I said, no, I don’t. I didn’t think I needed one then. And that was that. It was never mentioned again until I got the boyfriend. That seemed to kind of shift their feelings about my being gay. One day, my mom took me to a dentist after school and we were driving back home after I’d had a root canal. And just out of the blue she says, well you know you’ll never accomplish anything as long as you’re that way.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Hmm

Leon Acord:
And I’m like, God, Mom, you can’t even say the word. And she said, no, I don’t want to say the word. And that was that. Once I had the boyfriend, and we had a couple of dates, and they kind of said something was going on, I got grounded. Why? For your attitude. Well, when do I get ungrounded when your attitude changes? Well, we can fill in the blanks there. We

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Yeah.

Leon Acord:
know what they were talking about. Ironically, you know, I’m from Kokomo, Indiana, which is the town where Ryan White, this was,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
I don’t know how many of your listeners remember that, he was a young kid who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. My mom’s sister was actually on a committee to have Ryan White thrown out of school because he was HIV positive. And that was the thing that kind of

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow.

Leon Acord:
shifted my mom’s thinking. She was enraged that her sister was involved in that. That prompted my mom and I, by that point I was living in San Francisco. But Ryan White is what prompted my mom to really start talking about it. First about AIDS and then just about being gay. And eventually that led to them being completely open, completely supportive and accepting. They love my husband. I think they like him more than me.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Pfft. Hahahaha.

Leon Acord:
But yeah, it was tough that senior year. It was a very interesting year, that senior year. Highs and lows and, but God love them. My parents are great now. I’m very lucky, very lucky.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Ryan was, his story was so tragic. In a previous episode, we had Greg Louganis on and he was talking about his connection to Ryan. And he was crediting Ryan for this bravery that he didn’t have. Here is this four-time Olympic gold medal winning athlete. And obviously we wish Ryan didn’t go through what he went through. And with family, to watch them take this extra step, to become an activist, to harm our community, it just feels like an extra level of betrayal, of trauma even.

Leon Acord
I’ll never forget that aunt before I moved to San Francisco. She told my mom, I have to talk him out of it. I have to talk him out of moving to San Francisco. If I talk to him and he still moves to San Francisco, at least then I don’t have his blood on my hands.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
[gasps]

Leon Acord:
I was enraged. I called her up. I’m like, how dare you talk to my mom that way? How dare you put that seed in her mind that I’m gonna move to San Francisco and die? It was infuriating. That aunt is no longer with us. May she rest in peace. I hope she found some enlightenment in the afterlife.

J.P. Der Boghossian
That’s, that’s resonating with me. That’s very poignant to put it that way.

Leon Acord
Now that I’ve completed depressed your audience.

J.P. Der Boghossian
No, no. I mean, you can imagine on this podcast we talk about a lot of heady… Maybe not necessarily… Hang on. As you can imagine on a podcast called, you know, this queer book, save my life. We talk about a lot of deep topics here. So please don’t,

Leon Acord:
All right

J.P. Der Boghossian:
don’t feel shy in that regard at all. I kind of want to return to this idea of acting out. Like in the woods behind your house, these scenes, because yes, you are an actor, right? But I’m always curious about how folks can internalize. what’s happening in the books that they’re reading and how it opens up things for them. And so here you are, you’ve read this book, something is clearly resonating with you. Were there particular scenes that you were finding yourself drawn to in terms of what you were portraying in the scenes and the acting, if you will, that you were doing behind the house?

Leon Acord:
The scene I performed the most.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
There we go, perform. That’s the word I was looking for.

Leon Acord:
There’s a scene in the book Billy’s in love with his coach, but he hasn’t told him. So Billy starts acting out, and there’s a scene where they’re doing yoga on campus, and Billy’s just not paying attention, not doing the poses, and is acting out, and the coach comes up and slaps him across the face.

Leon Acord:
In the book, Harlan describes it as psychic shock, that it’s like something that he learned in the military. That scene really got me, you know. I don’t know why. I acted out that scene a lot, the scene where Billy confessed, well, he didn’t really confess because the coach was told by one of his friends. But yeah, the scene where they first come together, I acted that out a lot too. You know, I think it was, I was, I wanted that relationship, you know. I wanted to be in that relationship. I wanted, I wanted a Harlan Brown. to slap me. No, I wanted a Harlan Brown for my own. I wanted a passionate love that was as just all-consuming as this book, you know, the love in this book. It’s, gosh, it’s so romantic. I just feel like I’m gushing about it.

J.P. Der Boghossian
Did you read the sequels?
Leon Acord
I’ve not read any of the sequels.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Oh really?

Leon Acord:
And I’m kind of glad the movie never got made. There was a lot of talk in the 80s, like,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
oh, Paul Newman’s gonna do it. Oh,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Yeah.

Leon Acord:
they’ve gotta make this movie. And at that time, I’m like, oh yes, oh my God, wouldn’t it be a great movie. Now, I’m really glad they never made the movie for the same reason I’ve never read the sequels, because to me, It’s a perfect story. I don’t want to know what happens afterwards to the characters.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
There’s no way a film could match the intensity or the power of the book. I’m sure Paul Newman could have made a really good movie if he found the financing. But it could not have been as honest.

Hollywood was not ready to do an out gay love story. Maybe they still aren’t. I mean, Brokeback Mountain was kind of the exception. So yeah, it’s a perfect story. I don’t need to know what happens to Harlan after that. It’s kind of like how I feel about reboots. I didn’t need another Murphy Brown. It was kind of perfect the way it was. And I felt like it kind of. tainted my feelings for the original. I guess that was it. I didn’t want to know more. I just wanted that story to stay in my mind. I didn’t want to complicate this beautiful love story by… I know that in the sequel, it’s about raising Billy’s kid and Harlan being involved with their mutual friend Vince. And I didn’t… That was one thing that bugged me at the end of the front runner.

I don’t know how to say this without spoilers. Harlan Brown, the coach, eventually becomes

J.P. Der Boghossian:
We can say right here, we can say, we’re about to have a spoiler alert, so if

Leon Acord:
Okay.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
you don’t wanna know, then you can just fast forward a little bit in time and you won’t have to get the spoiler, so go ahead.

Leon Acord:
Okay, spoiler alert. So yeah, turn it off if you don’t want to know. The book ends with Billy being assassinated while he’s competing at the Olympics. It is one of the most powerful endings I’ve ever read in a book. In fact, the first time I read it, I remember, and this sounds crazy, you’re going to think I’m nuts. I got to that point and it was so shocking. I actually went back and reread the chapter before that. It was almost as though I was hoping that there would be a different ending.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Mm-hmm.

Leon Acord:
You know what I mean? Like if I go back and start the ending over, maybe he won’t get shot. Maybe they’ll live happily ever after. No, he still got shot. And… at the end, like the last chapter, it’s kind of intimated that Harlan and their mutual friend Vince, who had a crush on Harlan, become sexually involved. I don’t know in the sequels, maybe they had a relationship. One of the reasons I didn’t want to read the sequels, I don’t want to know. I just want to celebrate this one love story that was just so perfect in every way.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
For folks who have fast forwarded. We’re still gonna be talking a little bit about the spoiler alert, so keep going. But I’m… I don’t know what the ways that you were processing everything that happened to you, being robbed, the sexual assault, you know, the end of the relationship from what I understand in Indianapolis. How were you processing what was happening? Because it sounded like, if I recall from earlier in the conversation, that you kind of you went home. I don’t want to say that you were hiding out, but it seems like you were withdrawn and kind of turning to books to process things. So I’m curious, given how the novel ends. I could see that maybe being triggering, but you were finding it as part of this overall epic love story that you felt was healing.

Leon Acord:
Yeah, well because you know, he didn’t die of AIDS at the end, you know, he didn’t commit suicide,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
true.

Leon Acord:
which was, you know, kind of the tropes of the time. The gay character has to die at the end, one way or the other, or go straight.

I mean, as shocking as that ending is and it’s sad, I mean, it really is a gut punch. It didn’t depress me. I mean, it was sad, but I mean, it was still a celebration of their love. And I have to say, I reread it last week. And the couple chapters after the assassination, I think, are some of the most honest, realistic portrayals of grief that Coach Brown’s not able to cry for months.

As traumatic as Billy’s death is in the book. It’s, it was still kind of affirming. Like I said, it didn’t die of AIDS, it didn’t die of suicide. He died a proud, out, gay man.

J.P. Der Boghossian
For folks who have been skipping ahead to avoid the spoiler alerts, welcome back. I have a question that kind of moves us into the future. How did The Front Runner inspire what came next for you? I mean, this is a love story, yes, but as you were becoming a writer yourself, were there any influences that the novel had in how you were approaching your own writing?

Leon Acord:
How did it influence my writing? I admire her writing style. I really like concise, simple, you know, non-flowery. I’m not a fan of purple prose, let’s put it that way. And I really admire, and I hadn’t thought about it that it influenced my own writing, but I think it did because rereading it last week, it’s like, oh my God, she writes exactly how I, my goal is to be able to write like that. Just very straightforward, descriptive, but not flowery. I love her writing, maybe I should read this equals, because I do love how she writes. It’s, and there’s a, you can’t put it down. I don’t know what it is, but you just have to get through it. It propels you through the story. It’s, there aren’t cliffhangers or anything, but you just, you have to know what happens next. It’s a page turner, as I used to call them, yeah. I, I. You won’t put it down. Pick it up. And I defy anyone to read this book and be able to like put it down and not finish it.

[upbeat music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Here is an audio clip from Leon’s recent book Expletives Not Deleted. From the chapter titled 10 Reasons to Embrace Aging Gaily. The clip starts with reason 6.

Leon Acord
Number 6. Friends become family. You learn the true meaning of family. A group of people who love you, warts and all. You don’t have to be uncomfortable, keep secrets, or hide your authentic self from this new family.

Number 7. Speaking of friends. When you go to bars now it’s to celebrate with friends, not to look for sex. Ironically, not looking for sex makes you more desirable.

Number 8. You no longer tolerate toxic friendships. You recognize people who enhance your life and eliminate those who don’t.

Number 9. You learn not to beat yourself up about mistakes you’ve made in life. Instead, you look for the lessons, vow not to make the same mistakes twice, and then keep going.

Number 10. Most importantly, we survived AIDS. We’ve lived long enough to see gay marriage become a reality. Those are reasons enough to celebrate. Especially since a lot of our peers weren’t so lucky.

Much like coming out, there’s nothing to lose and everything to be gained by embracing your age. So stop complaining about the cold wind and the shorter days. Pull on a heavy sweater, have a pumpkin latte, and enjoy your autumn.

J.P. Der Boghossian
You can purchase both of Leon’s books at our bookstore: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook. Links in the show notes and on our website. The audio book of Expletives Not Deleted will be out this spring. Follow Leon on social or on his website for details.

You can watch Old Dogs & New Tricks on Amazon Prime Video.

He told me that he is working on a new book project with the working title Axes to Grind. It’s all about temp jobs and lousy bosses and juggling it all while pursuing a life in the arts.

He is @leonacord on Instagram and Threads. On Facebook he is leon acord actor. His website is leon acord dot com.

Up next a special conversation with our Executive Producer Jim Pounds.

[music ends]

J.P. Der Boghossian

Hey everyone, we have something very special and unique that we don’t always do for each episode. And there’s a couple of things that we want to share with you. One, the GLAAD Media Award nomination that happened last week. We wanted to chat about that for a little bit, you know, have a humble brag, I guess. But so joining me here is our executive producer, Jim Pounds. I guess also GLAAD Media Award nominee executive producer, Jim Pounds. So, hi, Jim, what do you think about all this?

Jim Pounds

Hi, GLAAD nominee host, J.P. Der Boghossian. I think it’s surreal. I have great affection for the GLAAD awards. I was always proud or pleased whenever they came out and whatever the categories were. And I haven’t followed it that closely, but I always paid attention to it. It’s an institution that’s now 35 years old and I respect and so it is odd to see our name and yet I’ve always felt like we’re doing something unique. That doesn’t mean anybody recognizes it or cares, but I think it we do stand out a little bit. We are trying to do something not like most people and even in the podcasting or in the LGBT podcasting space. So, I thought it would happen someday, but just not last Wednesday

J.P. Der Boghossian

Right? And I was looking at it this weekend. Apparently this is only the second year that they’ve had the outstanding podcast category. So that also makes it a little bit special.

Jim Pounds

That surprises me though. I just would have thought it had been longer than that.

J.P. Der Boghossians

Well, I mean, yeah, podcasts have been around forever, but I guess, you know, it takes, you know, a long time to pitch a category and then go through all of the internal whatnot to get the category actually a thing.

Jim Pounds

And they have 30 English language categories and 18 Spanish language. So there may be resistance to putting any more apples in that basket.

J.P. Der Boghossian

Well, there’s like 310 nominees. It’s just so surreal that we’re one of them. Well, congratulations. Thank you. Thank you for that. The ceremonies are in March and in May. And we don’t know if we’re gonna get to go to them, yet they, even with two ceremonies, they don’t present all of the awards in person.

So we’re gonna wait to see if the podcast category will be part of the LA one in March or part of the New York one in May. Hopefully they will be because that would just be so amazing. I’m not expecting at all. I don’t know people are supposed to be like, you know, humble, you know, when you get nominated for something like, oh, you know, I’m not expecting to win. I’m literally not expecting to win. But I really, really, really want to go to that ceremony because I think it would just be so surreal and special and maybe the only time that we get to do that.

Maybe not, but I also wanna thank GLAAD. We really believe in this show and we really believe in fighting back against the book bans and holding up these books. And so it does mean something more on a, beyond the personal level, we put a lot of work into this show, but to have GLAAD recognize it. And I think for me, the recognition is more so that these books need to be read, that these guests need to be listened to, that these authors need to be followed.

And I hope then with this nomination that we’re able to do more of that because we are facing what we expect to be another record-breaking year of LGBTQ book bans or attempts to ban LGBTQ books this year. So thank you, GLAAD Media Awards. I really do believe, I guess, with the nomination is the win, but I don’t know.

Jim Pounds

I think watching you get ready for a day and a half would be exhausting, you know, getting your outfit right and your hair right.

J.P. Der Boghossian

Oh, can you imagine?

Jim Pounds

No, I really can’t.

J.P. Der Boghossian

Yeah. So it’s maybe, we’ll see. To have that opportunity to, though, would be so special. I know. The other thing that I wanted to talk with you about today, so we just had Leon Acord and his conversation with me about The Front Runner. And when Leon reached out to us and said this was the book that saved his life and you had a reaction to that.

Jim Pounds

Well, I always said if we ever, you know, in 2090 when we run out of guests, if I need to do an episode, that I would choose The Front Runner. That was the book, that the way I’m interpreting the question, that’s how I would answer it. So then when Leon came along and said, I want to do the front runner, I thought, all right, well, then I don’t need to worry about it.

I don’t have to reread it. I don’t have to get ready for an interview. But I thought I would at least, you know, get on his shoulders and say, I agree and I don’t know if there’s any specific questions you want to ask me. But we’re similar in age. I think I’m six years older than Leon.

Jim Pounds

This is unique because we don’t usually do commentary on episodes, right? Because that’s not our deal here. But given the situation, I’m just curious. You know, you listened to the interview. So what were your takeaways from this conversation with Leon?

Jim Pounds

Well, I think the most important thing anybody can understand about the 70s, the early 70s, is that there was so little representation. There was no positive representation. And we sort of craved, and I could hear it in Leon’s episode, any character, any character even nod, even inference that somebody might be gay or lesbian. It was so under the radar. So, and when it did come forward, it was usually in some sort of tragic way or in a sad way or clown sort of goofy way. And here was a romance. I mean, how many heterosexual romance paperbacks have been written? Good night.

And it was such a common, it’s a trope really, was the bare-chested man on the front of the with the woman in a flowing gown so here was our first at least that i’m aware of romance and that’s the word that Leon used a lot is how romantic it was and that was and we didn’t even question well who’s Patricia Nell Warren and what’s her deal?

There was no such thing. It was like, oh my gosh, there’s this story about, you know, what I thought of as a college, an adult college student and his coach. And that became a romantic story. And that was about all we had very little standards then. You know, we we were just glad that somebody did something. Somebody it seemed out of the shadows. So.

Now, I have all kinds of other thoughts about it over time, but at the time it was groundbreaking, at least in my suburban Los Angeles world.

J.P. Der Boghossian

How did you find it?

Jim Pounds

I saw it in a bookstore, or no, in a department store in a book department. And I saw the cover, and although there’s nothing overt about it, it’s certainly sexy, I guess I’d say.

I then I think I went and asked people and I started hearing about it from people and eventually bought a copy in that in that department store which was called Nash’s I think was the name of it in Arcadia California. And the things that stand out for me are the intergenerational nature of it which which Is also for some people verboten it’s not for me. I’ve always been interested in intergenerational relationships so that was unexpected.

J.P. Der Boghossian

Considering we are in one.

Jim Pounds

Also the fact that this was a romance and not a sex in the park sort of, or sex in the men’s room sort of story. Those two things were, oh and it was set in sports. Think of the places you’re not in the 70s gonna hear a gay story. This person wasn’t an interior decorator or a hairstylist. You know, these were two athletes, or an athlete and a coach, so it was like the military or the clergy. Now we know both of those institutions are crawling with gay people and lesbians, but at the time in the 70s, that was almost unthinkable. So it was a very unusual setting, intergenerational dynamic and a romance.

So it had like three big home runs associated with it, and it solidified some things for me when I wasn’t so comfortable going to bars or thinking that I was going to meet somebody, you know, in a porn movie theater that would be a partner. This sort of validated the idea of romance also being part of a gay relationship, which was not necessarily thought to be true. At least it was not obviously true in the early 70s. So it really set a path for me that I was already on, but it validated the path I was already on.

I feel like Leon did the same thing. He’s like, I wanted coach. What’s his name? I wanted exactly that relationship that she wrote. So so sensitively, I think. Now we come to find out Patricia Nell Warren was in fact bisexual or she has come. She had come out as bisexual while she was still alive. So which makes it all make more sense than a straight woman writing a story in a sort of fantasy way. So I feel even better about it than I did back in the day.

J.P. Der Boghossian

We were just watching an episode of Sort Of, which I highly recommend on HBO. It’s from Canada, but it’s this amazing show of queer BIPOC characters, but they had a conversation which I really appreciated about agency.

Because there was this like power dynamic between two characters and there was an age difference between these two characters. Not a big one, but I really appreciated how they were, you know, both of them are trying to demonstrate, you know, sensitivity to their power relationship but also to agency and how both of them did have agency and choice in the situation. And one person shouldn’t be, you know, like rendered, you know, powerless or victimized and so…

I think that’s what I’ve gotten from the conversation with you about The Front Runner and with Leon, right? Is that it’s really also sensitively addressing that intergenerational relationship and agency and who has that. And you know, he’s a, he’s a track star, but immediately like when he graduates, Billy, the younger partner becomes a teacher and takes up a teaching position. And so they’re colleagues right away, even though there is still right that, that age dynamic.

And then obviously that dynamic of becoming, you know, coach and athlete and trying to make it to the Olympics, the 1976 Olympics, which also kind of, I mean, it’s not the same, obviously, because with like Nyad, the film that came out last year with, you know, Jodie Foster and Annette Bening, you know, there was that, you know, coach, athlete, you know, relationship, but they were trying to navigate it from like colleagues of the same age. Right. And how do they, how do they, you know, be a coach and an athlete, while having to navigate this other relationship that they had for many, many decades prior to that.

And so I guess where I’m also going with that is to your point to see how they were also navigating the coach athlete dynamic within this very homophobic institution, this track and field, but all of these sports, right, are very, very homophobic and that culture is. And so early on to have a book that’s the first one that’s mainstreaming queer romance, but also directly trying to address, in a dramatic way, not a melodramatic way, and I know we we gave you know, I’m not gonna do any more spoiler alerts here. But it was very interesting to me of how clearly Patricia Nell Warren was going after that as an institution.

And how that homophobia is internalized and system systematic in that area

Jim Pound

Well, it wasn’t 1976 Greg Luganis’s first Olympics or about 72?

J.P. Der Boghossian

I think it was later than that?

Jim Pounds

Was it?

J.P. Der Boghossian

I think he was 80, 84, and 88. Or no, which was the one? There was one that we didn’t go to, right? Was it the one that Jimmy Carter said we weren’t going to? Or was it Reagan that said we weren’t going to? Was that 76 or 80?

Jim Pounds

That might have been 76, you’re right. You’re right. Okay, yeah. Well, thanks everybody for letting me share my little slice of my past. Enjoy The Front Runner. I think it’s still, I don’t know, whether it’s available in our bookstore?

What did you find out about it?

J.P. Der Boghossian

It isn’t paperback. We can’t stock it in our bookstore because Bookshop doesn’t have access to the title. And the audio CD is actually on backorder, which obviously, like who has CD players anymore? But you can find it at your local bookstores. You can also find it at the major retailers. If you have to do that, I understand. But you can find it at local bookstores. So we really recommend that you check it out.

All right. Well, thank you, everybody. We’re going to close it out here, run some credits. We will see you next week for a new episode of The Gaily Show. And then in two weeks, we’ll be back with a new episode of This Queer Book Saved My Life.

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
That’s our show for today. Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds, accounting and creative support provided by Gordy Erickson. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Perrazo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Ida Gotëberg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard.

A reminder to listen to The Gaily Show, listen live every Saturday at 2pm on AM950 or through the TuneIn app, or find it everywhere you stream your podcasts, or you can watch my pretty face on YouTube. Search for The Gaily Show. To view the full video of Monday Conference with Dennis Altman, visit ABC’s YouTube channel, that’s the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Links are in the show notes and on our website. Our soundtrack and sound effects are provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisqueerbook.com slash music for track names and artists. We are on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Blue Sky, or on Instagram. As always, you can connect with us through our website, thisqueerbook.com, and if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the home page. And until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores.

[theme music ends]