He told Jack first. We were all on a hike, they were up ahead of Shani and me, and he told Jack he was gay. Jack didn’t seem to think it was a big deal.
Then he told Shani. She was in the living room. He came up, sat on the ottoman, told her, and then went back down to the basement. It was a quick drop and gone.
I was last. And that was strange to me because he and I were really close. Almost every weekend the two of us would spend the day going on hikes. We talked for hours in the car and on the trail. And I felt like things were super open between us. In fact, we’d actually had a conversation about his sexuality a few months earlier. The two of us drove up to Vestal to see the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 with my buddies from high school, and on the drive home, I asked him.
“So, if you don’t want to answer this it’s totally fine. And I don’t care about the answer either. But…have you ever considered if you were gay?”
“No,” he said definitively. “Because I have a crush on a girl.”
And we talked all about it from there. We laughed about the fact that he had so many stereotypically gay characteristics (loved Taylor Swift, favorite color was pink, into musicals, all his friends were girls), but he wasn’t gay. He even told me that his friends had joked that if they were all characters in a sitcom, he’d be the gay friend.
But he wasn’t gay. I even felt a little relief over it, although I didn’t recognize it at the time.
But here we were a few months later, on a hike in Northern New Jersey, and he says…
“I have to tell you something. It’s not a big deal. Well, it kind of is, but not really…”
I knew right away what it was, and my heart gripped.
He said it. I stopped. I hugged him. Then I said all the right things. I told him I accepted him completely, and he said he already knew that. I told him he could always decide to change, and that was fine with me.
Then we spent the rest of the hike talking about it. I asked him how he’d figured it out, who else knew, and more. Apparently, it was my asking him on the car ride a few months that really got him thinking. And as he thought about it, it became clear pretty quickly. Most of his friends knew. Jack knew; Shani knew.
He told me that he’d told the kids on his dive team. Sam, who was 17 and gay, had first danced with joy, and then gave Alex some good advice.
“It took me a year to tell my parents, and I spent that whole year really depressed. So I’d recommend you tell your parents right away.”
So Alex did. And we had a terrific conversation about it.
I was trying to learn a bit more about how he realized he was gay. So I asked…
“So, when I watch Avengers movies, I see Scarlett Johanssen and I think…yeah, she looks good. Does that happen to you with Captain America?”
And he said…
“Yes. But Thor, not Cap.”
(There are a number of quotes that stand out from Alex’s coming out, and this is the first.)
In other words, it couldn’t have gone better, right? Acceptance. Open dialogue. Still buddies.
Except it wasn’t quite right. Because it wasn’t sitting well with me. I had this nagging dread at the very top of my stomach. I was sad. Which didn’t make sense. I mean, I could not be more pro-gay. I’m all for this. Total support, right?
But then what was this sense of dread? I was ashamed to feel it.
I talked about it at length with Shani, and at some point, I wondered why he told me last. Was he nervous about my reaction?
And here comes quote number two…
“He wants to be you. And by being gay it means he can’t be.”
The second she said that, I started to cry. Kinda hard. It sunk like a stone passing through my chest and into my stomach. That quote still stops me in my tracks when I think about it.
I grappled with how I was feeling for a good week, at least. Guilt, sadness, distraction. Then I called the Chief. He was in the car with his two daughters. I got two words out of my mouth…and I was absolutely bawling. I can only imagine how freaked out his girls must have been hearing this wailing man over the car speakers.
But my man had the medicine. He let me blubber it out, then said…
“You’ve been looking forward to things you wanted to share with him before he was even born. You’ve pictured those moments in your head. But now you’re not gonna get those moments the way you imagined. And you’re mourning the fact that you’re losing that. Which is OK. You’re gonna get different moments and experience different things together. But it’s OK to mourn what you’ve lost.”
That was the answer. And that made it so I could breathe again. It meant I didn’t have to grapple with that dread anymore or feel ashamed that it was there. In fact, it wasn’t dread at all. It was mourning and that was something I could embrace and give myself over to. I was basically all good from thereafter.
There was a terrific talk with Jack shortly thereafter. He and I went for a long walk and discussed the subject at length. He actually felt like he hadn’t handled it well when Alex told him, and I was able to assure him that he’d handled it just fine. He also told me…
“If a kid picks on Alex for being gay, I think it means I have to fight that kid.”
I told him that was right.
Then there was telling our larger network. Alex wrote his grandparents a letter and they called him right away to tell him they loved him no matter what. I told my friends. I told my dad. And every one of those conversations had a similar pattern. I’d tell them, and then they’d say “I knew it!” like it was some kind of prophetic insight they’d had. But everyone was totally great about it.
So now it’s two years later and I finally feel like I can share the story. It’s no longer about Alex coming out. He’s done coming out. Alex is gay. It’s 100% public.
I can also say that he’s had basically zero problems, for which I’m deeply grateful. The kids in school know and embrace it. He doesn’t seem to have been picked on at all – although I suspect some of the alpha-boys in school may have thrown a little shade his way. Alex loves to point out that their entire identity is success in sports, and that it would never occur to any of them that the gay kid was actually the most successful athlete in the entire school. “They think it’s a big deal if they make the varsity soccer team and I literally won Nationals last summer.”
I’m also happy to report that we’re as close as ever. We’ve had a cribbage battle going on this year and we’re tied at 72 games a-piece. We did a trip to Shenendoah National Park this August, where we camped in a local farmer’s field, went on killer hikes, and got luscious shakes every night made from local peaches. We still hike all the time and chatter away in the car and on the trail. We get meatball subs from Wawa afterwards or find a Dairy Queen and get Blizzards. We jabber on about Marvel movies or trips to national parks.
He’s my friend.
And I guess I’ll end with some photos. No big conclusion or takeaway, really.
This is us camped out in the farmer’s field near Shenandoah National Park.
This is Alex driving around the field.
Here we are at the top of Buffalo Mountain in Colorado, which was about the best hike we’ve ever done. At one point were hiking among mountain goats.
Here’s Alex trying champagne after Biden was declared winner.
Here’s him with his brother and mom on the Konza Prairie in Manhattan, KS. Note the rainbow.