The OUT Field
|by Dan Woog|
|Finding His Balance
Like millions of Americans, Brandon Triche was captivated by the gymnastics competition at this summer's Beijing Olympics. Unlike most viewers, he had keen insights into the sport. A gymnast since he was a child, he remembers watching Mary Lou Retton and Bart Conner in the 1984 Olympics. Triche spent two decades in the sport, ultimately competing at the college level.
But even in the rarefied world of gymnastics, Triche had a unique perspective. He is gay. And for many years, he used every drug he could, from crystal meth and cocaine to ecstasy, GHB, and special K.
Triche's early life was unlike most other boys in his suburban Houston hometown. Half Native American and half white, he was adopted as an infant by devout Catholics. Every Sunday his parents brought him to church, where he learned that sins like homosexuality would condemn him to hell. At a young age, Triche knew he was gay.
When he came out at 15, his parents sent him to a series of psychiatrists. The negative reaction of so many adults drove him back in the closet. He pretended to be straight, and took up football and baseball. He partied hard, too, but graduated and headed to Abilene Christian University.
A few weeks before school began, he watched the 1996 Olympics. He realized how much he missed gymnastics. He enrolled in a one-credit course in the sport, and his love for it was rekindled.
But the college was not a good fit. After one semester, Triche returned home, enrolled in a community college, trained with a top coach, and transferred to Southern Connecticut State University. The New Haven school had a storied (if fading) gymnastics program, and a legendary coach named Abie Grossfeld.
After his first year at Southern, Triche told his parents about an older mana policemanwhom he'd met in a chat room, and was seeing. They kicked him out of the house. His drug use spiraled. Back in college, he got injured doing gymnastics. That fueled his growing depression. He began selling drugs. Once again he dropped out of school.
Triche finally entered rehab. He moved to Dallas, and waited on tables. Realizing how much he had given up, he worked at re-establishing a relationship with his parents. He re-entered Southern Connecticut. He still did drugs, but says he "handled it better." He had strong relationships with his teammates, who did not care that he was gay. (His coach, Grossfeld, did not blink either. "He's from New York," Triche says. "He's seen it all.")
Right before his final meetthe 2001 Division II national championship, at the University of California, DavisTriche sprained his ankle. The flowers that filled the arena aggravated already severe allergies. But his parents were finally there, standing by his side. He finished his college career with a flourish: He caught the high bar perfectly.
After graduation, however without sports to anchor himTriche again fell apart. He used whatever drugs he could get his hands on. He went to bathhouses for group sex. He landed in the hospital several times, with overdoses and anxiety attacks. His life was a mess.
Triche returned to rehab. Once again he got clean. He entered an outpatient program, and began attending 12-step programs. Slowly, he started on the long road to recovery.
"I take it one step at a time now," Triche says. "Every single day is not perfect. But I know I've come a long way. I'm no longer in the gutter. I have a great future. I'm doing my best not to screw it up."
He works with his father, who owns an erosion control company. And his fatherthe man who once kicked Triche out of the houselikes George, Triche's partner of four years, so much that he sometimes invites him over without Triche. Both parents have grown to appreciate Triche's large circle of gay friends.
This past summer, Triche published Balance: The Life of a Gay Gymnast. A riveting account of his life leaping from one dangerous stunt to anotherliterally as well as figurativelythe book will "hopefully prevent people from making the same mistakes I've made," Triche says.
Looking back, what has he learned? "Sports taught me so much: how to be on a team, how to be disciplined, dedicated, a leader, and how to fight," Triche says. "Being gay made the beginning part of my life really hard. But the fact that I felt comfortable with my team made me extremely comfortable with who I am. I've learned I don't have to define myself with labels; I can just be me."
Sure, but the book's title includes the words "Gay Gymnast." Which of those labels is most important to him?Triche pauses. "I don't know," he finally says. "But I do know there aren't too many 'gay gymnast' books out there."
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached care of Letters from CAMP Rehoboth or at OutField@qsyndicate.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 14 October 10, 2008