(This story was published in 2004).
In many ways Brandon Triche is your typical college senior, frazzled by pulling an all-nighter after a computer erased most of a term paper due for his communications class.
In other significant ways, though, Triche's life has been far from typical. Half-Native American, half-Caucasian, adopted at birth by religious parents. An active gymnast from age 7 to 11, then steered into playing high school baseball and football before resuming his gymnastics career at 19. Telling his parents in high school that he's gay and being sent to ``about a million'' psychiatrists and pastors who tried to make him see the error of his ways. Going back into the closet out of frustration before meeting a man who became his life partner, telling his parents again and this time being kicked out of the house. A bout with heavy drug use that lands him in a rehab center before finally coming to terms and accepting who he really is.
It's been a long and difficult journey for Brandon Triche. But when the Southern Connecticut State University senior stepped on the floor April 13 for the NCAA Division II men's gymnastics championships in Davis, Calif., he did so with a realization that his best days are in front of him.
"It's important for people to be true to themselves and not be intimidated by the rest of the world,'' said Triche, 23, who lives on campus in New Haven, and also in New London, Conn., with Scott, his husband of three years.
Triche is a rare person in American sports--an out, active male athlete. His teammates and coaches and fellow students know, and what's striking is that it's become a non-issue. And that suits him just fine.
``It's generally been no big deal for the team,'' Triche said. ``Maybe it's because I'm so vocal about it. I don't hold back for anybody. I hear 24-7 straight talk all the time (from teammates) and they get it right back. They've been 100% supportive.''
He relates an incident from this past season when he and his teammates were relaxing the night before a meet with other gymnasts from Temple. The Temple athletes ``were a bunch of assholes ... talking about gays ... ragging about gays.''
Triche's teammates couldn't stop laughing; after all, one of ``them'' was in their midst. After breaking the news to the Temple gymnasts, Triche said they totally changed their tune and started asking more informative questions. The next day one of the Temple athletes approached Triche to confide that he was also gay.
"They're so scared to come out,'' Triche said of the Temple gymnast and closeted athletes in general. ''They don't realize a lot of people don't care. If you're 100% honest and don't show any fear, they'll be 100% cool with it.''
Two people close to Triche who have been anything but cool with it are his parents, who still live in his hometown of Spring, Texas, a Houston suburb. They've kicked him out of the house and want nothing to do with Scott (going so far as to buy Brandon a cell phone to prevent Scott from answering the phone if they wanted to talk with their son).
``They didn't want to condone homosexuality because of their Christian beliefs,'' Triche said.
Triche was aware of his sexual orientation from an early age.
``I knew when I was real young, at 6 or 7. I knew which direction I was looking in. I knew what I liked immediately. I knew. But I tried to convince myself I wasn't. Finally, at 14 or 15 I told myself inside I was gay.''
Along the way, Triche met some people who helped him feel better about himself. There was the student about two years older in his high school who was totally out. ``I was mesmerized by him. I said, `That will be me one day.' '' They eventually met and the student was a great support for Triche.
He also told his best friend, a girl, when he was 16 and her understanding gave him confidence. At the time he was playing on his high school football team (strong safety) and baseball team (catcher). His fellow baseball players had ``thought I was gay and they didn't care.''
Telling his parents was another matter, and their response would have been amusing if it hadn't been so tragic: they sent him to various shrinks and clergymen, who tried to ease him back into the heterosexual world. While paying lip service to them, Triche was buying none of it. ``I knew who I was.''
In frustration, he decided to go back into the closet, telling his parents it was just a phase. He was afraid of being disowned.
This charade went on for about three years before he would muster the courage to tell his parents the truth. The catalyst was Scott, nine years his senior, whom Brandon met online in an AOL chat room. Their first meeting at the Cookie Company in a Houston mall wasn't exactly a romantic dinner in Paris, but for Triche it was life-changing. The two fell in love and moved in together. They consider themselves married.
Home on a semester break, Brandon left his parents his journal, in which he talked about being gay and meeting Scott, asked them to read it and then went out for a bit. When he returned his parents were subdued and asked him to leave ... for good. Their decision sent him on a downward spiral.
``I was torn apart and wanted to give up on everything. I knew it would happen, but I didn't know how much it would hurt,'' he said of his parents' decision.
Having no contact with his parents, Triche dropped out of school for a semester during his junior year. He turned to drugs to ease his pain, ``cocaine, Special K mostly.''
``I was careless with my life because I didn't think anybody really cared about me,'' Triche said. ``Scott didn't know how to handle me.''
With the help of his parents, Triche checked into a drug rehab center in Houston and got clean. A key element was that he and his parents were again speaking, however tentatively.
``We slowly started talking more. They started to understand I wasn't going to change for them and they weren't going to change for me.''
Triche, whose 25-year-old straight brother has been very accepting, doubts that his parents will ever accept who he is, and he fervently wishes they ``would meet Scott and realize what a wonderful person he is.''
``Scott was there for me that entire time. He's been so supportive. His parents are so cool and they love me just like I'm their son.''
When word spread on the Southern Connecticut campus about Triche's ordeals with drugs and his parents, the reaction was one of support. His coach, the legendary Abie Grossfeld (national men's coach from 1981-88, including Olympic gold in '84) told Triche's parents that they were wrong. ``And when everybody on my team saw what I was going through, we kind of bonded even more,'' the gymnast said.
Following a terrific junior season, the 5-8, 165-pound Triche had a disappointing year athletically as a senior after spraining his ankle in December. But he was excited about the nationals, both for himself and his team. His future plans are also shaping up and include moving to Austin, Texas, and eventually Los Angeles. The video production major one day hopes to break into film making. Through his many ordeals he is convinced he's made a difference.
``I know I make a difference to people I'm around daily. Many have always feared meeting gay people and now they think I'm one of the coolest people they know.''
Update: Brandon e-mailed us about his experiences at the Division II champions Easter weekend:
``Things went well for the most part at nationals, despite our team losing one of our top scorers to an ankle injury. We came in sixth.
If you have ever been to the arena in UC at Davis, they have about a million and one flowers as you walk in, not to mention all the flowers that they decorated the place with ... So due to allergies, I ended up with a head cold. I did well though. Rings and pommels were the only events where I faltered.
I was going to event finals in the vault until the last round of competition, when everyone started to do awesome vaults, and I got booted out. But I am still happy because I did the best I could. I came in 12tht.
I had to change my floor routine, because of my allergies; in warm ups I was tumbling and got lost in the air and landed on my neck, so, needless to say, I had to tone it down.
But my parents were there and it made everything OK. They kept telling me how proud they were of me. My dad wants to know if I am going to continue with competing. I have been giving it some thought. But I also have been thinking about trying baseball out again. I am not sure if I want to give up sports quite yet.
Finally, I left out the neatest thing of the meet. My (college) roommate Curtis (Haines) won the entire meet. So I may not be the champion, but I am pretty close by one.''
Perception vs. Reality
Are many gymnasts gay? Not in Brandon's Triche's experience. He's found more on the baseball diamond.
The public perception of male gymnasts as more likely to be gay arises, Triche said, ``because any time a male's wearing a leotard they think `feminine.' I knew a lot more gays when I was playing baseball (in high school and one year at Abilene Christian University).''
The result, he said, is that among straight gymnasts in the locker room ``there's so much chick talk because they're afraid they might be perceived as being gay.''
This ultra-macho posturing even extends to the gymnasts who are gay, he said. ``A lot of people who are gay pass themselves off as straight.''
There are probably no more gay males in gymnastics than in the general population, in Triche's estimation.