Editor’s note: This story is part of The Concordian’s series on sexuality at Concordia. A name in this story has been changed to respect the wishes of one of the people identified.
Brandon and Chris sat on the couch in Brandon’s room. Brandon had invited Chris, his new friend, to visit him at home over Christmas break. The two held hands, sharing a blanket, watching “Clue.”
Just then, Brandon heard footsteps from the hallway. It was his mother. He quickly moved to the opposite side of the couch before the door opened.
“Brandon, I’m going to Dori’s (Brandon’s aunt) house tomorrow,” his mother said. “Do you want to come?”
Brandon agreed, and she left. As soon as she was down the hall, he turned to Chris. “Do you think she noticed anything weird?”
Chris said she probably didn’t notice anything.
Brandon hoped against hope Chris was right. But Chris was wrong.
“Brandon! Come downstairs!” came his mother’s voice from the living room.
And in that moment, Brandon knew that he was in for something bad. Had he realized just how bad it was, he may have stayed in his room, ignoring his mother’s command. But he went downstairs. And that’s when things started to go wrong.
* * * *
Brandon Wente’s childhood was nothing unusual. One of his favorite memories of growing up is how most Sundays his family would drive about 20 minutes to Morris, Minn., to get Pizza Hut. They would get back just in time to catch the newest episode of The Simpsons on TV, and they’d watch it as a family.
They never took an official vacation. The only trips they ever made were across the state to Valleyfair and Twins games. Brandon remembers waking up at 6 a.m. and getting to the amusement park just after it opened. The family would spend all day on the rides, would get a hotel for the night, and go to the Twins game the next day.
Brandon always had a sense growing up that his family could never be disappointed in him. And that’s why it was so hard for him to tell them the truth.
Meet the Wente family. The parents, Tom and Chrysta, are happily married. Chrysta, middle-aged with sandy brown hair, can be difficult at times, often telling stories that she thinks are true, but really aren’t. A favorite family story tells of when Chrysta told family friends that her daughter was working in a post office. When a family friend congratulated Amber, the daughter, on her prestigious job, sure to come with great benefits, she had no idea what was going on—she really worked as a mail sorter in the St. Cloud State mailroom.
Tom is almost always easygoing, his brown eyes always hiding behind rectangular-framed glasses. None of his kids ever had any problem approaching him with anything. He’s the kind of man who works hard every day as a carpet layer, doing installations for free if you’re a friend. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked. He was almost never easily upset; Chrysta always had to be the disciplinarian.
Amber and Dan are Brandon’s older siblings. They’re both like their dad: quiet, easygoing, hardworking. Amber has her mother’s hair, and a warm sense of humor. That’s why she was Brandon’s favorite sibling—they could spend time together, and she’d make him smile. Dan was always Brandon’s arch nemesis. But Brandon wasn’t to be messed with; he drew his fair share of blood. They were constantly at odds as kids, bickering and wrestling.
And then there’s Brandon. He’s got bright blue eyes and a warm, welcoming smile. His sister once told him that he was the only Wente child who wasn’t an accident. But, as it turns out, Brandon would be the only sibling that didn’t turn out according to his parents’ plans.
* * * *
Brandon Wente couldn’t sleep.
As the 15-year-old lay in his bed that night, thoughts raced through his mind.
These are the things he told himself: It’s impossible. It’s not who I’m going to be.
Yes I am. No I’m not. But am I? No. I’m not.
I’d be shunned; my family would hate me. What about my religion? I’ll burn in Hell. I’m gonna get beaten up.
For months—nearly a year—Brandon would fight it. But there was no fighting it; it’s who he was. It’s how he felt, how he understood himself. He felt like something was wrong with him; something wasn’t OK. Should he tell his family? Should he tell his friends? He didn’t know what to do. But he had to do something.
That was the first time Brandon knew he was gay.
The first person Brandon ever came out to was Marin. Over the last few months, as Brandon went back and forth between gay and straight, he and Marin created a way of talking about his struggles. “I’m teetering off the edge right now,” Brandon would say if he felt particularly strongly about being gay. And that’s how he broke the news to Marin.
The two were close friends, and this particular day, they were sharing their usual table in 10th grade art class, the front right table in the room.
Brandon: “I’m pretty sure I’ve teetered all the way over the edge.”
Marin: “Oh. OK.” Silence.
Well, now what do we talk about?
That was the first time Brandon was officially gay to anyone in his life. As Brandon grew more comfortable with himself, the news spread. First to his friend Suzi, then from Suzi to Meagan and from Meagan to other friends. And his friends were supportive. Except Meagan.
Meagan had been raised very religiously. Her father is a minister. She wasn’t even allowed to read the Harry Potter books because of the magic. And she took it upon herself to “cure” Brandon.
She told Brandon that the only reason he felt gay is because he had failed so much with girls. You see, Brandon’s only girlfriend had been Ashley Frank, a sixth-grade flirtation that lasted all of a month. In fact, Brandon had until recently still been trying to date. He’d asked Reagan Remmers out by dressing himself up as a Christmas present marked “To: Reagan. From: Guess Who?”
Reagan opened the present, but rejected his offer.
Meagan never succeeded in trying to make Brandon straight again, and to this day she still thinks it’s wrong.
Once his closest circle of friends knew, Brandon felt able to be himself. He was gay, but only to them, and that was OK. He never officially came out in high school. Not to the world, not to his parents, only to those five people. And he kept this burning secret hidden for more than three years.
Not only did he hide it. He openly lied about it.
Brandon absolutely despised a classmate named Dwayne. One day in geography class, Dwayne turned around and asked Brandon bluntly, “Brandon, are you gay? I’m just curious.”
Brandon was shell shocked. How did he know? But he played it cool.
And that was the closest he ever came to coming out in high school.
He left for Concordia in fall 2006 ready to stop lying. He didn’t want to “get in anyone’s face” about being gay, but he wouldn’t deny it anymore. And not long after he came to Concordia, he found Chris.
Brandon and Chris were Facebook friends before college. No good reason, just a random add. They messaged back and forth often enough that they decided to meet each other once they moved in. So, on the second night of orientation, Chris stopped by Brandon’s room. He had bleached blond hair and the same bright blue eyes as Brandon. He was wearing scrubs for his nurse’s aide job at MeritCare. The first thing Brandon remembers about Chris was his voice. It was soft, unlike any Brandon had heard.
Brandon liked Chris. He was fun. They watched movies together all the time, just two guys hanging out. When they weren’t watching movies, they would stay up and chat online until 2 or 3 a.m. They clicked.
It was at one of their movie nights that they first held hands. It was Nov. 1, 2006.
They were watching “Moulin Rouge,” but Brandon wasn’t paying attention to the movie. All he could think about was his hand, and moving it closer and closer to Chris’s. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes hours until there was contact.
Brandon reached for Chris’s hand, and Chris reached too. They held hands the rest of the movie.
They became official less than a week later, Nov. 6. It was Brandon’s first real relationship. It was exciting and scary all at once.
Brandon had a relationship, a life. And his family knew nothing. Until Thanksgiving.
* * * *
Brandon decided he’d tell his family in portions. His sister Amber had always been easiest for him to talk to, so he decided to tell her first. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and she and Brandon went to her room to hang out and talk awhile before bed. She sat at the head of her bed, Brandon at the foot. She talked about her new romance. She was excited. And that’s when Brandon came out to a family member for the first time.
Brandon: “Do you mind if I tell you about one of my relationships? But promise you won’t get mad…Amber, I think I’m gay.”
Brandon later said the “think” was a reflex.
Amber: “Do you think you are or know you are?”
Silence. There was one question Brandon had always wanted to ask Amber.
“Couldn’t you already tell?”
What Amber said is clear in Brandon’s head to this day.
“It’s not something I ever thought to look for.”
They stayed up late that night talking about it. Amber was surprised, but supportive. The next day, as Amber was leaving, Brandon hugged her and thanked her for everything. All Amber said was, “I still love you.” Brandon knew that she would be extremely helpful when the time came to tell his parents, which happened a month later.
It was Christmas break, and Brandon had invited “his friend Chris” home to visit. Tom was in town, and Chrysta had just walked in on Brandon and Chris watching a movie. That’s when it went wrong.
“Brandon, come downstairs!”
Brandon left his room and headed down the stairs, a set of seven, a landing, and another set of seven. When he reached the bottom, his mother Chrysta was waiting for him on the couch, upholstered with a blue and pink floral pattern. She was looking him right in the eye.
“Brandon, what’s going on?” Her voice had a tone of disbelief.
“I don’t know what you mean; we’re just watching a movie.”
Chrysta acted like she was afraid to say what came next.
“Brandon … are you gay?”
Brandon couldn’t hide anymore. He took a deep breath and said one word:
Chrysta picked up a pillow and buried her face in it. She screamed as someone screams after the worst day of their life. And her scream turned to hard sobbing.
She couldn’t believe he was saying yes; she knew he was supposed to say no.
Brandon only remembers the conversation that followed in parts.
Chrysta: “Is it my fault?”
Brandon: “No one’s to blame.”
Chrysta: “Is Chris your boyfriend?”
But Brandon didn’t flinch. He never broke down. He was trying to stay strong.
Chrysta told Brandon two things: first, Brandon and Chris could not be in any room unsupervised the rest of the time he was home; second, Brandon would have to tell his dad before he left for school in two days.
Brandon went back upstairs to Chris. Before he could finish telling him what happened, he broke down. All the strength he’d buttressed up came crashing down. Brandon had cried before, but he had never cried so hard.
And he was only half done.
The next night Chrysta and Tom went to town to run some errands. When they came back, Brandon was waiting for them in the kitchen. Chrysta left the room.
Brandon didn’t want to waste any time.
“Dad, I talked to Mom the other night, and this isn’t easy for me … but … I’m gay.”
Tom was like he had always been. Calm. Relaxed. Not outwardly upset.
“Don’t expect me to come to your wedding,” he said matter-of-factly.
He took some more time to think. Finally, he told Brandon he didn’t agree with his decision (Brandon remembers vividly he used the word “decision”), but he was impressed by his courage. Brandon thought the drama was over. Not even close.
The next night Brandon and Chris were sitting in the living room—on separate couches, per Chrysta’s orders—when Tom came home. He had been in town all day, drinking. Brandon had never seen him so drunk. He ambled into the living room, looked at Brandon and Chris, and said something that his son would have never expected.
“How do you even know you’re gay? Have you even had sex with a girl?”
“Thomas!” came Chrysta’s voice from the kitchen.
Brandon shook his head no, and Tom went on.
“Then how do you know? Sex with a woman is the best!”
“Thomas, stop it!”
Brandon’s jaw had dropped. He couldn’t believe his own father was saying this to him, let alone in front of Chris.
“When you look at Chris, do you want to have sex with him?”
“Thomas! Stop it!”
“Just go out and have sex with a girl. Any girl will do.”
“Just wear a rubber. That’s your sex talk. Wear a rubber.”
Brandon was in absolute disbelief.
Tom stumbled out of the living room. It was over.
The next day Brandon left for the new semester. His mom said goodbye to him (“You ruined my New Year’s”) and he went to town to say goodbye to his dad. There were no words between them. They shared a hug, as always, and Brandon was gone.
* * * *
Tom and Chrysta still haven’t completely embraced Brandon’s lifestyle, three years after finding out. Brandon says he can talk about his relationships or having a crush on a man and Tom doesn’t flinch, but it took months. His mother is tolerant, and will be civil, but is still uncomfortable talking about it. Some of his extended family is just finding out now, and his grandmother still hasn’t been told, at Chrysta’s request. The last time they really talked about it, according to Brandon, was when he came out.
One of Brandon’s biggest supporters has been his former arch nemesis. His brother Dan took the news the best. He wasn’t shocked. There was no silence. He just looked at Brandon and said, “Good for you.” And he’s been supportive ever since.
Brandon graduated from Concordia last May. He currently works as a producer at Pioneer Public Television in Appleton, Minn. He knows that some people still judge him for being gay, but he hopes people can focus on other aspects of his life.
“It’s a part of my identity, but it is by no means a definition of my character,” Brandon said. “Anyone who meets me should take away who I am and what I value, not a trivial demographic.”
While Brandon has been comfortable with himself for a long time, he still isn’t completely at ease at home. He wonders about his ability to bring future boyfriends home.
“Are they going to judge him for being a boy, or are they going to give him a chance?” he said.
* * * *
Brandon Wente sat in his interpersonal communication class one day, not long ago. He took time to chat with his neighbors, asking if they were ready for the test that day. The professor, Aileen Buslig, walked over to hand out the test.
“Wow, Brandon! Your jeans have more holes than jeans,” she said, noting his stylishly ruined pants.
Brandon’s face blushed a shade of maroon and he could only smile, somewhere between embarrassed and genuinely entertained.
At that moment, he wasn’t different. He was just another student, mind chock full of information crammed at the last second, about to take a test.
And that’s all he wants.
Position at The Concordian: Editor-in-Chief
Year in school: Senior
Hometown: Bertha, Minnesota
Favorite Newspaper: The Star Tribune
Favorite Writer: Mitch Albom
Catchphrase: See what I did there?