You were the first action sports star to come out in 2015 – that must have been a scary prospect for you?
I think being in the closet is pretty scary for everybody because as human beings we are all afraid of rejection. I used to worry about everything that I may lose and didn’t think about what I might gain. I knew I was torturing myself holding onto a lie but I worried that by coming out and being openly “different” from everybody else in my sport I was going to lose friends, sponsors and income and essentially lose my grip on the sport I was so in love with. Obviously that’s not what happened and I was very pleasantly surprised when the reaction was overwhelmingly supportive.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with their sexuality?
I would tell anybody struggling with their sexuality to be kind to themselves. It’s a tough journey trying to figure out who we are and when you feel as though your very being goes against the grain and makes you different then you can often beat youself up about it. I would encourage anybody in that position to try not to worry about what other people are going to say or how anybody else is going to react. It’s more important that we all accept ourselves first and foremost. I know it sounds corny but I remember saying to myself “I’m gay and that’s ok” over and over again and really allowing it to sink in that yeah it is ok. Coming out is a very personal journey and nobody can tell you how or when to do it but I’ve never met anybody who was living their life out and proud that wished they had stayed closeted a little bit longer. The feeling of taking that step and finally getting to be myself for the first time was the most exhilarating, liberating and freeing thing I’ve ever experienced. There’s a quote by Dr. Seuss that I really love that goes: “be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” and that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject. Be you. If anybody has a problem with it then screw them, you don’t need them in your life. The people that really matter, the ones that stick around, are going to love you all the more for living your truth. Good luck!
Were you surprised by the reaction of fans after that kiss?
Initially I was surprised but I actually think that kiss was kind of my purpose at the 2018 Games. I know that sounds crazy but I think it was a really important moment for gay representation in sports. It was such a nonchalant, insignificant, kiss in many ways – a kind of “hi” or “bye” kiss you share with a partner without thinking twice about it – but because the Olympics are on the World’s stage it was a moment that was seen around the globe and that does a lot to normalize same sex relationships and gay representation in sport. I think someone else had to explain it to me for me to realize the impact it had and, although it was not something that was planned or thought about, it made me feel proud.
Did you see your ski performance improve after you came out as you weren’t hiding anything anymore?
I remember being really nervous coming into the season the year after I came out. I had just had a bunch of media exposure and my profile sky-rocketed and there were a lot of new eyeballs on me and I was nervous that I may not live up to the hype so to speak. On top of that I hadn’t trained on snow all summer or fall because I was recovering from a knee surgery. I showed up at the first event of the year, the Dew Tour, and really just felt a huge weight off my shoulders because I was competing as my whole self. My mom and people at the bottom held up rainbow flags and cheered for me and I felt really loved and supported. I ended up winning the event and went on to podium at every event I competed in that season including X Games medals in every ski discipline. Nothing had changed with my preparation, my training, my equipment, etc. I was just, for the first time, skiing as me.
What can be done within the snowsports community to encourage more inclusivity?
I think we need to watch the language that gets thrown around in all sports but definitely in snowsports. People often don’t even realize that the things they’re saying are damaging to others so that’s definitely a good place to start.
You partook in a charity bike ride for Aids Lifecycle, tell us more about this cause?
The AIDS/ Lifecycle is a 545-mile bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles that happens over the course of a week every June. Although it was physically one of the most demanding things I’ve ever done it was a really rewarding experience and the whole thing is a fundraiser to fight HIV/AIDS and help those affected by the disease. Each rider is personally responsible for getting people to donate to their campaign and for the 2019 ride I raised over $250,000 and set their record which I was very happy about.