Zach has been in Wisconsin his entire life. He was born in Monroe and eventually moved to Barneveld, a little conservative-leaning town with about 1,000 residents.
However, most of his family leaned more to the left, except for his biological father and stepdad. He’s close with his immediate family, like his mother, stepfather, brother, and sister.
Zach had a couple of girlfriends in elementary and middle school, but at the time he didn’t really know what it meant to have one.
“For most of my life, I could kind of tell I didn’t really have an interest in girls that way — I could tell there was something off. I decided that it would happen eventually: Some day, I would start being more interested in them.”
He thought that was the case until he started watching the show Glee in its second season, around 2010-11. He was in the eighth or ninth grade.
“Looking back on it now, Glee is really bad,” Zach said, “because there were two gay guys in the first season — one was a pedophile and the other was a stalker. But at the time, when I started watching it, I realized that being gay was a thing and that maybe I was; I never really thought about it until then.”
After a couple of weeks, Zach became more comfortable with his sexuality. A close friend of his at the time, Emily, was the first person he told.
“I figured I might as well just tell her because she seemed like she would be really cool with it,” he explained. “And she was really supportive. She said that we could watch Supernatural together and look at the guys.”
Shortly after, he decided to tell a couple of friends from Confirmation when he was little, and they both took it well too.
One of them asked if he wanted to go shopping with her, and he politely declined, saying that it wasn’t really his thing. She jokingly said in response that he wasn’t the “fun” kind of gay.
The friends from Confirmation asked if they could tell some of their friends too, to which Zach agreed. A few days later, several people at school knew he was gay. Within a couple weeks, the entire school knew.
Zach said everybody found out so quick because of the small, close-knit population. But he didn’t mind that.
“It’s not the end of the world; nothing really changed. I had a small group of friends, and that’s all I really wanted anyway. I didn’t really care how other people reacted to it.”
One night, Zach’s brother and sister were drunk and he came out to them. He thought that was a good opportunity because if they took it badly, he could say it didn’t happen. But they took it really well.
His friends then convinced him to come out to his mother shortly after he came out to them and his siblings.
“I waited until she was in a separate room from my stepdad because I didn’t know how he would take it,” he explained.
Since he started watching Glee, Zach had been going online to research what kinds of experiences others have had coming out to their parents. He read several accounts of parents not being accepting, such as kicking their children out, disowning them, getting sent to conversion therapy, and more.
It was in the back of his mind, but not as something that was 100% likely would happen to him. Something that also was on his mind was the fact that others thought those consequences wouldn’t happen to them, but they did.
“Looking stuff up on the internet may not have been the best call because the websites I was on seemed to always look for the worst cases,” Zach explained, “so I was internalizing that this was going to go horribly, horribly bad for me.”
Before telling his mom, he started with the somewhat stereotypical “you still love me no matter what?” phrase.
“I’m sure she was thinking that I had done something bad,” Zach said. “Then I said, ‘I think I’m gay.’”
She then asked how he knew, and he explained that he had been watching Glee and saw that some guys on the show weren’t interested in girls and that he felt the same way.
His mom took it well, but told him not to tell anybody at school or his stepfather because she was worried it would start a fight. However, she didn’t know that the entire school knew already.
At first, Zach’s reaction to his mom telling him to not tell anybody was that he did something wrong, that maybe he shouldn’t be gay. But he knew what she said was well-intentioned.
His mom explained years later that after he came out that she was looking at an article online about what to do when your kid comes out, and one of the first things said “don’t tell them to not tell anyone.” She apologized to him, but Zach forgave her because it happened so long ago.
Now, Zach is engaged. He met his fiancé at a group for student pagans at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. After Zach became the vice president of the group, his fiancé started going to the meetings regularly.
A couple months into the 2017 or 2018 fall semester, Zach invited them out to the bars. After a while, they started hanging out more, watching Netflix and going out. They began dating after Zach discussed a couple of platonic relationships with other friends who maybe thought were more than that.
In December 2019, the two decided to get silicone engagement rings. There is no set wedding date yet because of the virus.
For those who are still looking around and researching their own sexuality, Zach said that TV shows are a good start to exploring.
“In a perfect world, I’d be able to point them to more definitive things,” he explained. “TV shows are a good place to start, and hopefully they’ll find their way to places that might talk about it in more detail. There’s only so much [TV shows] can do and still be entertaining, and I think that’s part of why a lot of times they aren’t as educational as they could be.”
Zach also found his one person he trusted enough to come out to, and built his group from there.
“Build yourself a support system before you move to some of the harder coming out stages; it’s good to slowly build that up as you feel more comfortable,” he explained.
And he also said to never watch Glee.
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted January 12, 2021.