John Cameron Mitchell’s Coming Out Story

Awkward fumblings, outrageous coincidences, and finding a place in the world as a gay man.
  • Transcript


Question: Who was the first person you came out to, and how did that experience shape you?

John Cameron Mitchell:  I think I told a woman that was on top of me.... There was a guy, the first guy that I had sex with was at a, on a speech tournament trip, you know, I was in Albuquerque and the trip was through Roswell and we sort of, unspoken, you know, got the same bed in the motel and kind of fooled around, but there were people in the other bed so we had to be very quiet and I didn’t really like him that much, he was kind of, you know, silly, but I sort of had to get this over with.

And years later I went back to my college, or my high school, my drama teacher, I thanked her for that, you know, helping me get through that, she was sort of embarrassed and I said, “This guy, Danny, was, I remember, and a few sort of fumbling attempts,” and then at the school, she wanted me talk about "Hedwig," which was very strange because it was a very conservative Catholic school and she could’ve got in trouble and she wanted me to talk about being gay and Matthew Shepherd and, you know, it was in English class, all the kids were silent and terrified and then the bell rang, they all left, and a couple people stayed—you know, like the punk rocker and the little homo and the little musical theater girl, and my, you know, my people.  And some more kids stayed and we talked about this and that, it was very exciting.  And I was remembering what it was like at that age, you know, to hear somebody different, you know, at that—talk with authority or some, some empathy.

And then there was a teacher in the back of the room, sort of sitting back there looking kind of like a narc, you know, and he came down, I was like, “Oh, my drama teacher is going to get fired because this is a Catholic school and priests are in charge and some of them are molesting people.” It was just like this nightmare of Catholic rigidity and misogyny.  He came forward, and he was kind of a well-built, big guy and I said, reached out my hand and said, “I’m John Mitchell,” and he said, “Don’t you recognize me?  I’m Danny.”  It was the guy from the Roswell motel room.  And he said, “I’m a student teacher here now.”  And I looked at my drama teacher and she’s like, didn’t know what was going on.  And he got all nervous and then I said, “Walk me to my car,” and then I said, “We should have dinner,” and he’s like, “I can’t, I can’t, you know?”  And I was like, “Oh, God, get me out of here.”  And we, I said, “How about lunch?”  And he said, “I could do that.”  You know, and we hung out and the next day, and he suddenly was really cool, he was, he had, he was gay and he had gone to San Francisco for many years and got married to a guy and wanted to come back and teach at his old school, this conservative school, because that’s where he thought he was needed, you know?  You know, he might very well get fired from that Catholic school, but he was, left that up to them.  And I was, like, looking at him and thinking about my drama teacher and it was like, these are people who are really doing the good work, you know? They’re not preaching to the converted, they’re in a place where they’re needed rather than just shoring up with like-minded people and hiding off in your Web site or your town that’s safely liberal or this, or safely conservative, or whatever it is, they’re actually interacting and it was very moving, you know?  And I realized how much importance that can have for those kids that come in contact with those cool people.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen