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On Winning and Losing

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

By Alison Henriksen

When I found out I was having twins, it felt like I’d won the lottery. Two for the price of one was always good – but incredibly lucky when it comes to babies! Anyone who has been pregnant for nine months knows this to be true. Alec appeared first, robust and big for a twin, at 7.4 pounds. Then after what seemed like an eternity, Landon arrived, weighing in at 5.5, two pounds smaller than his brother. It took him 12 excruciating minutes to finally come out of the womb, and 23 years to come out of the closet. When I welcomed these two beautiful sons into the world I could never have imagined how their stories would color and change my own.

Polar opposites in personalities but best friends from the beginning, these boys had each other’s backs. They spoke fluent Twin – a language only they understood – and shared binkies, bottles, toys and inside jokes. Alec: brilliant, focused, witty, intense. Landon: bright, easygoing, kind, social. At about age 15, Alec suddenly became an outspoken and fierce LGBT ally. He began to question what he had been taught in church about people who are gay, educating himself on the subject as he always had in everything that interested him. Holding teaching sessions and debates with family and friends, he always won. Negative remarks or jokes were quickly checked. Alec’s passion in many subjects was part of his being, but this was brand new to me, so I asked him if he was gay. He told me he was not, but that it would be OK if he was. He told me that some people he cared about were gay but would not say more. I would later find out that he had guessed his twin’s orientation and had asked, but Landon, not yet ready to share, had said no. Despite that, Alec became the outspoken ally.

As a small child, Landon always drew rainbows. His favorite color was purple until someone laughed and told him that was “gay” so he changed it to rainbow! This child was made of all the most beautiful ingredients; the person who lights up a room, the one everyone is drawn to. He would leave the table of school friends to sit with the boy with Down Syndrome, and then include that new friend in games at recess. Soon, others joined him in sitting with the boy at lunch and playing games with him at recess. Landon can’t help it, he was born that way. He is smart, fun, athletic, right-handed, blue eyed….and gay. And yep, born that way. I found out about the gay part much later, when he was ready to share what he had known most of his life. Landon came out at 23 years old, after serving a religious mission and finally realizing that he was exactly who he was meant to be.

The moment my son told me he was gay, I wrapped him in my arms and promised him that he would always have my love and support. A shift in my beliefs began in that moment. After all, Truth had been standing in front of me for 23 years in the form of the most kind, beautiful person I had ever known. Knowledge that I had been taught false ideas about LGBT people filled my mind, and I cried with my son for all the damaging words from trusted leaders that crushed his soul and caused him decades of pain.

The year following was the loneliest of my life, trying to find my way on this unexpected path. Loving and accepting Landon was easy, but navigating changes, even change that is good and necessary, was not. The next months were filled with sleepless nights, unending tears, hours of research and yes, a few choice words to my Maker – and possibly some broken dishes. Then, I found Mama Dragons, a group of moms who felt as I did about their LGBT children! A lifeline was formed and I was no longer alone. In this community I found my sisters, my teachers, my counselors, and my friends. I found women who support me, as I support my beautiful gay son.

Life sometimes takes us to surprising places. My twin’s stories most definitely led me to where I am today – uncharted territory where I trust and follow my own heart and my own conscience. Alec was a young man with a brilliant, beautiful mind and a bright future. He was a self-taught coding genius, leader, seeker of knowledge and an advocate for the marginalized. He died by suicide after leaving for college at 18 years old. He died after years of battling a debilitating anxiety disorder. This is the greatest tragedy that I will ever know. I am forever changed, and will long for the sound of his voice for the whole of my life. One surreal, beautiful moment happened after Alec was gone and I read a post by Landon on Facebook. In it, Landon joyfully announced that he was gay and OK to his family and friends. It was a great relief to finally share his true self! And then he wrote this, “The only person who knew my secret was my twin brother, who took my secret to his grave.”

It was somehow immensely comforting to learn that while Landon was carrying the heavy burden of his secret, his twin brother was carrying it with him. Without ever revealing why, Alec had become Landon’s most passionate protector and ally.

Losing a child to suicide is an unimaginable tragedy – having a child tell you they are gay is not. You can take my word on this. These two life-changing moments created a fierce ally and advocate in me for my son and others like him. When I speak up with a voice of love and affirmation, maybe someone will hear and not lose hope.

Landon is the greatest gift! I am lucky and proud to be the mom of this extraordinary gay son. As I commented then on his Facebook post, I would not change one hair on his head. Landon is happy, thriving, confident and just started Physician’s Assistant school at the University of Utah. His future looks bright! This is in part because he is surrounded by a family who loves, supports, and celebrates him unconditionally, exactly as he is. My hopes are the same for him as they are for my other sons and daughter: love, companionship and happiness, just as it should be.

I was right all those years ago. I really did win the lottery.

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