Photography by Roger Erickson. Styling by Julien Jesus. Prop styling by Christopher Stone. Grooming by Mahfud Ibrahim for Exclusive Artists. Gus Kenworthy (left): T-shirt by Calvin Klein, Matt Wilkas: T-shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna.
Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skier and Olympic Medalist:
I grew up in Telluride, Colo., the kind of town where if something happens in your family, or you hook up with someone, everyone knows before you do. It’s a very liberal town — forward-thinking and accepting — but I was way too scared to come out in high school because there were hardly any gay people, and certainly no one I knew.
Matt Wilkas, Actor: I grew up in Camden, a little town on the coast of Maine. My father passed away when I was 12, so that was a really hard part of my childhood, and I was somewhat effeminate and never really fit in. I was probably only conscious of being gay because it was pointed out to me so much by everyone else. I tended to hang out with girls more, and I was very much a mama’s boy — I loved decorating, drew a lot, and was obsessed with old movie musicals like Carousel — all the clichés of a young gay child.
Kenworthy: I figured out I was gay at about the age of 5. If I was watching a movie, I was always fixating on the male lead and not the female lead. I found dirty magazines under my older brother’s bed, and I remember staring at the guy in it and thinking, This is kind of crazy. My closest family friend was a girl, and I was always excited to go to her house and use her Easy-Bake Oven and play with her Barbie dolls — all the things I wanted to have, but I had Tech Decks and G.I. Joes. I remember asking my mom for a Barbie when I was young and my brother telling her, “You cannot get him Barbies.”
Wilkas: I started to do theater after my father died, and it just fit. People started to see my talent rather than all my flaws, and I grew happier and found my group. My mother was very religious, but she was very loving and didn’t care that I wasn’t like the rest of the boys. With theater I felt I’d found someplace I belonged.
Kenworthy: When I was in high school I realized, Oh, I’m actually really into guys and want to hook up with them, but that was not an option at all. I’d just turned pro in skiing, and I was traveling, so there were girls at events, and they’d get pushed on you, and it was hard to circumnavigate that. Then, when I was 18, I met my first boyfriend, Robin, who was also involved in the ski industry, working in film and photography. He didn’t know he was gay, he didn’t know I was gay, and we became friends. Then, after a night of drinking, I decided to make a move. I set it up so that if he freaked out, I would just say, “I’m so sorry, I drank too much,” but he reciprocated, and that was the start of a five-year relationship. It was completely in the closet — we presented ourselves as friends. We’d get hotel rooms with two beds when we were at ski events. He’d stay in another room at my parents’ house. It was sad.
Wilkas: I ended up going to Boston University’s theater program because they gave me a complete student-aid package. It was my first time living outside of my family home. I was surrounded by all these young creative people, and students were coming out of the closet, and that was shocking and exciting, and then it was my time to do that too — very dramatically. Every Friday there was a three-hour class in which, one by one, everyone gets up and performs something, and I got up and free-spoke about how I was gay.
Kenworthy: I never thought I’d come out while I was skiing. I was sure that my industry was homophobic, so I decided I’d have my ski career, and then come out to my friends and live with my boyfriends or get married, but it would be a separate thing. But I got to a point where the pain of holding on to it became more than the pain of letting it go. It was damaging to be in the closet, damaging to not hold my boyfriend’s hand if we were in public, damaging to be thinking, Oh, my God, what does that other person think of me right now? That’s when I realized I was being a wuss, and that I had to stand up for myself and let everyone know. Robin and I were on the rocks, and I just decided that if I was ever going to meet somebody else, I needed to be out.
Wilkas: Gus reached out to me on Instagram, and he was very sweet. I think he said he really liked my sense of humor and thought I was funny, and I thought, Who is this guy? I didn’t know what free-skiing was. I’d just come out of a relationship and was going to therapy and wasn’t really in the right place, so when he asked me out, essentially on a date, via Instagram, I couldn’t do it.
Kenworthy: I’d written him a message on Instagram while Robin and I were on a break — I’d seen Matt in the movie Gayby, and he’d popped up on my Instagram with these videos he makes, and I watched a few of them — he used to do these ones with a silly chick who wiggles when the sun hits her, and I thought they were really funny. I followed him, he followed me back, and I wrote him this really long message on Instagram. I said, “Hey, I think you’re really funny, and you seem really sweet, and I’ve been enjoying following you on Instagram, and actually I’m in the closet right now, and I’m coming to New York in a couple of weeks if you want to get a coffee or something.” He got back to me to say that he’d love to get a coffee. We did not get a coffee — I texted him the last day I was in New York, and it didn’t work out, and I thought that it was probably for the better.
Wilkas: A year later, when Gus reached out again for a drink, I thought, OK, I’ll do it. Look at his picture — he’s adorable. Why not do this? But I was very nervous and insecure — he was much younger than me, and then I found out we were going to dinner on his birthday. He was on a trip with his mom and friends.
Kenworthy: We went to [the restaurant] Westville. He was already drinking — I think it was a blueberry mojito — so I got one too. The conversation was really easy, and we kissed outside the restaurant after dinner, and then he walked me back to my hotel and went on his way. We texted throughout the night, and the next day he came to the hotel to hang out again. I was actually there with my mom — but she was out wandering around, so Matt and I hooked up for the first time. Then we had a drink with my mom, and she invited Matt to join us for dinner, and he said, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t impose myself like that,” but she forced him to join us. My mom’s amazing, so funny and cool. She loved Matt right away.
Wilkas: Last year I was shooting a film in Maine, and Gus came to visit for a couple of weeks. That would have been an opportunity for him to meet my mom, and I said, “Mom, I’d really like you to meet Gus,” and she said, “No, I really can’t.” So that was really upsetting, but I think he’s more empathetic and upset for me than upset that he can’t meet her.
Kenworthy: His mom is very religious and not very approving of the homosexual lifestyle. She’s never met any of his boyfriends — she’s never met me. It’s sort of tough on me because I know how hard it is on Matt. I think he’s gotten to the point where he thinks it’s her loss because she’ll never really know him, but he has two sisters — I had Thanksgiving with them, and they’re so great, just like him. We played board games with the nieces and nephews, and Cards Against Humanity when the kids had gone to bed.
Wilkas: Gus likes surprising me. He showed up at my door in Hartford, Conn., where I was doing a play, a few months after we met. In the 24-hour period before that he was being very elusive, and I got the sense that he wasn’t interested in me anymore. I was weirdly upset, and then he showed up. We were on the couch kissing, and I’d been sitting on the words for a long time, the feeling of it, and I just said, “I have something I want to say, but I’m really scared to say it to you,” and I started crying.
Kenworthy: I was visiting him in Connecticut just before Christmas, and we were lying on the couch watching TV, and I could feel his heart beating and sensed his energy, and he turned to me and said, “I want to tell you something, but I’m scared,” and I just totally hijacked it and said, “I love you.” And then he said it back, and he was crying, and I was crying. It was really sweet.
Wilkas: He’s such a sporty boy — he plays basketball with his friends, and he’s super competitive, even when we’re playing a board game and nothing’s at stake. He’s also extremely charming and so funny and goofy, and he has a really sensitive softy heart. He’ll cry watching a video of some underdog on The X Factor. We love going to movies — I think I’ve seen more movies with Gus than I’ve seen in a lifetime — and we get to travel so much together. I think that’s one of the best things about Gus, that he’s an adventurer and explorer. He’s not a homebody at all. I’ve never been a homebody — I’d rather walk out in the cold rain than sit at home. He took me to Hawaii for my birthday last year.
Kenworthy: For the first five days, we stayed at a couples-only resort that was really fancy and beautiful, and for the second half, some friends flew out and I got a condo in a clothing-optional gay resort. We weren’t walking around naked the whole time. There were a lot of people that were, the kind of people I was hoping wouldn’t be. But we went to a nude beach a couple of times, and then we took our friends — we were all naked and skinny-dipping, laughing on the beach. It didn’t feel weird. It was uninhibited and fun.
Wilkas: For me, being apart a lot of the time is a good thing, but I don't think Gus feels that way. He doesn’t really want a long-distance relationship. I don’t either but think time apart is valuable and can work. We’re currently in the longest stint of time apart and that is challenging — there has to be some understanding of what the limit of our time apart should and should not be.
Kenworthy: All relationships take work, and we’ve definitely begun to realize that. I’m traveling and skiing and training and competing. He lives in New York — he can’t really live in Denver. Also, I was in a relationship from 18 to 23, and I still haven’t really experienced that much sexually. I wouldn’t want to ever sacrifice my relationship with Matt just to go out and get that out of my system, but we’ve also talked about that and he doesn’t want to deprive me of experiencing anything while I’m still young. I don’t necessarily know what that means. We’re not in an open relationship and we’re not breaking up. But we’re also not getting married.
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