South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg had plenty to talk about with Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show Monday evening, but a large part of their conversation focused on Buttigieg’ decision to remain closeted until he was 33.
Both Maddow and Buttigieg were Rhodes Scholars, and Maddow explained that she was in fact the first openly gay person to receive the honor.
“That was a decade before you,” said Maddow. “You went through college, and then the Rhodes Scholarship process, and then getting the Rhodes Scholarship and going to work for McKinsey and joining the Navy and deploying to Afghanistan and coming home and running for mayor in your hometown and getting elected before you came out at the age of 33. … I think it would have killed me to be closeted for that long.”
Maddow wondered if going through all of those experiences while closing off a part of himself “hurt you to do it?” Buttigieg answered that it was “really hard.”
“Coming out is hard,” Maddow responded. “But being in the closet is harder.”
“It took me plenty of time to come out to myself,” Buttigieg explained. “I did not, the way you did or my husband did, figure out at such an early age. I probably should have. There were certainly plenty of indications by the time I was 15 or so that I could point back [and say] ‘yeah, this kid’s gay.’ I guess I just really needed to not be. There’s this war that breaks out inside a lot of people when they realize that they might be something they’re afraid of. It took me a very long time to resolve that.”
Buttigieg said that it was serving in Afghanistan in 2014 that made him realize it was time to be honest with both himself and those around him “You don’t know how long you have on this earth. And by the time I came back, I realized, ‘I gotta do something.'”
Now, as an openly gay presidential candidate, Buttigieg is facing a new set of challenges. “As you know, there’s plenty of ugliness that comes in from all over the place. Most people I think are either supportive or even enthusiastic about the idea of the first out person going this far. Or they find a way to let me know they don’t care, and that’s historic, too.”