On May 14th, 1980, Angie Motzko secured her 8-minute-seniority over her brother, Eric. But they would experience all major landmarks together, falling in-sync on a level exclusive to twins. Despite their parents’ best efforts to deliberately separate them in school and extracurricular activities, Angie and Eric were capable of channeling the best and the worst in each other. They thrived off of shared experiences – learning to ride a bike around their cul-de-sac (modified as a scooter with peddle block, for Eric’s shorter legs), getting their driver’s licenses and sharing in the hype of getting ready for high school dances. Their senior year, Eric was crowned homecoming king and Angie recalls it with a paralleled sense of honor and pride.
When it came time for college, they split like a mini kit-kat bar, brining goofy grins to those they invited into their lives. Outside of the package, their relationship continued to grow, but in a way that neither of them had anticipated. Eric identified as a gay male. This new reality set them on a uniquely comparable “coming out” journey – Eric as the gay male and Angie as the straight ally.
Eric was not always attuned to his attraction for men. He had bought into the status quo by dating a couple girls in high school, never paying serious thought to his incompatibility with this role. Long before Sex Ed class defined the social laws of love, he was, admittedly, very involved with other people’s lives and “making their lives authentic.”
“I always did shy away from people asking me about myself,” said Eric, elaborating with the admission, “I never really thought I would end up coming out because I tried really hard not to be gay. I mean, really hard.”
But using his high school friends as a gauge, he recalled watching them revel in their couple-ness and thinking to himself, “Man, it’s not gonna do it for me.”
So while he realized he was gay in high school, Eric still struggled to confront his feelings. Like so many closeted teens, he fell into a cycle of denial, investing all of his energy into projecting himself as a well-adjusted male.
Thinking back to this stage of his life, Eric felt there was only one person he hadn’t fully convinced. He speculated, “I think in the back of her mind [Angie] always kind of thought that I was gay, but wasn’t really sure that I wanted to say it.”
“I never really knew,” Angie confessed. “He had always had girlfriends and it never crossed my mind until college, when somebody else had brought it up to me.”
Reflecting on the public school environment of the late 90’s, she pointed out that gay support resources were virtually non-existent. Due to this level of mysticism, the possibility of someone you knew being gay seemed unlikely. She simply didn’t pay it any thought.
When a mutual girlfriend told her matter-of-factly at a bar, Angie was taken aback because he hadn’t yet told her himself. “It was a feeling of despair that he couldn’t open up to me,” she said. “If he couldn’t tell me, more than likely, he couldn’t tell a lot of people.”
With this news, she launched into a four to five month period of introspection, unbeknownst to her brother. While Eric was privately searching for a way to articulate his identity, Angie was embarking on the beginning stages of “allyhood.” She was busy researching gay resources and even consulted a lesbian she knew on how to best support him while she waited for him to come to her on his own terms.
Coming Out Together
By the time he turned 23, Eric still hadn’t told a single person that he was gay. He had mastered a whole slew of excuse to procrastinate testing the limits of everyone’s love. First it seemed reasonable to graduate from high school. Then it seemed pragmatic to post-pone it through college and two trips abroad were a convenient excuse to suspend reality as well. But he was aware that he had been acting out-of-sorts and his sister was aware of his dissonance.
One day he and Angie went shopping and wound up at the Famous Dave’s restaurant in Uptown, Minnesota, for drinks. Eric thinks they were talking about some guy Angie was dating at the time when he suddenly felt compelled to segue into the fact that he was gay. The impulse caught him completely off-guard and he struggled to articulate his simple message to his best friend. Exasperated, he got caught up at: “I do have to tell you something.”
And the longest, emotionally excruciating, 2-minute guessing game ensued.
“She did actually guess it and I just cried, right there, at the Famous Dave’s in Uptown, like an idiot,” Eric recollected with a sense of amusement afforded by years of distance. “I still regret the fact that I didn’t verbalize it to her first – that she had to guess it. But that was just part of it. I wanted to hear how it sounded from her voice.”
In Angie’s memory, Famous Dave’s was the culmination of nearly half a year of poking and prodding for an invitation into this realm of her brother’s life. From her end, she was the only one aware of the rainbow-clad elephant in the room. Despite attempts to open up conversation, she said, “He never really grasped my suggestions. So I knew he was never gonna tell me [on his own].” The moment was a fine combination of serendipity and pre-meditation.
At the table, she brought up what she had heard and gave Eric the opportunity to confirm it without overtly saying, “I’m gay.” She also savored the humor in recalling the two of them crying in the middle of the restaurant, from a rush of relief mixed with uneasiness. The next step remained unclear.
One of Eric’s greatest fears struck the deepest.
“I’m petrified that my brothers and sisters will not let me see their kids because of a stereotype of gay men being pedophiles,” she recalls him confessing. “He was really anticipating the worst. He was prepared for people to reject him or not love him the same way. It was very, very sad.”
Now that he had shared the truth with Angie, feelings of relief quickly gave way to absolute fear and panic. His flight response kicked in. He simply didn’t know how he was going to get through telling everyone else that mattered in his life.
At his sister’s insistence, he decided to come out to the rest of his friends and family. Ever mindful of others, Eric decided to write a list of people to meet with one-on-one: his mother, stepfather, older brother and older sister first, then his closest friends.
Over a two-month span, he took the time to personally deliver his news before they might find out second-hand. “The reason I did that was because I wanted them to be able to ask me questions,” he explained.
It was an emotionally draining task, but for Eric, a necessary step in the coming out process. And he knew that he had Angie by his side, bringing a balance of curiosity, comic relief and normalcy that spoke to her genuine support.
“She was an advocate for me moving forward,” he said, “She took her cues from me brilliantly.”
As Eric’s designated confidant, Angie safeguarded the biggest secret of their lives. She knew that he was concerned with how others were going to perceive him once they found out and was doing his best to make it a personalized moment for those who were most important to him. It was not her news to share; it was his. She reinforced his confidence, knowing that “he’s the perfect example of someone everyone can relate to” and would be just fine.
During this complex exercise in patience, she struck her own stride in asserting her identity as an ally. While she had never been one to tolerate derogatory name calling, she became even more vocal about it because she had faith that most people simply didn’t realize the impact of the hateful words they used. She did what she could through impromptu peer education.
“I think I’m an advocate in my own environment,” Angie explained.
But this process of touching base with everyone one-on-one, for Eric, was slow moving and Angie was chomping at the bit. She was ready to participating in gay pride events with him, but resolved to respected his privacy.
“I just know that’s his time to be who he is and he’s not ready to share that side of it yet,” she affirmed.
The Next Step
At age 31, Eric can fully express that he’s comfortable with being gay. It certainly helped that the gay community is more visible now than it was even 10 years ago. However, he still “compartmentalizes” his life.
He keeps his professional life and family life separate from his romantic life. Even though everyone is accepting and encouraging him to bring a boyfriend home, he is still in the process of mustering the gumption to fully integrate the two live that he leads.
“My space right now is figuring out how to let people see who I’m in a relationship with,” he explained. “They know it’s there, but it’s this question mark because they haven’t really seen me in a relationship.”
Meanwhile, Angie was working out the kinks of assuming an identity that some people find confusing. “People think that – because we’re twins – that I, automatically, am a lesbian,” she said.
Experiencing a small slice of the stereotypical assumptions Eric was up against, she viewed these interactions as teachable moments, rather than anything to be offended by.
She was more sensitive to lingering feelings of guilt that ran in the family – guilt that Eric had not felt comfortable enough to come out sooner. As Eric’s twin and best friends, it seemed logical that she would act as his mediator.
“It was hard [for them to use] me as a soundboard,” Angie clarified, “Because we were all experiencing this pretty much at the same time.
Rather, people seemed to bring their concerns to her.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the conversation was how sad we felt. Not for him, but for the fact that he couldn’t tell anybody. None of us could ever imagine carrying that burden.”
As a family unit, they worked together to reframe their mentality around gratitude that Eric had come out when he did.
When the time comes, they are eager to welcome Eric’s partner into their family. It seems the greatest challenge Angie now faces is holding up the flood of affection and support that is swelling inside Eric’s circle of close friends and family. She’s letting Eric test the waters. Because when that levy breaks, he, along with some unsuspecting boyfriend, are going to be caught in a whirlpool of affection.
A special thanks to Eric and Angie Motzko, for entertaining my request to weave together a narrative of their coming out experiences. It was a privilege. I hope this story serves to bring them even closer and to inspire those who are still hesitant to unabashedly be themselves – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight, we all have a responsibility to stand up for those we love.