Ben Nelson was just a teenager when he had to come clean with his parents. And it didn’t exactly go well. Not that anyone expected it to. He was, after all, the oldest of three kids—the only son, no less. And call it a stereotype, but growing up in conservative Houston, Texas, likely didn’t make things any easier. But alas, it was time for Ben to be honest with his family.
“At first it was really hard for them. They kinda saw it as, ‘Did we do something? Why are you punishing us?’ Then I think they came to see that it wasn’t for me. Yes, my parents are pretty religious, and I certainly was growing up, but at some point it was a personal decision that I didn’t want to go to church anymore.”
Ben recounts this adolescent moment with a laugh, as if acknowledging the dramatization of the conversation. He might not have realized it then, but this would be just his first coming-out, if you will. And it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. After all, growing up in a religious family in the South and telling your parents you don’t want to attend church anymore can certainly be a major hurdle to overcome. But like many decisions that the now-26-year-old has made in his young but successful life, Ben approached this choice to stray from the family norm with great consideration and respect.
Respect: It’s one of those virtues that we all like to find in a good ol’ Southern boy (a stereotype we actually hope is true). And within minutes of meeting Ben Nelson, you immediately get the sense that this is someone who values and respects his relationships.
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He’s the consummate big brother. It’s a role that came rather naturally to him in his close relationship with two younger sisters who have always looked up to him, and may be due in part to both of his parents being the eldest in their respective families. “I’ve always been a natural-born leader,” he says.
He was the captain of his basketball team and played every sport imaginable (basketball was always his first love). He hung out with the jocks in school, was popular, and had a good relationship with his family. He had what he calls a “rather normal childhood” in Houston, and it really wasn’t until late into high school that Ben began questioning his sexuality. Though that certainly didn’t stop Mom from asking.
“My mom had asked me a couple of times in high school, and I kinda didn’t answer or denied it,” he says. “But then after school is when I fully accepted it and really knew this is who I am, so there was no point in lying. I think I did know [earlier] but I hadn’t accepted it for myself. I think I still had some thinking to do.”
Just the thought of coming out in a conservative environment can be enough to keep some men in the closet, but Ben cites both the presence of an already supportive family unit and the benefit of knowing he was about to move to Austin (or “the most liberal place in the whole South,” as he puts it) as two motivating factors in helping him come out shortly before leaving for college.
Read more about our cover boy in our June/July issue, out now!