Gay King Richard

He won Survivor. He won fans, detractors—and $1 million. Now Richard Hatch speaks to the gay press for the first time about the secrets of his past and how being gay prepared him for his island challenge.

BY Gregg Kilday

September 26 2000 12:00 AM ET

In your own life, when did you first realize you were gay? Well, I always thought I was gay. I was molested when I was 8. Some neighborhood kids stuffed chestnuts up my butt. I was molested again when I was 10 at the beach. And I knew the difference between what other guys were talking about and seemed to be feeling and what I was feeling. But I had also heard society talking about faggots and queers and all this negative shit, and it didn’t make sense to me. I knew I was going to get married and have kids. So I just thought all guys must have feelings for other guys.

You were thrown out of the house as a teen? My mother kicked me out when I was about 15; I went to stay at my dad’s. I was beating up my brother all the time, and [my mother] was actually afraid I was going to kill him because I was really big and tall. My parents had a tough time with me. I was doing my own thing, sneaking out of the window, smoking cigarettes in the sixth grade, then smoking pot at the drive-in before classes started. I actually feel lucky that I went through what I went through early, instead of dealing with it later.

How’d you end up joining the Army? I’d spent a year in college in Florida—where my grade point average went from something like a 3.8 to 1.2. I was playing very hard, experimenting. Grades just weren’t a priority. So I moved back to Newport for a short time, was working at a deli, got engaged to the girl I went to all the dances with in high school. Go figure. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t want to join the Navy because I thought everybody would think I was gay. What did I expect I’d get out of the Army? Fun in the showers? I don’t know. I just thought it would give me time to figure out what I wanted to do. My commander in basic training suggested that I apply to West Point, so I did. I was in the Army five years total. When I was given the option to leave [West Point] or re-up for five more years after graduation, I left.

That West Point experience must have helped you bond with Rudy. Certainly my experience in the Army helped me to understand Rudy quickly and easily. Some of the others were bothered by his directness. I was actually warmed by it. I thought he was charming because I understood it.

How were you defining yourself sexually while at West Point? Well, I’d had sex with one woman in Florida, the only woman I’d ever had sex with in my entire life, and it was a unique experience to say the least. I remember being so damn excited that I’d just done it that when we were done, I was buck naked and walked her downstairs from the fourth floor of a coed dorm and took her to her car. [Laughs] And then I walked back up the stairs saying, "I did it, I did it, I did it." Oh my.

So when did you come out? As far as being openly gay, it was after leaving West Point and moving into Manhattan. I was living openly then and having an amazing time. Steve Rubell, after Studio 54 and after he’d come out of jail, had opened a club called Palladium, and I worked there. It was very cool.

You have talked about your 10-year, in-name-only marriage to an Australian woman. Have you had any long-term relationships with men? I was with a guy, who lives now in Philadelphia, for eight years. We were not compatible as partners and we both recognized that and became really close friends. He came out to watch the show with some other friends. A real good guy.

How did you come to adopt as a single father? I’ve always been interested in children. I’d thought of being a semen donor or having a child with a woman friend, but it never happened. And then the possibility of adoption came about.

When you decided to adopt your son, Christopher, did you meet any resistance as a single gay man? No, not in Rhode Island. I was invited to join the Adoption Rhode Island board of directors. My being gay has never been an obstacle in anything I’ve ever done. It’s always been an asset.

The trouble you encountered when you returned home [charges of child abuse related to his son’s exaggerated report about an early-morning jog were made and dropped]—did that have anything to do with the fact you were now a very visible gay man? My attorneys certainly tried to question that, but it wasn’t about that. It was about the show, a small-town–mentality police force that was irresponsible, and a headless bureaucracy.

How involved are you with the gay community now? Well, I don’t do the gay bar scene. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, or even drink caffeine. I live in a town that doesn’t even have a gay bar. But I have good friends who are gay, a wonderful circle of friends, both straight and gay.

How did you then go on to become a corporate trainer? I got my bachelor's in behavioral sciences [at National-Louis University]. I had no interest in pursuing it further. But I had a professor, Dr. Evelyn Hendrix, who told me later she thought I was impressive, and she asked me to come and watch her give a seminar. When it was through, a client asked her to come do the same thing again. She was unavailable, but suggested I do it. So I spent about two weeks preparing, overpreparing really, and it went brilliantly. I now give courses on 35 different topics in the behavioral sciences. I started my own company in 1986.

Let me try a few final thoughts out on you: For a lot of gay viewers watching the show, here was this guy—who’s admitted to being overweight and something of an outcast as a kid—who wins this contest, besting all the straight folk he was up against. A lot of gay viewers got a whole lot of satisfaction out of that. That wasn’t true for me. I have no animosity or enmity toward the people who were like that toward me—even the kid who molested me the first time. I feel sorry for him; he is a sad and unhappy character. It was a horrible experience and it was painful, but I blocked it out. Today, I’m very comfortable with who I am. Growing up gay in an environment where people were homophobic and bigoted actually got me to where I am, and I recognize that I am really great. I’d be missing the point if I were bitter.

So where do you think all your self-confidence comes from? It’s a developed thing. I can’t say. I was an intelligent and sensitive kid—that may have been genetic. I don’t know where I stand on the whole question of genetics vs. the environment when it comes to being gay. But that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care why I became gay. But having been sensitive becomes an asset.

In the final tribal council, Kelly was basically arguing, I’m a nice person, I want you to like me. And you were saying, It doesn’t matter whether you like me or not, just as long as you respect me for how I played the game. In the midst of all the emotion there, how do you think you got to the point where you could view the contest so dispassionately? People were not capable of knowing me. It takes time for observation. You have to spend time with people before you get to a point where you know someone to some extent. Certainly, nobody’s going to know someone in just 39 days, and that wasn’t my goal. I didn’t care what people thought about me. I really truly know this because of how well I think I know myself.

You have a lot on your plate now—a book, speaking tours, endorsements. What do you most look forward to? I anticipate this is an opportunity to find a compatible partnership. That’s the only goal that I’m pursuing with a lot of energy. I don’t really have any other goal. But it’s not something you can rush. If this experience, and the exposure it brings, helps me, there’s just more opportunity for that. And that’s damn exciting.

Tags: Commentary

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