Below is an exclusive excerpt from Reichen Lehmkuhl’s autobiography, “Here’s What We’ll Say,” set to be published by Carroll & Graf this month. Lehmkuhl and his then-partner, Chip Arndt, won season 4 of the reality show “The Amazing Race.
Lehmkuhl has since hosted his own show on th Q Television Network and has appeared on several other television shows. He is now in a relationship with pop singer Lance Bass, formerly of the boy band ‘N Sync.
Lehmkuhl’s memoir is a product of the author’s recollections and is thus rendered as a subjective accounting of events that occurred in his life. This excerpt recounts events that happened while he was attending the U.S. Air Force Academy, which he was nominated to attend at age 16 by Congressman Barney Frank.
Trouble in Paradise
Meetings of the Underground were still held often and our group was alive and well, with about 50 cadets at every meeting. Some of the Underground cadets had figured out the tunnel system and could get to our meeting point from all the way across the Terrazzo by their own hallway stairwells. We continued to get cadets out of trouble by making sure we all had the same story and we remained a tight group, following the eight key rules of our organization in order to keep us safe.
The Underground wasn’t just good for getting people out of trouble; it was also good for preventing it. We developed a whole way of life. When we went out, it had become instinctual to have our alibis perfectly memorized before we came back to the academy. “Here’s what we’ll say,” would start every story proposal to keep us safe and away from trouble.
One weekend, just before spring break of senior year, I was at Seth’s house in Colorado Springs because his parents were away for the weekend. He had hosted a couple of gay cadets from the Underground for a night or two. One of them, Thomas, had brought his boyfriend with him. The boyfriend was a security policeman named Mitchell from the Air Force Academy base, although he was not assigned to be anywhere near cadets. I don’t know how they met, but I thought it was cool that they had found each other.
I stayed with the whole group that weekend and witnessed a great deal of drama between Thomas and his boyfriend. I remember thinking that they probably weren’t so happy after all. The argument ended with Thomas storming out of the house, leaving his security policeman boyfriend there with us. I ended up talking to Mitchell for quite a while and he filled me in on their whole relationship. I can’t remember what the problems of the relationship were, but I remember sympathizing with Mitchell. He gave me his number and we kept in touch over the next few weeks.
Thomas had completely stopped talking to Mitchell. He wouldn’t return Mitchell’s phone calls or answer his e-mails. Finally, after weeks of this, Mitchell and I were talking on the phone and decided to hang out. I met him at Delmon-ico’s and we were alone. Mitchell was a short, stocky guy and was 24 years old. I was very attracted to him even though he was different from the guys I had previously been attracted to. He was quiet and soft-spoken and let me take control in almost all situations.
As soon as we got to Delmonico’s and realized we were one, Mitchell and I got it on together. We had good chemistry. I also used his affection to heal myself from the emotional trauma I had experienced after breaking it off with Allen. After that night, I wanted to see Mitchell again and again, on a daily basis.
I don’t know how Thomas found out about us, but it was inevitable that he would. At a regular Sunday night Underground meeting, I realized that Thomas wasn’t there and neither was Jake Lester. Usually, both of these guys would write an e-mail if they couldn’t make it, and I could think of no reason why they wouldn’t show up. I asked Seth if he could find out where they were and he said he would go to their rooms during the meeting to figure things out. I still kept a watchful eye on Jake, since our first encounter had been his sending me that careless e-mail.
We were finishing up our meeting in the tunnels at about two a.m. when Seth came back down to wait for me.
“I need to talk to you,” he said in a very concerned voice. “Ask everyone to stay for a few extra minutes.” When Seth asked me that, I knew there was trouble. “Thomas and Jake are out to get you,” he said in a whisper.
“What? What did I do to them?” I asked.
“Jake just hates you from the beginning, and Thomas knows that you’re sleeping with his ex-boyfriend. They told me that they thought you had gone too far in abusing your power over the Underground, and that they were going to turn you in.”
“Turn me in? Are they out of their minds? Do they know that it will be the end for them, too, and that they’ll be investigated?” I asked.
“Thomas doesn’t care. He wants out of the academy. Jake is convinced that they’ll both get away with it.”
I freaked out. Seth called the meeting back together.
“OK everyone,” he said. “One last issue and we can all go to bed. Get ready for this one.” Seth explained the entire situation to the group of about 50 guys and girls, including the graphic detail that I was now sleeping with Mitchell, who was Thomas’s ex. Lots of oohs, aahs, and laughter arose from the explanation. I was embarrassed and cringing, but this group knew everything about meand I knew everything about them. It didn’t matter. It was for my own safety. “There is a good possibility that these guys are going to blow the whistle on all of us. On our whole group.” I went over and stood next to Seth. As I did, guys were joking and yelling out words out like “player” and “boyfriend stealer.” I felt the need to speak to everyone briefly.
“We’ve done this before and we’re going to have to do it again. It’s time, in my judgment, to excommunicate two of our members tonight,” I pleaded.
“Yeah! Knock ‘em off,” one of the guys yelled.
“No, seriously,” I said. “It’s time. These two guys must not ever be allowed to come down to one of our meetings. They are armed with your information and they are dangerous, as indicated by the words that they used to express their anger at me. Is it agreed that everyone in here will grab a buddy and have an alibi for where they were tonight? All of you must have an alibi made up and have your story straight before you go to bed. Here’s what we’ll say if someone asks: “‘No, I wasn’t at any meeting. You can ask so-and-so, too. I was with him and we were up late doing homework in his room.’ We will always deny the existence of this group and will laugh at anyone who claims that it does exist. Does everyone here agree?” I asked.
Every person in the room raised his or her hand.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 27, 2006.