Patrick Farabaugh: Learning to Free Fall

Photo by Spencer Micka

As a grade schooler outside Gary, Indiana, Patrick Farabaugh noticed he was different. “I started to know who I was. … What I didn’t know is that there was a word for it, or that there were other people in the world that felt what I was feeling.” This was pre-internet, and there was no easy network for Patrick to connect with to learn about himself. “I really thought I was mentally sick. I thought it was a mental illness, and there was no one else in the world like me.”

Frequently throughout Patrick’s middle school years, he would go to his parent’s bedroom in tears, begging them to admit him into the local psychiatric hospital. He needed someone to talk to and was too afraid to tell his parents about what.

Years later, he finally did find someone to talk to. “In high school, I had a crush. It surprised me when he actually flirted with me.” For the first time in Patrick’s life, he didn’t feel alone. And for the next couple of months, he had one of the most basic things we all take for granted: someone he could be honest with.

That ended when the other boy’s parents found out and shipped their son off to a conversion church in the South. Patrick wasn’t told any of this and went to his friend’s house as though nothing had changed. “His mom was yelling at me through the window that she’d lost her son and was going to warn the town and tell my family. … I remember walking home feeling incredibly numb, just shocked, like trauma shocked. I got home, went into my room, sunk in a corner, and buried my face in a pillow. I started crying, and I was so scared of anyone hearing me cry because I couldn’t tell anyone what I was crying about. … I felt I had a very limited window of time before people started finding out about me.”

Photograph provided by Patrick Farabaugh

Patrick noticed some magazines, specifically Entertainment Weekly, regularly put eccentric people on the cover. Those people stood out for being different. “Being different where I grew up painted a target on you, and here was a place that celebrated people for it. So I looked up the address of Entertainment Weekly .” He wasn’t prepared for the culture shock, nor was he prepared for homelessness, but Patrick decided to travel over 750 miles to New York City to find something he desperately needed, uncertain about what exactly that was.

Patrick “quickly became one of the lost kids,” a term he uses to describe the marginalized high-risk youth who fall between society’s cracks. His fight against isolation was compounded by relationships that disappeared faster than he could build them. In 1996 New York City, “I had a hard time reconciling being gay.” Aside from effeminate men and masculine women, the rest of the LGBTQ community was invisible to him. “I was always very, very masculine. Guys like me camouflaged into crowds. I didn’t know how to see them.”

Not finding the connections he hoped to make in the city, Patrick did what many lost kids do, and fell into a “loop of transience. … I ended up living in New Jersey, New York, Boston, Seattle, on a fishing boat in Alaska, and Wisconsin.” After briefly living with a tribe in West Africa, he moved to the edge of Siberia because he’d fallen for a Russian.

Photograph provided by Patrick Farabaugh

“I met the Russian in what I would call neutral countries in Europe—places that neither of us were from.” This was pre-marriage equality, so bringing him to America wasn’t an option. And Russia’s stance on being gay made Patrick unsafe there.

But being a stranger in a foreign land offered Patrick an insight into his life he’d have never seen otherwise. “Going to Russia removed everything familiar to me. I was able to quickly see that the person I cared about was like me—also running away.” To confront what he was running away from, Patrick believed he had to return to the part of world he originally left behind, which meant leaving behind his hopes of a relationship.

Once again, Patrick was alone.

Going back to Gary wasn’t an option, and he worried that larger cities like Chicago were too risky for lost kids. He settled on Madison because it was close enough to Indiana for him to rebuild family relationships. Madison also embraces hockey, something that had become a big part of Patrick’s life. The gay hockey league he found in New York helped him cope with the pains of his childhood indoctrination on what constitutes masculinity.

Though Madison wasn’t perfect, in 2006, Patrick founded the Madison Gay Hockey Association (MGHA), which as of 2019 has grown to be the largest LGBTQ hockey association in the world. He also started Our Lives magazine in 2007, which focuses on the lives and advocacy of Madison’s LGBTQ community. Patrick was helping Madison become a little bit more of the progressive city it often promises to be.

Throughout Patrick’s struggles, he was successful professionally. He landed an internship at Entertainment Weekly. He was the assistant art director for Out Magazine, creative director of Seattle magazine, and spent years as a senior designer for Condé Nast Traveler (yes, fans of The Devil Wears Prada —that Condé Nast ). Locally, he was a creative director for In Business magazine among other positions at notable organizations.

Photograph by Sharon Vanorny

Patrick readily admits there are many people who have it far worse than he did, and he seeks to give those people access to something he didn’t have. His entrepreneurial endeavors are rooted in removing barriers to access. For example, MGHA is free to those who can’t afford equipment and league fees, and it uses gender-inclusive locker rooms, resulting in no one feeling forced to choose a locker room based on their gender identity. Longing for connection has shaped Patrick into a person who wants to ensure that networks are in place for lost kids of all sorts to have opportunities for honest and authentic connection throughout their lives.

Madison has become the home that Patrick had hoped for when he first left Indiana. The community he’s built through both MGHA and Our Lives has helped him to finally feel rooted somewhere and given him a sense of belonging. He also has someone here to share the rest of his life with, his husband, Sedrick, whose unconditional love is a constant companion on the journeys they have taken and have yet to take together.

Kyle Jacobson is a copy editor for Madison Essentials, and a writer and beer enthusiast (sometimes all at once) living in Sun Prairie.

Photograph by Barbara Wilson