Utah-based Gabe Adams has faced more than his fair share of challenges in his young life. The 22-year-old was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil, with Hanhart Syndrome. This rare condition usually results in shorted toes or fingers and a reduced jaw. Gabe has a more severe form and was born without legs or arms.
As a baby, he was adopted by a devout Mormon couple, Ron and Janelle Adams. He was raised in Kaysville, Utah, alongside 13 siblings (nine brothers and four sisters). Gabe was the only adoptee.
“We play it like American Idol, so I’m in the bottom four,” he jokes via a Skype call when I ask him where he sits in order of age.
Gabe now lives in Salt Lake City, about 15 minutes from his parents, who he sees every Sunday.
Gabe’s family supported and loved him but also taught him the importance of being as independent as possible.
They firmly encouraged him to do as much as he possibly could on his own. This included moving around outdoors with the aid of an electric wheelchair, getting dressed, and even getting up and down stairs unaided within the house.
Gabe says those lessons could be tough, but as he’s grown up, he’s appreciated them more and more. They helped to shape him into the man he has become.
His family also comforted him when he was bullied: something that happened to him a lot. It even resulted in him switching schools for a year in ninth grade.
“I would come home in tears because people would make fun of me for the fact I have no arms or legs,” he remembers. “One day my mum was like, ‘I need you to look in the mirror and name ten things you like about yourself. Then I want you to go to school and pick ten people and say one nice thing about them.’
“Just doing that generated this positivity in my life that made me strive to do better and be happy for myself so I could give my best to everybody else.”
Gabe’s ability to face the challenges life could throw at him brought him attention, and his parents encouraged him to talk to others. This led to him becoming something of a prodigy on the motivational speaker circuit from the age of 15 onwards.
When he joined his high school’s dance team and began appearing in school shows, he found wider attention. Below is a short video he made three years ago reflecting on his love of dance and how he approached life.
However, although motivating so many others with his can-do attitude, there was an important part of his life that Gabe was not talking about: his sexuality.
“I had people message me on social media or come up to me during meet and greets [after giving a motivational talk], and whisper in my ear, saying they felt like there was something I wasn’t being honest about. And that they could kinda tell what it was.”
Gabe realized at a young age that he was gay. He recalls having a crush on a school friend during second grade.
“I was telling my sisters, ‘I think he’s really cute,’ and my sisters were like, ‘So, do you have a crush on him?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I should have a crush on boys!’ And they were like, ‘You can have a crush on whoever you want.’
“My sisters were always super supportive of me at a very young age. They always defended me when it came to being gay, so it was really nice to have them to talk to.”
Although his sisters were understanding of his interest in boys, his parents were not. He says the subject of his sexuality first came up around the age of 12 or 13.
“I kinda got talking to a boy, and the boy’s mom misinterpreted our messages, and thought that I was being the inappropriate one, when really it was him and I was the one saying, ‘No, I don’t really want to talk like that, I’m not really interested.’”
Gabe says his dad, “was really big in the LDS church as a seminary institute teacher, where he would work inside the schools.”
The other boy’s mom went to Gabe’s dad’s office and showed him the messages she’d found.
“I came home from school that day and my parents were like, ‘We need to talk,’” says Gabe. “I was like, ‘Oh boy, what is this about?’ And then they pulled up the messages because they had them printed off.
“They were like, ‘Would you like to tell us about this?’ They were like, ‘This is not going to happen. You are not going to be gay. This is not acceptable.’ And that was kind of the norm until I was 19 years old.”
Over the next few years, Gabe says he had “many conversations” with his parents about his sexuality. Their stance remained the same.
“They were always telling me it wasn’t OK and I needed to change my thoughts and my ways and get right with God.”
But Gabe knew he didn’t need to change and he began to explore his sexuality.
“I started dating guys when I was 15 years old and would sneak out of the house to go on these dates.”
Meeting strangers always comes with risk, but especially when one is so differently-abled and more vulnerable.
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“Some of them were very nice, but a lot of guys … what they took for a date with me was a drive in the park. We’d sit in the park, and then things would escalate and they’d try to take advantage of me. Some actually did take advantage of me, and in a lot of situations, I’m surprised I’m actually still here,” he says.
“After I was taken advantage of physically, I kind of shut myself out to dating people in person and I moved to dating people online, which was super weird but it was how I felt safe.”
Despite being safer, not all his online experiences were positive.
“Many times it was super degrading. Either people have weird fetishes or they would never give me the time of day to even reply back, or they’d instantly block me, or make nasty comments, or ask me why I’m even trying to date and stuff like that. Then there were some guys who were pretty genuine, that were interested, but I didn’t really feel that connection with them.”
A breakthrough with his parents came at the age of 19, when he was about to move out of the family home.
“The way the Mormon church works is when you turn 18 years old, you go on a mission and you serve the Lord, so to speak. I just knew that I wasn’t going to go do that because I would be lying, and I was already living a lie already,” Gabe explains.
Currently, he says he still believes in his faith, “but I’m not a part of it.”
“At that time, everyone who was my age was either going to the Young Single Adults Ward, where you find your eternal companion and get married. Or you go off to a mission, and I wasn’t going to do either of those,” he says.
“So I was still in my home ward, and I was getting ready to leave church after Sunday school class, because that was really the only class they really cared about besides the sacrament. My mum was right by the doors and she stopped me and she was like, ‘Did you pray about this before you leave?’”
What she meant was had he prayed about leaving before taking part in any of the day’s other activities.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m one of your only children that still goes to church! Not because I have to or because you tell me to: I go because I want to’.
“That just annoyed me so much. That just struck something in me that made me not want to go anymore. I was a young adult, I did not want to be told how I needed to live my life nor did I want to be told what I was doing was right or wrong.”
“I went home and I texted her and I said, ‘You know what, I AM GAY – with all capital letters – you’ve got to get used to it. I am not changing anymore. You can’t bully me or trick me or manipulate me into thinking I’m someone I’m not anymore. I’m moving out and if you want a relationship with me after I move out, you and dad are going to have to get on board and learn to love me for who I am because I’m not changing, and our relationship will not continue if you do not get on board.’
Gabe says he didn’t talk with his parents that night.
The next day, his mom came to his room.
“I could tell she’d been crying all night. She was like, ‘I just need to talk to you.’
“She sits down and says, ‘First of all I want to tell you I love you and I’m sorry.’’
“She said, ‘I need to apologize for all the things I’ve said and done wrong because I didn’t want you to be gay. It’s not my business who you decide to be at the end of the day. At the time, I thought I was failing you as a parent but one thing that you said in your text message really struck out to me, and that was we always taught you to follow your heart, but the second that you tried to follow your heart, we told you “no,” and that wasn’t right of us. So here I am telling you that if you decide to marry a man, I want to be at your wedding. If you decide to have a family with a man, I want to be a part of those children’s lives. I want to be a part of your life forever and I don’t want you to shut me out. I will do whatever I need to do to be a part of your life and let you know I am supportive.’
“That changed our relationship from then on,” Gabe remembers. “And then my dad came in, minutes after, and pretty much stated exactly the same thing, which was pretty huge to hear from my dad.
“Now I am engaged to a man and they’ve been nothing but supportive and loving to both of us.”
Gabe met his now-fiancé, Adam Wheatley, 26, in January 2020 on Tinder. After immediately hitting it off online, Gabe decided to take a chance in meeting in person.
“He asked me out on a real date, which isn’t something that a lot of guys would do. A date for a lot of guys was a drive to the park, where they’d try and get into my pants.
“[Adam] was like, ‘No, I want to take you on a real date. Let’s go get coffee, let’s go do this and this and this’. He came and picked me up at 3 in the afternoon and we hung out until 2 in the morning! He was the nicest person I’d ever met. We literally hung out pretty much every day after that.”
The men moved in together last August. In October, Adam proposed.
“Adam popped the question after me begging him for multiple months,” Gabe says, smiling at the memory. “In Utah it’s the norm to get married and engaged at a super young age. A lot of my friends are already married or engaged or have kids.
“For Adam [also raised Mormon], a lot of his friends are married or engaged or have 2-3 children, and so I knew for both of us, we wanted to get married at some point, and we’ve always felt that connection really strong from the beginning.”
Gabe has moved away from motivational speaking for now. Firstly, the Covid pandemic halted big gatherings. Secondly, he’s unsure it’s his calling in life. He has other passions he wants to explore.
“[Motivational speaking] was my parents’ dream for me. I was starting to get good at it and starting to get confident at it, but what I always wanted to do was something that made me truly happy. That’s when I delved into doing makeup.”
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Yes, despite his lack of hands, Gabe can apply eye shadow and blusher better than… well, most of us! His most recent videos have begun picking him up a new range of followers.
Like his sexuality, his love of makeup is something his parents have learned to support over time.
“I would steal my mom and my sister’s makeup all the time when I was younger,” Gabe recalls.
“There was one time I stole my sister’s mascara, and I put it on before we went to a family party. I was telling my sister, and my dad was like, ‘The day you wear makeup again is the day I die.’ And I was like, ‘OK, I’ll remember that’,” he says, laughing at how his father has changed his tune.
“I was telling my mom a few months ago that when I’m putting on mascara, I’m always getting it on my lips because I have to grab the stick part to put it on my shoulder, so I can grasp it between something. My dad, out of all people, was like, ‘Well, is there a way I can make an extension piece or something for it, to make it easier?’
“And I was like, ‘Wait! What?!? You want to help me put on makeup?’,” he says, still incredulous at the memory.
Looking forward, Gabe says his immediate plans, Covid permitting, include his June wedding, which he’s very excited about.
Career-wise, he says “I made it my goal this year: I would love to have a brand collaboration with a makeup deal, and be the face or just help promote a product. Long term, I think it would be to have my own beauty line.”
Besides continuing to work on making his dreams a reality, I end by asking him if there’s anything he’d like to see change in the world to make his life easier.
“I think it would be to make the world a little more open-minded. There are way too many times that people underestimate someone else. Put your mind to it and you can achieve anything, even if it takes an extra few minutes, days or weeks to learn how.”
@gabeadamsI’m gonna love you forever and always 💕 ##fyp ##loveyou ##fiancé ￼##lofml ##gay ##lgbtq ##GroupChat ##WinterFashion @__.adam._♬ Line By Line – JP Saxe & Maren Morris