Chapter Five 

When Alex can’t stop thinking about the kiss with Henry, he begins to reevaluate his ideas about his sexuality. Whenever he thinks about Henry, it shakes his assumptions about his heterosexuality. He thinks about the sexual experiences he’s had with a male-identified friend in the past and times when he felt attracted to men. He thinks about how he’s been less likely to examine his sexuality because of his mother’s political career. He realizes he feels like he has to play a role that is grounded in being straight. He makes lists about his conundrum, and he does research on the presidential views on bisexual identities. When nothing else calms him, he throws himself into work.  

Alex confides in Nora and tells her that Henry kissed him. Throughout the conversation, Nora is surprised about all the very obvious things that Alex doesn’t understand. Nora says that Henry is obviously gay and that Alex has had a crush on him for many years. She tells Alex that he’s been flirting with Henry over text, and it’s clear he’s developed feelings for Henry. Throughout the conversation, Alex is still reeling, trying to catch up. Though everything Nora says makes sense logically, he still struggles to name what he’s feeling and figure out the best path forward. Still confused, Alex calls Liam, the friend from high school he had a few sexual experiences with. He asks Liam if what they did together was meaningful, and like Nora, Liam tells Alex that he can’t decide anything about Alex’s sexuality for him.  

Chapter Six 

Henry comes to The White House for a state dinner, as planned. Alex, in a pique of sexual frustration, gets Henry into the Red Room and kisses him. They make out against a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, whom Alex is named after. The detail almost makes Alex laugh. Alex’s security guard, Amy, warns them that people are coming. Alex invites Henry to his room, and they have sex for the first time. Alex mentally compares what he’s done to Washington crossing the Delaware and imagines the official portrait that could be painted of the two of them.  

Afterward, Alex comes out to Henry as bisexual. He also keeps it casual and tells Henry that they can get together again any time, emphasizing that they’re friends with benefits now. Alex designs to go to a polo match and fundraiser that Henry will be attending. Everyone is skeptical of him attending because it’s so posh and out of character, especially June, who Alex hasn’t come out to. At the polo match, Alex watches Henry ride a horse and is attracted to how good Henry is at polo. Henry and Alex have sex again in the tack room at the match while Henry is wearing his polo gear. Later, they exchange flirtatious emails that still have a bit of antagonism in them. They try to arrange to meet at a rainforest fundraiser in Paris. 


This section explores the theme of the power of sex and love to dismantle facades. As soon as Henry and Alex become intimate, both of their facades start to slip. Alex is continually surprised by who Henry actually is when he’s not performing the public role that is expected of him, suggesting that their intimacy reveals Henry’s true self to Alex. When Henry smiles at Alex just before they have sex, for example, Alex observes that it is a private smile, not the one he uses in photographs. When they are hiding in the Red Room, it is as though they briefly slip off their public personas to be together for five minutes in the midst of a very public event. Though the awareness of how they are perceived presses in on them, as the public is just outside the door, their desire for each other eclipses their need to control how they are perceived and makes space for something more genuine. 

Throughout the novel, McQuiston uses real-world historical facts to create tension and imbue the characters’ actions with rebellious power. For example, Henry and Alex make out in the Red Room, a room that exists in the White House and has been used for everything from Obama’s luncheons to John F. Kennedy’s funeral reception. In real life, a portrait of Alexander Hamilton has hung in the Red Room, and in the novel, Alex and Henry nearly knock the portrait down in their passion. The powerful figures that have visited or been honored in that room, such as Hamilton himself, who had a gay male lover, might have celebrated Alex and Henry’s taboo-breaking love affair, while others would certainly judge them harshly for it. After they have sex in the White House, Alex imagines a presidential portrait of the two of them à la Emanuel Leutze’s famous portrait Washington Crossing the Delaware. This all suggests that Henry and Alex’s affair is coming up against, grappling with, and thumbing their nose at history while simultaneously making history itself. 

In these chapters, Alex is undone by his relationship with Henry and becomes unrecognizable to himself. In part, this is due to his sexual awakening and understanding that he’s bisexual. When he has sex with Henry, he is both confused and eager, and often the intensity of what he’s experiencing outsizes his ability to articulate it or to clearly understand himself. For example, after they have sex, Alex loses his ability to articulate much of anything, despite the fact that constantly talking is a huge part of how he interacts in the world. McQuiston describes Alex as “wrecked,” “dead,” and “destroyed” after the two times they have sex, suggesting that Alex’s sexual metamorphosis is breaking down and killing off his previous self. McQuiston also says that Alex wants to die and suffers greatly in a moment in which he is overcome with desire for Henry in his polo outfit. This suggests that the death of the old Alex is both pleasurable and overwhelming.