My family knew I was gay before I did. I played sports in elementary school. After the games, the other boys would pile into a van, go home, and watch more sports. This was baffling to me, and I expressed my concerns to my family. They realized something I wasn’t able to articulate yet.
I came out to my liberal New York family full of artists, therapists, and yoga teachers at the age of 14. I would’ve come out sooner but for an offhand remark my mom made while we watched the 2002 Winter Olympics about how hard life can be if you’re gay. That one remark was the extent of the gay-bashing I experienced growing up.
Thanks to this unique circle of love, I never felt my sexuality would set me apart or that my goal of being an actor was any less attainable. To add to my embarrassment of riches, last year I was cast in ABC’s The Real O’Neals, playing a character who comes out to his Catholic family. Playing a nerdier version of my teenage self is fun—but connecting with so many LGBT people around the world has been the greater privilege. Some have shared stories similar to mine, but I’ve been enlightened most by the stories shared by those whose families weren’t as accepting. These people remind me daily that coming out, or being queer, even in 2016, is something for which we can be persecuted—even by our own families.
There are many responsibilities that come with being an actor. When my show aired, my following grew and with it my responsibility. Interviews are a huge part of my job, and because I’ve always been a millennial loudmouth, I thought that I could squeak by on confidence and charm. I’m a hella skilled social butterfly, always ready to opine on anything from Ina Garten and Jeffrey to Joss Whedon’s oeuvre. In an interview I gave some months ago, I abandoned my responsibility to promote The Real O’Neals and what it stands for. I engaged in a gossip sesh where I critiqued people who hadn’t dealt with their sexuality to my liking. That was unkind and dumb—two things I have always tried not to be.
Much like my mother later acknowledging the impact her comment had on my coming out, I acknowledge any effect my interview may have had. People who are already out—particularly those who haven’t experienced intense hardships when coming out as gay, lesbian, bi, or trans—have a responsibility to make things safer for others who may be struggling, and out people in the public eye are in a good position to help. With a newfound understanding of my reach, I want to be a positive voice in the LGBT community like those I admire who are wiser than I am. In my interview, I was sarcastic and critical, and that distracted from what I hoped to articulate, and that’s my desire for everyone to be whole and loved, regardless of where they are in the process of discovering themselves.
During our show’s panel at the Television Critics Association (TCAs) in January of this year, I responded to a question about the differences in our demographics with the words “As a gay man myself…” When I left the stage I not only was swarmed by reporters but also opened my phone to a storm of tweets about how I had just come out at the TCAs.
A few conflicting thoughts ran through my head at that moment: I’ve been out since I was 14. Why is this a thing? Did I just pigeonhole myself for the rest of my career by revealing something I never thought should be hidden?
It was the first time I was publicly defined as being gay. I felt as though I had done something. Terrible? No. Great? Maybe. Irrevocable? Damn straight. I wanted people to connect with me and my character. I wanted to grand-jeté onward with pride flag in hand, helping to make a difference. But in all honesty, when I left that stage, there was a moment when I feared how this second coming out would impact my career—a fear I think many LGBT industry professionals surrender to. Coming out in Hollywood is scary. But now that I have joined the conversation—messily, yes, but sometimes a mess sparks a conversation—I intend to move it forward and keep it positive.
I have more than one coming-out story. Many of us do. My most important coming out, to my family, was joyous. My second most important coming-out story, my professional coming out, was scary and illuminating. While I’m still trying to refine my own character, I’ll continue to grow and listen and be an advocate for my peers, completely understanding that for some, coming out can be dangerous, and for many, staying in the closet is the bravest option. Everyone struggles to write their own narrative from the past they inherited in order to create the future for which they yearn.
So together, let us be bold. Let us tear down the walls of conformity that separate individual liberation from vocational success. Let us be badasses. High kick! (Also, The Real O’Neals season 2 starts October 11 at 9:30. Check it out. I’m very proud of it.)