The process of coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or any other non-heteronormative sexual identity can be both daunting and cathartic. Even after mustering the courage to vocalize your truth, there is no crystal ball to anticipate the cacophony of reactions you might get — or how you might feel yourself. But the truth is that being who you really are always feels better than wearing a mask, as these celebrities can attest.
In the videos below, five LGBT stars open up to HuffPost Live about their coming out experiences. While no two accounts are the same, there is a common thread: All of their lives drastically improved once they embraced who they are.
Sir Ian McKellen is among today’s most recognizable LGBT icons. He’s been out publicly since 1988, which clearly hasn’t impeded a vastly successful career. And he remembers well the beautiful feeling of relief that came with announcing his sexuality. “[Coming out] was the best thing I ever did in my life, as every gay person will tell you. I grew up overnight, and was born again. Everything went better, and it felt as if a great millstone had dropped from my back that I didn’t know had been there.”
“I was about 12 when I realized what gay meant and that I had it. It felt like a disease to me,” Lynch remembered about discovering her sexuality. But she hopes that her own work through the years, most notably playing Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” can become signs of hope for the LGBT youth of today. “I’ve obviously turned out okay, I’m doing well. But I’m glad that [‘Glee’] and the fact that I’m out and open about it will perhaps ease the hearts and minds of some kids where it’s not so easy.“
For Clay Aiken, an “American Idol” runner-up turned politician, coming out was something to be done on his own terms. Though many fans wondered why he didn’t do it during his run on “Idol” in 2003, Aiken asserted that he waited until the time was right for him. “When it comes to an issue like [coming out], that’s a personal path for every single person. It’s very different for me than it was for Neil Patrick Harris. … I don’t second-guess anyone’s decision to do it when they do it.“
For Major League Soccer star Robbie Rogers, coming out for the first time was easier with someone he didn’t know at all. He was at a London bar when he met a stranger who casually asked if he was gay or straight. After so much time spent hiding his identity, Rogers finally spoke his truth. “I had been thinking about it a lot. I just was so sick of lying that I wanted to get the ball moving. So then I said it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that felt so great to say that.’ … It felt so amazing, and I’m sure [this woman] didn’t realize what was going on.” He came out to his family a month later.
“I was an angry person. I tried to control it. It’s interesting, some of my straight liberal friends urged me to not come out when they knew I was planning it, because they thought it would diminish my ability to be effective on other issues after I came out,” said former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. “[They] said, ‘Well, we’re glad you did it, because you’re better at the job. You’re easier to get along with, you’re less likely to get angry, you accommodate disagreement better.‘ And I think that’s probably right.”
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