(A REAL LIVE GAY PERSON.)

This isn’t about music — it’s a little more personal (raw). Proceed accordingly.

I have been out, I think, for exactly half my life at this point.

I’ve known I was gay for even longer. Way, way longer. In fact, my parents had to be called in because I was making out with boys back in preschool— but that’s hardly the point. (True Life: I Was A Slutty Preschooler.)

I officially came out back in high school: It was 10th grade, and it was picture retake day. I was getting my photo retaken (obviously), I think because I didn’t like the way my hair looked or something. It was when I climbed in the car after the shoot and saw my father — looking a bit uneasy, weirdly calm and pissed all at the same time — that I already knew something was up. He found a virus on my computer linked to some porn…of the gay variety. Shocking, I know. Clean your caches and temporary folders, kids!

That year, I was officially out — solely to my nuclear family at first, followed by a slew of BFFs. Then came the extended family, followed by the whole school, and then the entire universe. “Out” meant that if people asked, I said “yes, I am” rather than running away or changing the subject. It also meant that I allowed myself to enjoy the things that I didn’t allow myself to outwardly enjoy for years, like flip-flops and bootleg jeans (big mistake — we live and learn). I didn’t wear a glittery sandwich board around my neck proudly proclaiming that I was different or write a massively emotional speech to be delivered at a pep rally. But then, I did proudly wield an entire arsenal of binders covered with magazine cut-outs of Britney Spears. We all fight our battles in different ways.

I’m genuinely blessed and privileged to have a family that, apart from a few tearful sessions in the first few months, really never skipped a beat in the way they treated me. I was painfully, awkwardly open and honest with them from the very beginning — probably way too much so, but it’s only made it more silly now to think that there was ever a time where I wasn’t breathlessly calling my entire family on speakerphone to tell them about my disastrous last date so they could all laugh at my expense. There’s an unconditional love there, and it’s made me who I am today.

For a long time — in fact, up until only a few months ago, I held a certain hostility to the gay men I know that were still in the closet at my age. To me, I couldn’t think of anything more cowardly than someone hitting up the gay bars and hiding behind a blank screen on Grindr while their family sat at home waiting to meet their future bride-to-be. It feels like such an antiquated thing — like a repressed 1950’s married man getting quickies in the bushes on the way from work.

Then again, a lot of that resentment came bundled in baggage from a past relationship, where I was a secret for five years. The fact that my grandmother knew my ex-boyfriend on a first-name basis, yet I’d only ever met his parents a handful of times every year boiled my blood to no end.

But it wasn’t fair to be mad at him then, and it still isn’t now. (Of course, he came out a week after we broke up and they love him all the same. Go figure.)

As I continue to meet more people in the city and go on more dates, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t entirely owned my privilege — that I come from a family that loves me, where being gay is a complete and utter non-issue. I realize that, apart from some (mostly) typical grade school name-calling and hazing, I made it out to the other side pretty easily.

It’s not the case for others. Some people have to fight — sometimes literally — to get out. Some are disowned. And some simply “know” that it would not be a good situation.

That response always used to irk me. How would you “know” until you actually suck it up and say it? But, as my mother sagely advised me during every fit of rage about closeted gay men: It’s not for me to decide. It’s not my journey. I can’t tell someone about their home life any better than they can. I can only be encouraging and supportive — not angry.

And she’s right.

As a society in general — here in America, anyway — we’ve made exponential leaps and bounds forward in an incredibly short amount of time. Remember when Queer Eye For The Straight Guy was at all revolutionary? (Also, remember how patronizing that show was? Girls, I have no fucking idea what you should wear. Sorry to disappoint you! Just flip your goddamn hair.) Now things are different, and in only a few years: We’ve got LOGO and Bravo and Anderson Cooper (at last!) and Andy Cohen, and you’re sort of just lame if you’ve never seen an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race at this point. But all these wins can lead to a false perception, as though we’ve finally “gotten there.”

I went on a date with someone recently who, when I asked if he was out to his family, said: “Oh, I don’t actually feel the need to ‘come out’ since that’s not what defines me.” I get that, because I agree with the notion that my sexuality doesn’t define me as a person. But we’re not there yet.

If we were there, then there wouldn’t be politicians vehemently demanding that our rights remain unequal to theirs. There wouldn’t be violence breaking out in Russia for LGBT “propaganda.” There wouldn’t be lunatics in the streets of New York City shooting gay men outside of clubs.

Every step out of the closet is still incredibly courageous today…and it really, really matters. It’s another voice to add to the movement. It removes stigma for others, and the burden of guilt and shame for yourself. Studies have shown that the number one contribution to a shift in someone’s views on homosexuality is actually knowing a gay person. Showing someone what a real live gay person is like, as stupid as it may sound, could potentially shift their worldview forever.

I was nudged out of the closet by my own stupidity (at first, anyway), and as it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Coming out at a young age allowed me a running start at getting comfortable with my own sexuality and, beyond that, my self-confidence as an adult. But that was only because I was blessed with the most loving and supportive family anyone could ever hope to have. And even with all their support, I’m still not sure when I would have actually come out had it been on my own decision to make.

When it comes to people still living in the closet, I’m learning to check my aggression and increase my compassion. Coming out will always be a brave move, especially when there isn’t a family or a group of friends — or a support group of any kind — fighting for you in the corner. And no one should belittle someone else’s struggle just because they’ve made it out without a scratch.

It matters. Deeply — even today. Especially today.