Matt Bomer wasn't always a confident leading man strutting down red carpets and snagging Emmy nominations.
In high school, the A-lister was like many of us: desperately trying to make it through in one piece.
Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for GLSEN.
For the actor — and millions of other LGBTQ people — that meant burying a big part of his identity early on.
Sitting down with Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens Live" to promote his new series, Amazon's "The Last Tycoon," Bomer opened up about compartmentalizing his life as a gay teenager.
"When you were in high school," Cohen asked. "Did you know that you were gay?"
“On some level, yeah," Bomer answered. "But I think to protect myself at a semi-rural public high school in Texas, I was sort of like, ‘well, I’ll put this off to the side right now.'"
"I was definitely operating from a place of just being able to survive,” Bomer said.
Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images.
Bomer came out later, in college, in large part thanks to seeing and being around other out and proud LGBTQ people.
"I was working at the Utah Shakespeare Festival [after graduating from high school]," Bomer noted. "I was inspired by all the artists I saw there who were just living their lives really openly.”
In 2011, Bomer married publicist Simon Halls, and the pair have three children together.
Being openly LGBTQ as a teen may be more common now than when Bomer was in school, but the actor's comments touch on a point about representation that's still relevant today.
Research suggests young LGBTQ people actively search out role models they can relate to in order to make up for a lack of social support their straight and cisgender (not transgender) peers benefit from. With fewer or less visible role models, closeted LGBTQ kids may struggle to see themselves — and their future selves — in the world around them.
And that's why Bomer — who admitted to signing up to play football in order to "cover [his] tracks" for taking part in the high school play — has continued using the spotlight to speak out about LGBTQ visibility in the media.
Photo by D. Dipasupil/Getty Images.
Shortly after publicly coming out in February 2012, Bomer was honored with the Inspiration Award from GLSEN, a nonprofit aimed at creating safe and affirming schools for all LGBTQ kids in the U.S.
"When you aren't allowed to speak about who you are, one of the most authentic parts of who you are — which is who you love or who you're attracted to — feels invisible," Bomer said while accepting his award. "GLSEN gives visibility and authenticity to kids all across the country."
Now, under the threats of a new administration willing to take away the rights of transgender students, GLSEN's work is more crucial than ever.
Learn more about and get involved with GLSEN, and watch Bomer's interview on "Watch What Happens Live" below.
Cohen asked about Bomer's high school experience at about the 5:25 mark.