Country star T.J. Osborne has come out as gay — which is a pretty big deal, seeing as he’s now just the first openly gay performer signed to a major country record label.
The Brothers Oborne frontman made the revelation in a new interview with TIME published Wednesday, explaining that although he came out to his friends and family years ago, he was hesitant to make a public declaration about his sexuality partially because of the country music industry’s infamously conservative values.
“People will ask, ‘Why does this even need to be talked about?’ and personally, I agree with that. But for me to show up at an awards show with a man would be jaw-dropping to people. It wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh, cool!”
Sad, but true.
While the 36-year-old is “very comfortable being gay,” he explained that talking about his sexuality so publically still feels a bit unnatural to him, telling the outlet:
“I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don’t have a problem with. That feels so strange.”
The It Ain’t My Fault hitmaker elaborated on this during an appearance on Thursday’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, telling Ellen DeGeneres that he’s not exactly an open book when it comes to his personal life. He shared:
“I think it’s kind of the really beautiful thing in all of this for me is, I’ve really never come out to very many people. I’ve only done it to a few people, mainly because I find it just really awkward and uncomfortable. And so it has been a really wild experience to have come out to very few people, although a lot of my friends and family knew already, to then kind of come out publicly in one big fell swoop, which was in some ways nice, in other ways just made for a very emotional day.”
The CMA Award winner said he wasn’t sure when the right time would be to come out, but now feels he should have done it “a long time ago.” He continued:
“I kinda got to this point to where I knew there was really never going to be the perfect time, and that honestly, now that I’m kinda behind it now with the coming out, it’s wild to me that the perfect time is always now. I instantaneously felt that I wish I had done this a long time ago.”
T.J. went on to note that he thinks the country music industry has become far more inclusive than it’s ever been, but is still curious to see how fans in more conservative areas will react to his revelation. He explained:
“I’m curious to see how it all plays out with us going to rural America. I think there are some people out there … there’s a lot of hurdles, clearly, with people that don’t like gay people, and it’s just a thing. But in some respects, I do feel like maybe through my insecurities, I’ve built it up to maybe be a bigger hurdle than it was the whole time.”
Hopefully he’s right!
Either way, John Osborne, who makes up the other half of their Grammy-nominated band, has his back. Speaking to TIME, John recalled having a “very open and candid” conversation with his brother after T.J. first came out to him in his mid-twenties. He remembered:
“I was emotional, because my brother was finally able to be completely honest with me about who he was. How often, in life, do we hold back parts of ourselves and wish that we didn’t?”
Now, T.J. isn’t holding back for anyone — and he hopes his coming out to the world will help bring in a more inclusive group of potential country music fans. He mused in his TIME interview:
“I’ve done more than I ever thought I would. At this point, my happiness is more valuable than anything else I’d ever be able to achieve.”
We’re so happy for him, and hope this will make for a more inclusive country scene in the future!
[Image via Brothers Osborne/YouTube]