Country music singer T.J. Osborne has come out as gay and said he’s “very comfortable” with his sexuality.
The 36-year-old said that his friends and family are aware of his sexuality, but he refrained from speaking about it publicly in order to maintain his personal privacy.
“I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don’t have a problem with,” Osborne said. “That feels so strange.”
Osborne joins a small but growing number of out LGBTQ country and country-adjacent artists, including Brandy Clark, Ty Herndon, Chely Wright, Brandi Carlile, Lil Nas X, Orville Peck, and Waylon Payne.
Speaking to TIME, Osborne said he was concerned that some might question why he was coming out publicly, or even accuse him of seeking attention, noting that if he attended an awards show with a male partner, it “would be jaw-dropping to people.”
He also noted the potential impact — on both his and his brother’s career — of being openly gay in the notoriously conservative country music industry.
“I don’t think I’m going to get run off the stage in Chicago,” Osborne said. “But in a rural town playing a county fair? I’m curious how this will go.”
One thing Osborne didn’t have to worry about was telling his brother, who found out about his sexuality a decade ago, after they moved to Nashville and signed their first record deal.
Osborne’s brother, John, told TIME, “[T.J.] was very open and candid about it, and I was emotional, because my brother was finally able to be completely honest with me about who he was.”
“If I had to have all my money and success erased for my brother to be truly fulfilled in life, I wouldn’t even think about it,” John added. “Not for a second.”
After he came out, the Osbornes made small nods towards LGBTQ inclusion, including showing two men holding hands in the video for their song “Stay a Little Longer.” Reaction was mostly positive, Osborne said, but “there were people who were like, ‘Faggot lovers!’”
Ultimately, Osborne decided to come out after taking stock of his life and the impact that staying closeted was having on his relationships. He said he’d told past partners “don’t hold my hand,” or even asked them to “wait in the car,” in case they bumped into people he knew.
Osborne also noted how “stifling” it was to have “kept a part of me muted.” And should their careers be impacted, he’s prepared to accept it.
“I’ve done more than I ever thought I would,” Osborne said. “At this point, my happiness is more valuable than anything else I’d ever be able to achieve.”
After TIME‘s interview was published, Osborne posted a video to Instagram saying he was “very proud to put this out there” and telling his fans that he’s the same person they’ve always known, only now they “know more about me.”
“It’s so important in so many ways,” he said of the TIME interview. “I know it’s going to help my relationship with my fans, with my family, and honestly it will help my relationship with myself. And I just wanted to thank everyone for the support.”
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