Carson Kressley, Billy Porter and Robert Trachtenberg

Writer, director and celebrity photographer Robert Trachtenberg recently asked 400 gay people: "When did you know you were gay?" He compiled their poignant and funny answers in the book When I Knew. Check out a handful of the hilarious highlights.

To share their own coming out stories, Carson Kressley of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and singer, writer and actor Billy Porter are here to talk about what it's like growing up with a big secret.
Carson Kressley at 4 years old

As the flamboyant style expert on Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Carson is famously out. Even in kindergarten, he showed an aptitude for accessories!

From a young age, Carson knew he was different from most of his peers. "I remember all the [kids] were like, 'Isn't Farrah Fawcett hot? I was like, 'No, I'm kind of into Lee Majors.' ... My brother had [a magazine] that had Lee Majors on the cover. I remember being like 4 or 5 and just obsessing about it and hiding it so no one could find it."

To help children who feel like they don't fit in for whatever reason, Carson has written a book called You're Different and That's Super.

Even though Carson felt "different" from a young age, he didn't come out to his parents until two weeks before the series premiere of his show! "Thank God it was a really rainy day," he remembers. "I knew my mom couldn't freak out or we'd run the car off the road. ... [After I told her,] she was kind of like, 'Hello, I knew that.'"
Billy Porter

Billy Porter realized he was gay in 1978 when his family moved into a new house. "We didn't have much, but we had beautiful hardwood floors," Billy remembers. "And wooden door frames with detailing that I loved. I went to school one day, and I came home and my stepfather had carpeted over all of my beautiful hardwood floors with semi-shag carpeting! Then he painted over the wooden door frames with brown glossy paint!"

Billy's tears of outrage marked a turning point for him and his parents. "We didn't know what it was called, but that was officially the day that my family went into denial," Billy says.

It was a powerful case of denial—Billy says he had to come out to his mother three times! "I come from a very religious background," he explains. "My mother is a Pentecostal preacher, and she just didn't want to hear it." After two failed attempts, Billy decided to bring home a man he was in love with. "It's not about you," he told his mom the third time. "It's about me. I have to live this."
Dr. Alan Downs

Dr. Alan Downs is a psychologist and author of The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World! He knows firsthand about being an outsider—he lived a closeted life for years and even married a beauty queen!

"I grew up in a very religious household," he says. "I thought if I met the right woman and married her, [I] would change. ... The Velvet Rage is about the anger that develops when you have something inside yourself that you have to hide."

Even though Alan suspected from a young age that he was gay, he didn't come to terms with it until after his divorce. "I was very close to my ex-wife," he says. "She was my best friend. I just confused that with 'This is going to make me straight.'"
Carson, Billy and Robert

Carson, Billy and Robert all say they grew up wishing they were "normal." "Every night, I would pray that I would be different and pray I wouldn't have to tell my parents," Carson remembers. Billy had the same experience. "I didn't understand why God would create me in his own image, like the Bible says, only to create somebody that he hates, to send to a burning hell," Billy says. "Finally, one day, I was like, 'You know what? [God] loves me. I'm done."

"You finally realize it's not a choice," Robert says.
Carson Kressley

Gaydar, or the ability to detect if another person is gay, is not a power exclusive to gay people, Robert says. "Straight people have their version of it, too," he explains. "It's that X-factor. There's this chemistry that goes between two people and something clicks in the eyes."

Carson complains that metrosexuals have thrown off his gaydar. "There are guys who have manicures and they're wearing designer clothes. I'll be in the airport, and I'll be looking at O, The Oprah Magazine waiting for my flight. A guy will come up to me in the store and say, 'Hey.' And I'm like, 'Hey,' and I'm thinking he's totally gay. ... Then he'll be like, 'My wife loves your show,' and I'm like, 'Foiled again!' I've done this, you know. I've created a monster!"
Billy Porter

Oprah wants to know—why are some gay men flamboyant while others are not? "It's a spectrum just like everything," Billy says. "Flamboyant gay people get more of the attention, but we run the gamut."

What about gay men who have problems with flamboyant men? "I think that it's a self-hate issue that's brought on by society," Billy says. "You want to assimilate. ... The only thing that we want as human beings is to be accepted."

Feminine men are not necessarily gay, Carson adds. "Some straight guys are very feminine," he says. "Sometimes it just means that you're comfortable with your sexuality."
Dr. Downs

Dr. Downs says promiscuity is not unique to gay men—men in general are more sexually indiscriminate—but there is a reason why gay relationships statistically have a shorter tenure than straight relationships. "It's because of shame," Alan says. "It's that sense of knowing there's something about you that's unacceptable. ... It happens with all of us when we've been shamed about some significant part of ourselves, especially our sexuality."

Dr. Downs goes on to say that feelings of shame and inauthenticity often stem from a man's relationship with his father. "Imagine that's your role for a relationship with a man—a man who by definition is probably straight, who doesn't necessarily understand who you are and may be horrified at the fact [that you're gay]," he says. "That becomes your template then for future relationships. For many of us, it takes a long time to work through that so we can get past it and have a successful relationship."
Carson Kressley and Dr. Downs

Are gay men more creative than straight men?

Carson thinks so. "When you're gay as a child, you feel a certain sense of isolation," he says. "You don't have a whole lot of friends, and you're not playing dodgeball. You're daydreaming in your mind and being creative. I think maybe that's one reason why."

Dr. Downs disagrees. "I think it's a myth that gay men are more creative," he says. "It appears that way because so many of us have developed that creative side to sort of 'dress up' ourselves so that we can hide what we know about ourselves. ... I live in Santa Fe, and you'll find gay men living in mobile homes—that's not the stereotypical gay man who's got the designed beautiful house. They don't make it into the spotlight."
Melissa Etheridge

Grammy-winning musician Melissa Etheridge recently shared her experience growing up gay. "I remember crying one Christmas because my grandfather bought me a truck," she says. "I remember crying because I knew that it wasn't normal for girls to want a truck.

"No one talked about 'gay' in the '60s and '70s. I was in high school [when I realized] that I was this thing that I had heard in the girls' locker room: 'She's a lezzie.' I thought, 'Uh-oh, this a dirty horrible thing that I am.'"

Melissa came out to her parents after she went to college. "They went, 'Yeah, we know,'" Melissa remembers. "Then they said, 'Look, we don't understand it and we can't help you with it because we don't know anything about it—but as long as you're happy.' That's all that a kid needs to hear from their parents is, 'Hey, as long as you're happy, we support you.'"