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For a brief period in the ’90s, I enjoyed worldwide success as a songwriter and lead singer of a pop band called Savage Garden. At the peak of my success, I was high-fiving members of ’NSYNC backstage at my after-show parties. I had Billboard number-one hits and sold out Radio City Music Hall. I also came to terms with the fact that I was gay. ’NSYNC had nothing to do with it (don’t worry girls, Justin is still yours). But, the peak of my career coincided with the realization that I’d been denying who I really was all my life. I thought my life was going to end—if not through my own depression, then surely through a media outing.

Fast-forward to my life today: I’m 35 years of age, my pop group split up almost 8 years ago, my record deal evaporated and I’m 25 million album sales richer. I live in England; I’m married to my boyfriend Richard, and my life has never been happier. This year, I’ll release my first record independently and play a sold-out concert at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Things are great.

Yet, it wasn’t always so. The period immediately after coming out to family and friends were what I refer to as “the lost years.” I battled depression. I estranged myself from my family. I moved halfway around the world. I did everything I could to prevent myself from becoming that which I thought society despised.

You see, I was born Australian—amid the drought-ridden summers and masculine culture of working-class heroes—into a family where my father was alcoholic and violent towards my mother. And though he eventually found sobriety and peace (he’s my hero now), it left an indelible scar. I was forever on guard. In the climate I grew up in, you had to be tough. To be gay was unthinkable. There wasn’t even a word for it.

My generation had only 2 gay role models. One of them played piano, wore a lot of wigs and funny glasses, and the other one was the first famous person to die of AIDS. Growing up, there wasn’t anyone I could relate to.

Today, we live in an era in which 17-year-old kids join MySpace and check a simple box that says “gay” to describe who they are. We have Will & Grace, Ellen DeGeneres and, perhaps, Scissor Sisters and Queer As Folk to thank for all that. But, I have to say, were I a young man coming to terms with my sexuality today, I’d find the current online lynch mob mentality of outing celebrities to be more than enough reason to stay hidden.

Go to any gossip website and you’ll see: Young, apparently gay artists, performers and actors are now declared gay and ostracized for not admitting it, sometimes before they’ve even decided it for themselves.

It worries me that, in these times of struggle for basic civil rights, such fear still exists in coming out. It took me years to accept who I was before I was willing to talk about it openly. I can’t imagine how awful that would have been had I also had the likes of tabloid cyber-gossip nipping at my heels!

Don’t get me wrong. I think that lying publicly about who you are is unacceptable. But, for the person who says, “I’d rather not talk about my private life”—can’t we see that this is someone who is choosing not to deceive us?

Right now, I’m so proud to be living in a country that has had the sense to respond to real social pressure and recognize civil partnerships. Here in Britain, I signed a simple piece of paper that extends to me the right of British citizenship and all of the civil liberties any other married person inherits upon saying “I do.” Richard, my partner, is my next of kin. He is my life. But, most importantly, marrying him validated us. When we stood together in a circle of our family and friends, I got to hold both his and my mother’s hands; I got to smile at my niece and nephew; and I got to witness the acceptance of my family and friends.

Perhaps through living my life with joy in my heart, I’ll have made it possible for some young kid in a country town in anywhere U.S.A. to say, “I can be happy, too.”

Darren Hayes’ new album, This Delicate Thing We’ve Made, hits stores on August 20 from Powdered Sugar Productions. For previews and downloads, check out darrenhayes.com.

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