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By PEOPLE.COM/Alexia Fernandez
Updated May 03, 2017 @ 10:45 am
Credit: John Shearer/Getty

Matt Bomer is opening up about his struggles with his sexuality as a child and young adult, revealing that hiding his identity taught him to be an actor.

“One of the ways I learned how to act, really, is by having secrets, and having to function as a kid in a public school in suburban Bible Belt Texas,” Bomer, 39, recently told OUT Magazine. “Subsequently I worked on a gas pipeline with my brother for a while—there were ex-cons with us. It was not an environment where it was safe to be gay.”

He added: “I did learn how to protect myself—it was literally acting of the highest stakes. I had my brother to protect me, but as terrible as it may sound, it was a way I learned to select behavior and make choices, even if it was a ruse just to survive, you know?”

In the new interview, the Missouri native shared his coming out story and the difficulties he faced in telling his parents about his sexuality—a declaration he said led him to fight for his family.

Bomer told the magazine that he was raised in a conservative Christian home where he wasn’t allowed to watch “secular” TV. The actor, who realized he was gay while performing classics such as Romeo and Juliet and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, knew telling his parents would be a challenge.

“Telling your family is a huge, huge deal,” Bomer said. “I really view my life as divided between the time before I told my parents, and the time after. And the decisions I made, and the life I lived, before and after, are vastly different. It’s night and day.”

Bomer was dating a girl during that period in his life, but was inspired to be true to himself by a hair and makeup artist at the festival.

“I thought, ‘If this person can live their truth, what am I doing?’ ” he recalled. He decided to come out to his parents through a letter, saying, “I would have lost my sense of direction if I tried to do it in person.”

His parents, however, didn’t take the revelation well. Bomer said there “was radio silence for a long, long time, at least six months.”

The father of three said he went back home where he and his parents “had the blowup that I’d always feared,” although things took a turn for the better.

“We got that out of the way, and we got down to the business of figuring out how to love each other,” he said. “I would say within a matter of years we started to figure it out. It was a struggle. It’s a struggle for anybody to take their paradigms and set of beliefs and understandings and completely flip the script.”

The White Collar actor came out in 2012, thanking his husband and their children at the Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards while receiving the New Generation Arts and Activism Award for his activism in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I’d really especially like to thank my beautiful family: Simon, Kit, Walker, Henry,” he said onstage at the show. “Thank you for teaching me what unconditional love is. You will always be my proudest accomplishment.”

Since coming out to his family, Bomer said his relationship with his parents has mended.

“My mom just asked me, [my husband] Simon, and the boys to go down and speak to her women’s group in Houston so, you know, I’m here to tell people it can get better,” he added. “Because I had so many people in my life saying, ‘You need to get rid of all expectations — you need to cut them out.’ But I was like, ‘They’re my family.’ ”

This Story Originally Appeared On People