I came out to my family last year. Not by choice. Someone had told them I was gay. Someone. I still don't know who.
It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. The days that followed didn't seem real, as one part of my life after another fell out of place. I live in Los Angeles, work in the entertainment industry, have watched as 17 states legalized gay marriage, and still, in this day in age, found myself crushed by my family's rejection.
The months since have had many moments of emotional turmoil, and I don't have any idea when the relationship I once had with my parents will be normal again. It takes a lot of strength to continue living without the support of your epicenter, your safety net.
A year ago, putting "gay" in writing seemed impossible. I carefully monitored my Facebook privacy settings, afraid that one of my Los Angeles friends would post something my parents back home shouldn't see. I was out to my friends, but at home I was still the Golden Child. It was a place I largely ignored, unready to confront what was necessary for survival.
I don't blame my parents for their reaction. The degree of intolerance against gays in the South, where I was born, would shock those on the West Coast. It is these people who have kept many in the entertainment industry in the closet. I've discovered, though, that the closet is too dark to survive. I no longer concern myself with privacy settings.
You don't learn this on your own. People need people. Whether they're your best friend or a character in a film, someone shows us the doorknob that opens the closet. He didn't know it, but Matt Bomer helped me find the knob that opened mine.
I give tours, and seeing celebrities has become par for the course. For the past three years I've been a tour guide at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif.
I've seen Jane Fonda. I've said "hello" to Ron Howard and had a (brief) conversation with Conan O'Brien. I watched (from a distance) as Leonardo DiCaprio shot a scene for J. Edgar. I haven't asked for pictures or autographs before. As nice as many of these people are, and as much as I admire their work, I have to be professional. But I recently discovered that I am not infallible.
Matt Bomer came out quietly in the press a couple of years ago. I already knew he was gay. He never made a point of hiding it, and it was very well known that he had a partner and even children. I was able to learn as much from cursory research after discovering him through his recurring stint on Chuck. Ironically, Chuck filmed on the Warner Bros lot, but Matt was done there long before I arrived on the scene.
With the success of the USA series White Collar, Matt has gotten pretty famous. This is an achievement in Hollywood, a place where a 1990s homosexual couldn't survive on network television. Even when they did, it was as a gay character. Matt Bomer is playing straight and no one cares. He's not necessarily the first, but I'd say he's the first out, gay sex symbol to manage the feat.
I don't typically have celebrity crushes, but Matt became mine. I admired him. Interviews and speeches he's given since coming out, never loud or feather-ruffling, though always proud, have only served to increase my appreciation. He's a role model.
On a typically beautiful Southern California afternoon, I was on a break, hanging out by the WB commissary. I had heard that Matt was on the lot that day, and of course I hoped I would see him. Just to say "hello." Even at a distance. But that sort of thing only happens in the movies....
My break was over. It was time for me to go back to work.
I took a breath. I looked up, and I saw Matt walk out the door of the lot's fine-dining room with a posse that included Jim Parsons and Mark Ruffalo.
I didn't hesitate. I sprang into action. I had something to say, and I saw the chance to say it. Life gave me the opportunity, and it was up to me to take it.
I walked up, and I leaned forward a bit. "I'm sorry. I--"
"Yes, what is it?" It was probably the nicest voice I'd ever heard. I exhaled; I knew I had made the right decision. I extended my hand, and he shook it as I continued.
"This might be inappropriate to approach you like this, but I just had to tell you that I'm a big fan, and you're such an inspiration."
"Oh, thank you." He was genuinely surprised, in the good way.
But that wasn't what I'd come over to say. "You helped me when I came out to my parents last year, and I just wanted to let you know that."
There. I'd said it.
He smiled. I believe we shook hands again. He seemed moved -- very moved. "Oh, my gosh, that's amazing," or something like that, was his response. I think I started to say something, but he offered, "Would you like to take a picture?"
I hadn't been expecting that. I wanted a picture, of course, but I'd never heard of a celebrity being the one to offer it. I'm sure at this point I seemed like a blushing teenage girl meeting Elvis Presley in the 1950s. "Yes, please."
I pulled out my phone, and he handed it to someone else in the group. Suddenly I was aware that these people were watching this interaction, all with smiles. Maybe they realized that this meant something big to me. He put his arm on my shoulder, and mine went around his waist. I was posing with someone I looked up to, and it was all I could do to suppress my nerves.
The picture was taken. I remember wondering which smile I should use: the smirk, the smolder, the cheese or the excited. Looking at the final product, I see I definitely went with the excited.
We pulled away, and he smiled. "It's Rance?" He had looked at my name tag on my tour uniform. There's something about Matt Bomer saying your name.
"Yes, it is. Thanks." I was saying "thank you" far too many times, but whatever. We shook hands again. I'm not sure why I kept doing that. Can I?, I asked myself. I opened my arms wide.
"Sure!" he said.
His arms matched mine, and he gave me the greatest hug.
The posse around us gave an audible "awwwwwww."
This felt really special. Not only was I meeting my crush, but I was having a moment with him.
I should note that as the hug ended, we shook hands again. I also worked in another "thank you." Sigh.
I didn't turn back until I'd returned to where I had been sitting previously.
When I did look back, I saw Matt's eyes on me as he talked to Ryan Murphy, who is directing an upcoming HBO telefilm with Matt, The Normal Heart. He had a beaming smile, was gesturing toward me and seemed to be telling the story -- my story. I smiled because I knew that my joy had not been one-sided.
The photo taken was posted on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, bringing me a lot of social-media attention. I had never gotten quite so many "likes," "loves" and "retweets" in my life. This guy really has a following, and they were all quick to point out how lucky I was. They don't even know how lucky.
Chances are that I will never see Matt Bomer again, but he was able to bring validation to my admiration. It doesn't take a lot to touch someone's life. He touched mine. He brought a tumultuous time full-circle and gave it a deeper meaning. The guy who showed me that I could live my days in truth provided the validation that I, at my most insecure and uncertain, needed.
No matter what has happened since I came out, I believe harmony will be restored with my parents. My mother and I talk now. My mother - the sweetest person I know and chef behind the best fried chicken below the Mason-Dixon Line. Life is rough, but role models exist to help us through.
Again, thank you, Matt Bomer.