What I've Learned Since Coming Out

Looking back on my life since coming out a year ago only makes me wish I'd had the strength to come out sooner. It was the final step on the journey to self-acceptance, and I'm glad I can say now that I truly love myself. I've grown so much as a person over the past year, and I hope that sharing my experience will encourage others to follow their own path. I'm the happiest I've ever been, and life has been good to me. I perform for the greatest company in the world, WWE, and I'm happily in love with my partner, Nicki. He makes me smile, supports me in everything I do and keeps me grounded.

People who are struggling with coming out often ask me for advice, and, in my opinion, the best first step you can take is coming out to those who are closest to you. The most painful experience was hiding my true self from those I loved. I can honestly say that coming out to my inner circle was the best thing I've ever done. I was incredibly fortunate and received nothing but support from them, and my mom is my biggest fan. She's always wearing a Yankees hat with a pin that says "I love my gay son." While not everyone had the same reaction, I've come to grips with that reality. It's OK, because I'm living my life, and that is an amazing feeling.

I don't expect everyone to embrace equality overnight, but we are making great progress. Coming out has instilled in me a sense of confidence that I've never felt before, and I'm happy to have full control over my life without fear of disapproval. I don't need people in my life to bring me down. Working with various organizations like the GLAAD, NOH8, and Athlete Ally and being involved with NYC Pride and LA Pride has opened my eyes to just how far we've come. I'm very honored to have met so many influential people, and I'm inspired by the widespread support for the LGBT community

I feared being alienated when deciding to come out, but instead I felt welcomed. The overwhelming support from WWE, my fellow WWE Superstars and Divas, and my fans has been fantastic. I've been lucky enough to travel the world and use WWE's massive social-media reach to tell my story and connect with my fans. This positive outpouring has eclipsed any negativity, and I only wish I had known that earlier.

Two days after my announcement, I was in Los Angeles for SummerSlam, one of our biggest events of the year, and a fan approached me at CVS. He asked if I was Darren Young, and I could tell he was a huge wrestling fan. He told me he had seen the news about me and admired my courage. He said hearing my story helped him come out to his family. He was emotional and started crying. I knew what those tears were about. We connected and got a photo together. It's moments like this that make me realize I can help create a positive change in the world. Since coming out, I've been committed to WWE's anti-bullying campaign, Be a STAR, as a motivational speaker to kids across the nation. Bullying happens on all levels, and it's important to me that we put a stop to this negative trend and reverse its damaging effects. When bullying is given a place in our schools, workplaces, or anywhere else, everyone loses. I always try to make myself available and approachable so kids feel they have someone to turn to in times of need. My message is this: Don't be afraid to be yourself, and don't let fear stand in the way of your true happiness.

Living your life truthfully is such a great feeling, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself this: You have more support than you think you do. Being true to yourself is key to reaching your personal potential.