Country music star T.J. Osborne revealed in a Time magazine interview on Wednesday that he is gay.
The 36-year-old vocalist for Brothers Osborne, a duo he started with his brother, John, said he is "very comfortable being gay," adding, however: "I find myself being guarded for not wanting to talk about something that I personally don't have a problem with. That feels so strange."
He worried that his coming out would seem opportunistic or attention-seeking, according to Time. "People will ask, 'Why does this even need to be talked about?' and personally, I agree with that," he said. "But for me to show up at an awards show with a man would be jaw-dropping to people. It wouldn't be like, 'Oh, cool!"
Someone in his career might feel reservations about publicly coming out because country music is often associated with conservatism. However, "country is in fact more complicated and more interesting than the prevailing caricature would have it. There's always been a strain of protest alongside the sentimental patriotism," historian and writer Jon Meacham and country star Tim McGraw write in a 2019 editorial for Time.
Still, the country music industry has punished stars for sharing more liberal-leaning beliefs. When the Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks)then-President George W. Bush and the Iraq War in 2003, fans urged radio stations to boycott their music.
And most of the states known for breeding country music stars are southern red states.
Osborne is not the first country star to come out as gay, however, according to Time, he is the only openly gay artist signed to a major country label.
He told Time that he doesn't think he will be run off the stage in a place like Chicago, "but in a rural town playing a county fair? I'm curious how this will go." He also wondered if country music isn't popular among many gay people because they've never had an opportunity to relate to it.
Osborne said first came out to his brother and bandmate in his mid-twenties. "He was very open and candid about it, and I was emotional, because my brother was finally able to be completely honest with me about who he was," John told Time. "How often, in life, do we hold back parts of ourselves and wish that we didn't?"
In regards to his brother coming out publicly, John said: "If I had to have all my money and success erased for my brother to be truly fulfilled in life, I wouldn't even think about it. Not for a second."
The brothers said they have made subtle messages about inclusion in their past work – for example, featuring gay and interracial couples in a music video for "Stay a Little Longer" — and it wasn't always well received.
People's negative and sometimes offensive reactions discouraged T.J., but he ultimately decided to come out for himself, and the men he dates. "Saying, 'Hey, don't hold my hand. Someone I know is in here, so can you wait in the car?' Rightfully, they would feel unwanted by me," he told Time.
Osborne hopes his decision to come out opens up more creative possibilities. "I want to get to the height of my career being completely who I am," he said. "I mean, I am who I am, but I've kept a part of me muted, and it's been stifling."