Brothers Osborne singer-guitarist T.J. Osborne has publicly come out as gay, revealing the news in an interview with Time. With this revelation, Osborne becomes the first openly gay man signed to a major country label and one of the first mainstream country artists to come out in the prime of their career.

“I’m very comfortable being gay,” Osborne told writer Sam Lansky. “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.”

And yet it’s still an unusual development for artists in country music — particularly near the center of the mainstream — to be out of the closet, given the genre’s close association with more “family-values” material. Singer-songwriter Brandy Clark was out of the closet when her career began to take off, and she released her third album Your Life Is a Record in 2020 via a Warner Bros. subsidiary. Relative outsiders like Orville Peck and Americana darling Brandi Carlile have also been out for the bulk of their careers. Inside mainstream country, there are a handful of other performers who’ve preceded Osborne in coming out, including Nineties radio favorite Ty Herndon, child star Billy Gilman, and “Single White Female” singer Chely Wright, who congratulated Osborne on the news.

“Well done, T.J. Osborne, you’re nobody’s whisper anymore,” she wrote. “You have just changed and saved a whole lot of lives; chief among them, your own.”

Well done, T.J. Osborne.

You’re nobody’s whisper anymore.

You have just changed and saved a whole lot of lives; chief among them, your own. @brothersosborne https://t.co/AiFiJsSQYs

— Chely Wright (@chelywright) February 3, 2021

To that point, Osborne does acknowledge in the interview that he felt very isolated in his early days in Nashville and that he neglected his own relationships because he wasn’t ready to be out.

“There are times when I think I’ve marginalized this part of me so that I feel better about it,” he said. “And I realize that it is a big part of who I am: The way I think, the way I act, the way I perform. God, think of all the times that we talk about love, and write about love. It’s the biggest thing we ever get to feel. And I’ve kept the veil on.”

T.J. and his guitar-playing brother John, natives of Deale, Maryland, debuted as Brothers Osborne in 2013 with “Let’s Go There” and followed with the Top 40 single “Rum.” Their breakout moment was with the single “Stay a Little Longer,” a Number One hit that powered their debut album Pawn Shop. Around the time they signed their first album, he came out to John, who was also interviewed in the Time story and offered unending support for his brother. Brothers Osborne have also released the melancholy 2018 album Port Saint Joe and 2020’s rock-oriented Skeletons, along with the 2019 concert album Live at the Ryman.

Following the article’s publication, Osborne went to his personal Instagram to thank everyone for the support.

“I’m very proud to put this out there,” he said. “It’s going to help my relationship with my fans, my family, and honestly, it’s going to help my relationship with myself.”

What remains to be seen is how country audiences, often perceived to lean conservative, will respond — particularly on a day when the country industry is quickly reacting to news of Morgan Wallen using a racial slur over the weekend. For one, Osborne seemed upbeat about the uncertain future.

“I don’t think I’m going to get run off the stage in Chicago,” he said. “But in a rural town playing a county fair? I’m curious how this will go.”