“I felt like I was hiding such a big part of my life. I share so much of my life with them, I felt almost like I was lying to them and I couldn’t be as open,” the daily video blogger tells PEOPLE. “And then it just kind of hit me: I have this following, and I could change some people’s lives out there by being honest with who I am.”
So, on May 16, the Internet famous 24-year-old told his audience his secret, posting a fairytale-themed 4½-minute music video called “Don’t Wait” in which he kisses another man at the end. (Two days later, he shared another clip called “Yes I’m Gay,” where he opens up more about his decision to come out.)
Why He Waited
Coming out was a process for Graceffa, who grew up in Marlborough, Massachusetts, but now lives in L.A.
“It’s been the biggest question on my YouTube channel, ever since I started. One of the first [comments] was ‘Are you gay?’ or telling me I was gay. And for a long time, I would get so offended by those comments because I just wasn’t out to myself yet. I hadn’t fully accepted myself,” he explains.
But, when Graceffa was 20, he started coming out, first to his best friend. “It just came up because I was actually asked on a date by a guy, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I need to tell someone about this,’ ” he remembers, adding he went on to tell his sister and other close friends before telling his parents.
While he has no regrets today, Graceffa did initially have some reservations sharing this part of his life so publicly on the Internet.
“There was a lot of hesitation to come out online because of growing up in my town: It wasn’t acceptable to be gay; it was looked down upon,” he says of his initial reluctance. “And also, a lot of people used the term ‘gay’ as an insult.”
Making a Difference
Now that he’s come out to his audience, Graceffa hopes to make a difference and help others struggling to come to terms with their sexuality – and he already has.
“I definitely feel more open and free with who I am, and I think that’s inspired a lot of other people to also do the same and have come out to their friends and family,” he says.
“Some people on my book tour have come up to me and whispered in my ear, ‘I’m gay, too.’ And it’s so heavy because I don’t have the time to really sit down and talk to them – like, I want to say so much more to you! It’s just so cool to see the fact that they were inspired by my video to come out, and they feel much better after doing it.”
Even if he doesn’t get to talk to all of his fans about their individual journeys, he has a message for them:
“I would just tell them how proud I am of them and that life’s gonna get so much easier for them after coming out. There might be some bumps in the road that they’re going to come across, but ultimately, their happiness is the most important thing.
“They’re on the path to achieving their ultimate happiness because they can be who they are – so good on them!”
For more on Joey Graceffa and other viral stars who recently came out on YouTube, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday