We're fast approaching the 10-year anniversary of the release of Mean Girls, the Tina Fey-penned teen comedy that became a touchstone of humor and angst for countless fans. Maybe you related to Cady Heron's confusion over the cruel nature of high school cliques. Maybe you wanted to be one The Plastics, with perfect skin and rules on when it's okay to wear pink (Wednesdays) or sweatpants (only on Fridays). Maybe you cheered for Janis Ian and her reckless sense of rebellion. Or maybe you looked to Damian, Janis's openly gay best friend, and saw a source of inspiration. It turns out the character proved to be just that for Daniel Franzese, the then closested actor who played him.

Though onscreen Franzese was completely convincing as an out and proud high school student, in real-life he was petrified of making his sexual orientation public. But he has recently followed in Damian's footsteps, and he wrote all about it in an open letter shared with Indie Wire. We've included the highlights of this thoughtful and wonderfully honest letter below:
"I was twenty-six; you were sixteen. You were proud of who you were; I was an insecure actor. You became an iconic character that people looked up to; I wished I’d had you as a role model when I was younger. I might've been easier to be gay growing up….

When I was cast in the role of "Damian" in ‘Mean Girls,’ I was TERRIFIED to play this part. But this was a natural and true representation of a gay teenager - a character we laughed with instead of at. (You can thank Tina Fey and Mark Waters for that. I can only take partial credit.)…

So, why the hell did it take me so long to come out of the closet?

Here’s why:

When I first became an actor, I wanted to play lots of roles - Guidos, gangsters and goombahs were my specialty. So, would I be able to play all of those parts after portraying a sensitive, moisturizing, Ashton Kutcher-loving, pink-shirt-wearing kid? I was optimistic. Hollywood? Not so much. I was meeting a "gay glass ceiling" in casting."

Daniel Franzese goes on to speak to the bias he confronted in casting, where casting directors refused to consider him for "man's man" or more traditionally "masculine" roles. He was offered more parts as gay characters, but if they fell into "flamboyant, feather-boa-slinging stereotypes," he turned them down on principal, explaining, "How could I go from playing an inspirational, progressive gay youth to the embarrassing, cliched butt-of-a-joke?"

All this kept Franzese fearful of coming out. He tried to expunge any suggestions that he might be online, be it Twitter of IMDB message boards. He even recalls bringing a woman as his guest to Mean Girls red carpet to use as his "unwitting beard." But while he ran from Damian, Damian inspired others. And that worked its way back to the actor. "It wasn’t until years later that grown men started to coming up to me on the street - some of them in tears - and thanking me for being a role model to them," he writes. "Telling me I gave them comfort not only being young and gay but also being a big dude. It was then that I realized how much of an impact YOU had made on them."

He ends with " So, I’m not afraid anymore. Of Hollywood, the closet or mean girls. Thank you for that, Damian. (And Tina.)" And while Daniel Franzese has embraced his queer identity, he asks that you not call him "too gay to function," specifying, "It really is ONLY okay when Janis says it."

For more on Franzese's coming out, check out his interview with RuPaul:

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