When Sir Ian McKellen was growing up in Northern England in the 1930s, being gay wasn't just not discussed -- it was illegal.
The 76-year-old X-Men: Days of Future Past actor opens up about coming to terms with his sexuality and devoting his life to fighting for gay rights in the third season of the docuseries It Got Better -- the It Gets Better project-inspired series of intimate testimonials -- which launched on Tuesday on L/Studio, Lexus' digital content channel. In the revealing video, McKellen says the more tolerant attitude of today didn't exist when he was an adolescent.
The British actor says he knew he was gay since his early teens, and was bullied though he wasn't out yet.
"I wondered, lying on the ground ... with a lot of boys on top of me, laughing, whether they detected a difference in me which they found unnerving," he reflects.
McKellen says he knew his best friend, David, was also gay but didn't discuss it.
"That was the world we were living in -- we didn't talk about it because to accuse someone of being gay, or even to ask that question, it was thought to be the most insulting thing you could possibly say about them," he explains. "And if you did talk about it, you could be put in prison ... the language and attitude of today didn't exist."
Still, McKellen was honest about his sexuality to his inner circle, and had relationships with other men in college.
"I fell in love, then I had sex, and I sort of understood myself for the first time, and then went into the theater," he says.
McKellen at first didn't talk about his sexuality because he feared it would limit the roles he would get, but decided to publicly come out in 1988 after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28. The amendment said it would be illegal to "promote homosexuality" in any school in the country in order to protect children.
"I was so appalled by this when I heard of it, I joined in groups vocally explaining why this was an unjust law," McKellen recalls, "and in a debate on BBC radio, I came out and said I was gay."
"Once you are honest about your sexuality, you will feel better about it," he now says about the monumental moment. "I felt better about my life because I was enjoying it."
These days, the actor couldn't be happier about his decision despite receiving death threats and "many insults" from public figures.
"My life totally changed for the better, my relationships with my family were better," he notes. "I was a better son. I was a better brother. I was a better uncle. I was a better friend ... everything was better."
McKellen isn't the only celebrity sharing his own story on coming out for L/Studio's series, which is executive produced by Dan Savage, Dan Bucatinsky, and Lisa Kudrow. Adam Lambert, Wanda Sykes and EJ Johnson are just a few of the stars talking about their own deeply personal experiences when it comes to being open about their sexuality.