John Reel shows off natural makeup inside the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Dear readers,

I was in the closet during my childhood. Because of my own insecurity, the truth about my identity had to be kept secret.

I came to this conclusion after a long time spent doubting, denying and hating myself. I grew up with youth football, basketball, “Call of Duty” games and even a few church services.

Experimentation with feminine interests would likely be met with resentment.

My parents weren’t ultra-conservative disciples of televangelism that bled red, white and blue. They were fairly liberal.

Even still, this exposure to a very masculine set of interests instilled in me a fear of weakness, femininity and being gay, which was the combination of the two.

However, middle school introduced me to an existential conflict that extended past just those three years. During this time, I joined track, wrestling and started playing football again, possibly out of fear of being discovered. I thought by masking my gayness with helmets and pads, people couldn’t see through me.

I remember thinking more physical activity, willpower and denial would turn me straight again, as if I could sweat it off with a couple more laps.

It didn’t work.

Instead, it made my coming out more difficult and gave me a repressed, internalized homophobia I still carry today.

It’s been a long time since those formative years. I’m not consciously ashamed of my sexual orientation anymore. I’m not afraid to hold hands with a man or even kiss him in public.

But, I admit, I still sometimes deal with a fear of being seen as feminine. In other words, I’m able to be attracted to men so long as I don’t give off any indicators that conform to the societal image of what a gay man sounds, acts or looks like.

I dress fashionably, but never outside the confines of a masculine silhouette. I sometimes act flamboyantly, though rarely and only as a joke, as if to make fun of myself. Through that same fear, makeup was always off limits.

But not anymore.

Last summer, I got into the Netflix series “Queer Eye,” and it changed my self-perception for the better by showing me why I should take pride in the way I carry myself.

For those unfamiliar, the show is a reboot of the Bravo show and features a group of five gay men who typically help straight guys who aren’t living their lives to their fullest potentials. This spoke to me, as a part of me still believed I wasn’t reaching my full potential either.

I had thought of myself as somewhat fearless after coming out of the closet, but I realized I had a long way to go before I was content with myself.

I needed to accept the good and the bad about who I was. I needed to be vulnerable. I needed to be transparent. I needed to stop fearing femininity.

As I watched the show, I noticed the “coaches” of the show — characters who specialize in one specific field: grooming, fashion, culture, food or design — suggest that some men wear makeup to increase their physical appearance.

To my surprise, many of them complied and seemed happier and more confident donning their new look.

I admit, I felt slightly jealous because of how much I lacked their confidence.

While I’ve been silently intrigued with makeup since childhood, it’s never something I thought of as being accessible. To society, makeup has always been a feminine display. But with my fear of not conforming to the binary of gender expression winnowing away, I gained a hunger for experimentation.

Last summer, I bought my first brushes and products from the cosmetics section at Walmart — humble beginnings. I was overwhelmed at first. I didn’t know just the essentials would include so many products: a beauty blender, a contour brush, a larger brush for blending, powder, two concealers, a contouring kit, an eyebrow pencil, clear mascara, blush, highlighter and a simple eyeshadow palette.

My initial eagerness to get started in this new art form was attributed to our current decade. In this time, makeup has gained a spotlight we haven’t seen since the 1980s with the likes of Madonna and Siouxsie Sioux. Celebrities like Troye Sivan and James Charles have been quick to embrace the culture and chip away at heteronormative traditions.

I wear makeup to enhance my naturally pleasant features, not to cover up myself or to be anything but who I am. For example, I love how my eyes look, but if I want them to look even better, I accentuate them. Taking my makeup off doesn’t make me feel any less beautiful.

I think anyone can benefit from it.

Even if you don’t have insecurities — or literally don’t have a single flaw — makeup can make you look better, which can translate into confidence and happiness.

Ironically, makeup is one of the elements of my expression that made me realize my more authentic self.

My views toward wearing makeup are paralleled by my views toward my sexuality and my self-expression. I’m happy to be in the skin I’m in. I’m thankful for the characteristics that make me internally and externally beautiful, and I’m more than happy to move past the things about me I don’t like.

I’m not perfect, but those imperfections are what make me proud to be me. I may never get over that homophobia or fear of femininity buried inside me, but if I can lay in my bed at night and say “I’m happy to be me,” then that’s a win.

Thanks for the read,

John Reel