Clay Aiken's recent revelation that he's gay wasn't much of a revelation for many fans who have closely followed the "American Idol" runner-up and recording star's ascending career. But the Oct. 6 cover story on Aiken, 29, in People magazine offered a poignant insider's look at the singer's turmoil living a secret life and his decision, after the birth of his son, to no longer live a lie.

We asked a few Twin Citians of different ages to share their stories about when they came out, how they came out and how life looks going forward, on this, the 20th anniversary of the first National Coming Out Day.

Harry Hartigan, 60, Minneapolis, program associate, University of Minnesota

I was raised in Chicago in a family of nine kids. It was an Irish Catholic upbringing, with Catholic grammar school and high school. But we were very blind Catholics. The only purpose of sexuality was for procreation. I once heard my grandfather use the word "queer." I wasn't sure what that was, but I was sure it was bad. I knew I was gay in grammar school, but I never talked about it. I would always rather play house than baseball. I entered the Christian Brothers religious order after high school, but left after a year. I married my high school girlfriend after I joined the Navy and was being shipped out to the Pacific fleet during Vietnam. We were married for 16 years and had three children. I was a pillar of the community. I taught religious education, led the Cub Scout pack. In 1983, I went back to school to finish my degree and took a class in human sexuality. The floodgates opened. I blurted out to my wife: "I can't play this game anymore. I'm gay." She was devastated, even though I think she knew. About a year later, we sat our kids down and told them. Shortly after that, I moved out. I lost my job. It was terribly, terribly hard. One of the darkest times was when I came out to myself. I went to Minnehaha Falls and compared my coming out to the falls crashing down. What saved me was that, at the bottom, the creek was calm. I date occasionally now, but I'm not sure there's a man in the world who can compete with my four grandkids. I'm good friends with my former spouse. Last February, I fell and fractured my arm. When I needed a ride to the doctor, she was there. We support one another. We understand."

Kelly Eusaint Lewis, 24, Minneapolis, community organizer with OutFront Minnesota

I remember feeling less like Barbie, and more like Ken -- but black [laughs]. I always felt more comfortable getting dirty. In ninth grade, a friend was talking about a boy she was dating and what a jerk he was. I thought, "Why is she talking about him when she has me?" And then, "Oh, is this normal?" At 16 or 17, I started coming out to my friends. I told the older of my two brothers then, too. "He said, lesbian? Oh, I knew that." It was just perfect. I officially told my parents when I was in my sophomore year of college. It was not a good response. I grew up in Lafayette, La., in a very Catholic, now Baptist family. Right now, we're moving on. I've been with my partner for a little over two years and our relationship has been a tremendous support system for me in rebuilding a relationship with my family. I'll chat with my mother on the phone and mention my partner and she'll ask about the weather. But she doesn't hang up. My father will use language such as, "I hired a lesbian." My darkest moment was a year ago, after I told my 13-year-old brother that I'm a lesbian. He told me that he experienced bad dreams about bad things happening to his big sister. I told him nothing bad is going to happen to me. He was able to see my strength. It was so freeing. In small steps, in small conversations, this is how change happens.

Lara Estes, 48, Hastings, formerly Lawrence Estes, LGBT advocate

I had a fairly good sense of not belonging when I was 5 or 6. I knew then that I was a girl trapped in a boy's body. Playing with other boys just didn't feel right. My mother was a librarian. I think she knew. My father worked at a flour mill. He was straightforward with his feelings. There are certain things you don't talk about, certain emotions you don't show. He let me know how deep the consequences of disclosure would be. I married in 1994. There was a comfort level between us. I really love her. We had three children. I buried myself in work in middle management, 14 to 16 hours a day, so that nothing had room to get in. In 2004, she issued an ultimatum: Be one person or be the other. I told her that I am a woman. We started going to couples counseling. About a year later, we told our kids. The youngest said, "I'll love you no matter what." The older two did not understand at first, but now they're supportive. My wife wanted to leave, but told me, "I can't walk away from a person like you." It was a huge decision on her part. I feel so fortunate. Hormone therapy has softened my complexion and body fat collects in different places now. I dress and am a woman 24/7. Neighbors are OK with it, although I occasionally get the stare. I have no contact with most of my immediate family. But I feel comfortable, relieved. I've got this inner peace that I never had.

Chris Dolan, 30, St. Paul, attorney and new father

My grandmother, a strong-willed Irish woman, had a primary role in raising me. She kept me and my two brothers in line. When I was about 12, I noticed that I was much more interested in images of men than women. I thought, "Wait a minute. This is different." High school was difficult as I repressed my sexuality at a very conservative Catholic high school. I told myself I was just going through a phase. My first same-sex relationship wasn't until my senior year at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. I had to come to an internal and spiritual acceptance of who I was before I was able to come out to myself or others. Interestingly, it was the nuns at St. Scholastica who really helped me. Their message was, "You need to find your own truth and live an authentic life." It was really an awakening for me. I came out at 22, and met Ryan at 24. Last September, we were married in Toronto. My grandmother, now deceased, knew Ryan and loved him as a son. Six months ago, we adopted our daughter, Olivia. I feel like I'm now living the life I was meant to live, late-night feedings included.

Nakia 'Cooey' Carlisle, 24, Minneapolis, assistant coach and clothing designer

I was the oldest of four siblings and an All-Star basketball player for St. Paul Central and, later, Concordia University. I was known pretty well nationally and even more so locally. At that time, being gay was nowhere as accepted as it is now, which is why coming out was such a stressful issue for me. Before coming out, there were lots of rumors around my high school, my neighborhood and my family that I was gay. I denied it because I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family. My relationship with my father, who was also my basketball coach, was starting to change because of it the most. Even with those stressors, I was learning to accept myself. I had to live my life or I would continue to be in the depressing state I was in. With the help of some friends who were in the same situation, I finally came out to my mother, via e-mail, in my junior year in college. Her response was, "Oh, I already knew that. We were just waiting for you to tell us. We love you and accept you for who are and we know you have to live your life in the way that makes you happy no matter what anybody thinks!" That was one of the happiest days of my life.

Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350