When I was 21 years old, I became the youngest late night talk show host in television history on ABC after Jimmy Kimmel Live! The talk show was called The Edge with Jake Sasseville and I starred in and executive produced it.
I could have really made a mark and been the first openly gay late night talk show host in television history.
But I was still buried deep in the closet.
Three years later, at 24, after extreme bouts of repression, a hint or two of misguided rage and a business partner claiming that I'm mentally ill and that I should seek medication, I came running out of the closet. With it, all the symptoms of rage, mental illness and obvious repression dissipated.
Being gay for me stretched back to when being straight for all of you started. I knew in junior high, when I'd ask my friends Mike and Ben about their erections. I knew when, in my local bookstore, my grandmother caught me looking at homo-erotic books in the adult book section (and quite enjoying it). For me, being gay has always been synonymous with shame, repression, guilt and fear.
Why for a kid who grew up in a loving household in Lewiston, Maine, who lived in France for his junior year of high school, who's living his dream in the entertainment business surrounded by all types of resident gays and who has resided most of his adult life in three of the gayest cities in the world -- New York, London and San Francisco -- couldn't I come out?
I still don't know.
What I do know is that being gay and in the closet helped me focus on my TV show. I had all this un-tapped energy that I somehow (subconsciously) channeled into launching a career light years beyond my age. I started The Edge on local access TV when I was 15-years-old. If you look back at old clips of me and the cast of NBC's Will and Grace (my first big interview) at age 17, I was quite a flamer. Seems like I was the only one who didn't "know" that I was gay.
After local access and while in New York City, I self-funded the first several seasons of The Edge on ABC and subsequently on Fox and CW through carefully woven partnerships with big advertisers.
"Outing myself simply would destroy my career," I thought.
On the premiere date of my show, I got questions from the likes of Fox News about my sexuality. Those questions only confirmed my fear. "If they were asking, then certainly there must be something to hide," I thought. I denied everything. In my mind at the time, there weren't any other openly gay late night talk show hosts. I couldn't imagine being the first. I did business with extremely conservative brands and chief executives at fortune 500 companies.
I remember meeting Overstock.com chief marketer Stormy Simon at her office in Salt Lake City, Utah. Overstock.com spends $50 million a year in advertising. Stormy and I did business for several years beginning in 2007. The company invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in my ideas. I remember seeing photos of her and George W. Bush as well as other Republican leaders all over her desk. I clammed up, frightened that she would find out my secret and not accept me, or even worse -- stop spending money with me.
"Certainly a conservative woman in a conservative city leading a conservative company wouldn't still like me if she knew I was gay," I thought.
Years after, when I had finally come out, Stormy called me: "I knew the whole time Jakey. It's okay."
State Farm, a fairly conservative company located in central Illinois, has been advertising with me since 2010. When their VP found out I was gay, almost simultaneously, he agreed to fund the first season of Jake Sasseville's Delusions of Grandeur (currently airing online atblip.tv/delusionsofgrandeur; viewership nearly hit 300,000 inside a 14-day period on a single episode).
Turns out the advertisers never stopped signing. Ford Motor Company out of Detroit, Proctor and Gamble out of Cincinnati, Denny's in Spartanburg, S.C. and Coca-Cola in Atlanta are just some of the other companies that have spent upwards of $5 million with me. Turns out being gay hasn't stopped any of my businesses.
Certainly, then, I must have repressed sexuality for other reasons. Maybe my family wouldn't accept me.
In a post-modern gay world where Ellen DeGeneres isn't losing her sponsors or her ABC sitcom because she comes out of the closet, and being "gay" isn't that important at all, why then is it still a challenge for so many young people?
I think it's in the social constructs of what it means to "come out" of the closet. "Coming out" is really becoming an exercise about "going in." Nobody cares that I'm gay. Shocker to me. The most tender response came from my dad. I asked him why he never questioned me about my sexuality.
"Because that would have either forced you to out yourself, or to lie to me," my dad said thoughtfully. "And neither was a good option for me."
The moment I was able to come out to my family, my final frontier, was when my spiritual guru Frederick Dodson coached me on coming out. He made me go inward. He had me sit in stillness. Over the course of a 90-minute session via Skype with him in Munich, he asked me to imagine different scenarios:
1. What if your parents never accept you for being gay? Feel what that feels like...
2. What if your parents are elated to have a gay son? Feel that...
3. What if you lose your career and all your sponsors pull out? Feel that fully...
4. What if you gain money and fame and adoration for being gay? Feel that fully...
Essentially, Frederick had me neutralize all outcomes and "ramifications" of being gay. I had nothing left to lose. Our "problems" only persist because we give partial attention to it. Give full attention to a "problem" and it ceases to be exist.
I called my parents the next day and told them I was gay.
Nothing changes. And yet, everything does.