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"Completely terrifying": When Magda Szubanski realised she was gay, she broke down.

When Magda Szubanski was in year 8 she fell in love. But it was a love that could only exist within herself, one destined to be unrequited. A secret.

All because the person she’d fallen in love with happened to be a female friend.

In Wednesday night’s episode of ABC program, Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, the now-famous Australian actor spoke about the turmoil that experience stirred up inside her.

Watch: Magda was one of the most prolific campaigners for marriage equality.

Video by Mamamia

“I started to really realise then that I was gay,” she said. “But it was a terrifying realisation, because it was 1974. And then, it was considered to be a psychiatric illness, it was illegal and, really, you were going to hell.”

Magda couldn’t open up to anyone about what she was going through at the time. Not a soul. She didn’t dare. Back then, she said, coming out as gay meant being a pariah and guaranteed social isolation.

But there was loneliness in her struggle, too.

“With LGBTQI people, you’re a minority of one within your family. And that’s a completely terrifying feeling, because that’s primal. That’s your unit of safety. And to know that you carry this secret that eats away at you and everything around you is telling you that it’s sinful, you’re a sinner, you’re going to hell, it plunged me, frankly, into a nervous breakdown,” she said.

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“I completely lost my confidence, I was crying all the time, my grades — I’d been one of the top of the class — they just absolutely went to hell.”

“[My parents] were gorgeous”: Magda on coming out.

Magda has noted that while there are LGBTQI youth who still have experiences like hers, things have changed enormously.

Speaking to Mamamia’s No Filter podcast in 2015, Magda said as a child that she’d only ever heard the word ‘lesbian’ whispered in hushed, judgemental tones, let alone seen any gay women represented in media or pop culture.

“All I had were these feelings towards other women, but I had never seen a lesbian. As far as I knew I was the only one,” she said.

By 2012, the culture had shifted enough that Magda at last felt safe to speak openly about her identity, to be that representation for another generation.

In an appearance on The Project, she famously told the world she was “gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, little bit not gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay”. But she acknowledged then that coming out isn’t necessary for everyone in the LGBTQI community; “If it’s safe, if you’re supported then do it. Feel proud; I want young people to feed proud, I want all gay people to feel proud.”

Fortunately, when she did so with her family in her early 30s, she was embraced.

“[My parents] were gorgeous. Mum was really gold,” she told Julia Zemiro. “I remember her saying, ‘I can’t understand people who turn on their own. I just don’t understand it.’ God, she was amazing. Amazing.

“And they both hugged me and said, ‘We love you.’ I’m very, very fortunate that when I did come out that I got that reception.”

If you are looking to speak to someone about sexuality or gender, visit the ReachOut website to find an LGBTQI support service near you.

For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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