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 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.
See Sir Ian McKellen through the years:
Sir Ian McKellen through the years
Sir Ian McKellen talks coming out and falling in love for the first time in 'It Got Better' docuseries: 'Nobody talked about being gay'
3rd March 1978: British stage and screen actor Ian McKellen. (Photo by Roy Jones/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
English actor Ian McKellen on a moped with L-plates in London, UK, 25th January 1970. (Photo by McCarthy/Daily Express/Getty Images)
English stage and screen actor Ian McKellen, circa 1990. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 51 -- Pictured: (l-r) Sir Ian McKellen during an interview with host Jay Leno on August 18, 1992 -- (Photo by: Jeff Zawitkoski/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen during Pre-Party Reception For 'Richard III' at UCLA Royce Hall in Los Angeles, CA, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LONDON, UK - JAN 1974: English actor Ian McKellen. (Photo by George Wilkes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen during 'OUT' Magazine Benefit for Broadway Cares - June 24, 1994 at Industria Superstudio in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
NEW YORK - MAY 1995: British Actor Sir Ian McKellen, left, and American playwright and gay rights activist Larry Kramer, right, at a party at Tavern on the Green to celebrate opening night of the Broadway play 'Indiscretions' in May 1995 in New York City, New York (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - DECEMBER 18: British Actor Sir Ian McKellen poses for a portrait on December 18, 1995 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)
CA.McKellen.3.0507.GF. Sir Ian McKellen is acting in 'A Knight Out in Los Angeles.' The veteran of stage and theatre came out of the closet before being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990ÂÂphotographed in the Hollywood Hills (Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, UNITED STATES: British actor Ian McKellen (R), Oscar nominated Best Actor for his role in 'Gods & Monsters', and Emily Watson (L), Oscar nominated Best Actress for her role in 'Hillary and Jackie', chat at the BAFTA-LA Tea Party (British Academy of Film & Television Arts) in Santa Monica, California, 20 March, 1999. AFP PHOTO Lucy NICHOLSON/mn (Photo credit should read LUCY NICHOLSON/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - OCTOBER 1998: British Actor Sir Ian McKellen poses for a portrait in October 1998 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Catherine McGann/Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen and guest during 'X-Men' New York City Premiere at Ellis Island in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Sir Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler (Photo by DMIPhoto/FilmMagic)
Ian McKellen during The 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry during The 10th Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation InStyle Party - Inside at Moomba Restaurant in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 15 -- Pictured: Host Ian McKellen during the monolouge on March 16, 2002 -- (Photo by: Norman Ng/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 28: English actor Ian McKellen, who plays the character 'Gandalf' in the 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy, displays his tattoo while meeting fans at Hoyts Cinema on December 28, 2003 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen during 'The Spirit of the Rose' Photocall at Rose Theatre in London, Great Britain. (Photo by David Lodge/FilmMagic)
(GERMANY OUT) Schauspieler Sir Ian McKellen (GBR) wÃ¤hrend einer Pressekonferenz anlÃ¤sslich der Verleihung des EhrenbÃ¤ren im Rahmen der 56. Internationalen Filmfestspiele in Berlin (Photo by snapshot-photography/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Sir Ian McKellen (with Guest on left) and Director Brett Ratner (Photo by Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Actor Sir Ian McKellen arrives for the Lawrence Olivier Theatre Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel on February 18, 2007 in London, England.(Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)
LONDON - APRIL 29: Director Sean Matthias and Sir Ian Mckellen attend a photocall for the Westend play Waiting For Godot at The Theatre Royal on April 28, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Ferdaus Shamim/WireImage)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: Sir Ian McKellen onstage during the 10th Anniversary celebration of Only Make Believe at the Shubert Theatre on November 2, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Only Make Believe)
British actor Sir Ian McKellen (R) plays the role of Estragon with Roger Rees (L) as Vladimir and Matthew Kelly (C) as Pozzo during the final rehearsal of Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting For Godot' at the Sydney Opera House on June 15, 2010. The ground-breaking play directed by Sean Mathias in which nothing happens runs until June 27. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 20: Actors Patrick Stewart (L) and Ian McKellen speak at the 20th Century Fox panel during Comic-Con International 2013 at San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 24: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen attend the Dallas Mavericks vs New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on February 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
"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.