That’s right, I’m jumping on the Love, Simon bandwagon. In case you missed it, Love, Simon is a film based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda that explores the title character’s struggle to come out and reveal to his friends and family that he’s gay.
I was lucky enough to get a ticket to an advanced screening of Love, Simon, and the part of me that came out as a teenager (to semi-disastrous consequence) rejoiced at seeing a positive representation of my identity on the big screen. Not as a tragic figure, not as someone institutionalized or beaten or raped or murdered, but as a teenager just trying to navigate his way through an awkward time in his life.
Which isn’t to say there aren't any faults in the film depicting a very privileged cisgendered white boy living with wealthy heterosexual, able-bodied parents. But hopefully this is part of a larger trend in filmmaking where LGBTQIA+ stories aren’t sidelined or used as cautionary tales (seriously, it’s a huge issue in television at the moment), but are given their own space to succeed or fail as with any other film or franchise in a wide variety of genres.
This is one of the reasons I almost-exclusively write LGBTQIA+ characters in my novels. I’m interested in seeing people like me in off-beat science fiction settings (Crier/Liar and The Gray Market), doing what they love while struggling to make ends-meet (Making & Killing), kind-of manipulating their parents so they can buy the house of their dreams (The Marriage Clause), and working with their other queer friends to investigate a murder (Roadkill Kids).
When I was a teenager, the only people like me I knew about in popular culture were Ellen Degeneres, the faux-lesbian Russian singing duo t.A.T.u., and rumors of a show called Queer as Folk that I wasn’t able to access and really had no interest in watching because the cast were mostly dudes and that was NOT something I was interested in at all, thank you.
But Love, Simon isn’t about rehashing the tired “bury your gays” trope (looking at you The 100), nor does it dissect at the harsh, very real scenario of parents sending their kids off to be tortured “straight” via conversion therapy (depicted in the film Latter Days). Instead, Love, Simon explores one of the other situations that LGBTQIA+ teens often face:
The potentially-risky proposition of coming out.
Thankfully, it’s not always a physical risk, as it sometimes was when I began exploring my own labels as a teenager in a rural mountain town in northern Georgia during the mid ‘00s. But despite the possible dangers of being out (or outed - which is something YOU SHOULD NEVER DO TO ANOTHER PERSON EVER), what many non-LGBTQIA+ people don’t understand is that expressing one’s “non-standard” identity is a never-ending process.
Coming out is not a one-and-done deal.
Because of the way our society functions, heterosexual and cis-gender identities are considered the norm. For those of us who don’t fit those molds, every new person we meet or situation we encounter requires either hiding our LGBTQIA+ identity or outing ourselves and hoping for the best.
Every single non-cis/hetero person has dozens of stories of coming out or being outed.
I’ve told friends and relatives who smiled and assured me that they’d known for years, I’ve been cried at and informed I just hadn’t found the right man, yet. I’ve had grown men threaten to “rape me straight.” People I love have been supportive, offer to send me to conversion therapy, or told me I was destroying their entire life-plan. I’ve had jobs where I waited years to come out, or never risked it at all because I could have legally been fired on the spot.
Coming out isn’t a destination, it’s a never-ending journey.
But despite the tumultuous times we currently live in, it’s worth mentioning that when I was a teenager, there was no such thing as equal marriage rights. At least not outside of a few far-off states I didn’t want to move to, but would if it meant marrying someone I loved. Now? I can live in any US state, and many progressive countries, secure in the knowledge that if I chose to marry I’ll be protected under the law (though I still won’t risk settling in those places that don't guarantee my job security).
When I was a teen there were no films like Love, Simon, where the biggest source of drama in Simon’s life involves his complicated (but physically-safe) interpersonal relationships and the timing of when he wants to come out as gay to his friends and family. He doesn’t even contemplate that his parents might kick him out of the house or a potential outcome where he might be relentlessly bullied to the point of suicide or homicide. Not everything goes smoothly for him (movies need conflict, after all), but the tension and trauma I witnessed and experienced as a teen are thankfully absent from Simon’s journey.
Which isn’t to say that these harsh realities don’t still exist for too many LGBTQIA+ youth (and adults). Conversion therapy is currently legal in many states. People can be fired because of their sexuality or gender identity. Violence against transgender people is an endemic problem. But despite those stories (that also deserve to be told), it doesn’t erase the gentler narrative of Simon’s (fictional) coming out journey.
Do I think we need films like Love, Simon?
Do I think we should continue to build on the film’s success and explore stories that include other marginalized identities, circumstances, and complex social issues impacting LGBTQIA+ kids today?
Without a doubt.
So I continue to write from my own experiences and embrace the LGBTQIA+ narratives that manage to break from the sidelines and into the collective cultural consciousness. As always, I remain critical of all the media I consume, but I appreciate that stories somewhat similar to mine are finally being told and talked about in a positive way, and not just as tragic warnings.