It’s 12:27am. I’m listening to some rather somber music. And I just came back from watching Love, Simon. Yup. One of those evenings.Like many of the LGBTQ+ people who have already seen it, I wish this movie was available when I was a kid. Would I have been out and proud before turning 18? Probably not, but I wouldn’t have felt like being gay was wrong, that I was deviant. I’d have known my feelings were normal – beautifully normal – that I’d be accepted as I am, that I could be loved.
While most of the movie’s audience will likely be LGBTQ+, I hope cis-gendered, straight people also go and understand at least one version of how hard it can be to live ‘like you’re holding your breath’. That’s how it’s described in Love, Simon. A constant, sometimes debilitating, unease with breathing. I struggled to function like everyone else, fearful someone would address the issue.
I won’t spoil, but it’s hard to talk about without some small reveals.
Simon’s desperation to keep his secret potentially screws over his most important bonds. Blackmail, deceit… all to keep hold of your breath for longer because letting go seems impossible. This is something few straight people will ever experience. I was lucky I didn’t have this kind of Hollywood narrative, but the struggle, anxiety and fear is constant at that age, in a vital period of mental and emotional development. Lying constantly takes its toll. You are on edge the entire duration of your teens, fraught someone will catch on to the stories you invent every day. Queer people are destined to either be the most cautious, the most creative, or the most fucked up people in the population.
Love, Simon is a movie every gay person can relate to in some way. Few of us are immediately open and accepted for who we are. Few of us believe everything will be OK. We’re in a period where amazing coming-out stories are readily available on YouTube, many with wonderful conclusions. But no one really believes theirs will have that happy ending.
The beauty of Love, Simon is that it takes place at a time where gay marriage is available in pretty much every westernized nation, where acceptance is at its highest. Simon isn’t scared he’ll be counseled into therapy, or beaten to a bloody pulp as many experienced before. His fear is much softer, but still excruciating. Even if no one turns on you, will people look at you differently? Will you be slowly pushed out of your friendship group, or forever become the awkward sibling? Wouldn’t it be better to just wait until I’m older?
That was me. I waited. I didn’t really announce it to the world until I was 27; it was Pride, which fell on the three-month anniversary of my mother’s death. It broke me, knowing I would never have the chance to say to her the words “I’m gay”. There’s no doubt in my mind she knew, but I lost the chance to own myself to the one person who mattered most because I was too scared to admit to myself let alone others that I wasn’t the same.
I’d told certain friends over the years, mostly new ones. This is addressed in the movie: there is an ease with new people, where honesty comes more naturally than trusted friends. But this ability to wall-off friends into KNOWS and DON’T KNOWS takes something from those you have a history with. Those friends are now less safe than your new ones. Less tiring from keeping your guard up. Relationships that helped define you suddenly dwindle. More pain, more loss, more regret.
There is lunacy in having to actually come out. Imagine it for a second, having to tell the world something personal about you, that becomes part of your identity. Heterosexuals don’t announce their straightness because millennia of societal structures have normalized one group of people at the expense of another. Today we still hear that around 10% of the world is homosexual, when in reality it is impossible to know. To recognize yourself as different from the norm is at the discretion of the subject. Countless LGBTQ+ people keep their sexuality regressed to such intensity they never, ever acknowledge it. An entire life living a lie so deep you can’t even see it.
People of color spend much of their lives unconscionably dealing with prejudice. Closeted gay people don’t have to endure this, not until we step out. But this is the entirety of the struggle: We have to decide to put ourselves at risk just to be ourselves. No one wants to choose to be bullied, to feel hated, to be the butt of every joke. No one chooses to be gay, but we all have to choose to own it and deal with the risk that comes. Excluded, ostracized, imprisoned, death. Outcomes vary, but the toll is always heavy.
I managed to make it through my story mostly intact. Not everyone does. And today, it continues. While cis-gay women and men get to feel a little more sunlight on our faces, transgendered people remain in the shade if they dare to be free from their own, inner torment. And you cannot help but wonder if things will ever change.
To the cis-straight people who are reading this:
To live a lie, no matter how long for, is devastating. The threat, the questions, the deceit, the cover-ups, the loss, the pain… And it doesn’t just happen once. We never stop coming out. There will always be new people to tell. You can choose to not, but you wind up separating people back into the KNOWS and the DON’T KNOWS, back to the part where lying is your life.
There is freedom in coming out, but the journey there is wild and tormenting. And while most of us see the light at the end of this tunnel, for too many coming out is just as painful as staying in.
Love, Simon is a movie for everyone, really. For what might be the first time, you can share in the experience of LGBTQ+ people, learn how to react, to sympathize, and perhaps redefine the abnormal as normal. For those of us who must go through this, however, we are given hope of acceptance, of love. It takes a huge amount of bravery to just be ourselves, but it can be worth it all.