2018 Film Essays

On Coming Out and the Importance of Representation in ‘Love, Simon’

I was 17 when I came out to my parents, and even though poets used to say that no one should be taken too seriously when they are that age, my world changed after that simple exchange of words with my own family. I’m 30 now, and when I look back at those days, I realize that even though my coming out felt huge before the moment came, I didn’t think it was a big deal because I was never the popular kid in school, nor have I ever had a fake girlfriend or pretended to notice a beautiful girl on the street simply because I was walking alongside my dad. I didn’t think I was hiding anything. However, even though I saw myself as this out and proud person, I still hadn’t talked to my parents or friends about boys or not liking girls, not a single time. I thought that since I have never bothered to lie, what would be the point to say things out loud? As Sufjan Stevens sings in “Futile Devices,” “saying it out loud is hard, so I won’t say it at all.”

And who would benefit from that? I most certainly wouldn’t. Or so I thought. But there I was finishing high school without ever having had a boyfriend and not realizing that there was something wrong about living a fake life, no matter how good and privileged it may be. I have supportive parents that never asked me about girlfriends, furthermore, by the age of 17, I had already discovered my passion for movies. Hence, my life was on the right track. But still, there was that big secret — something holding me back. I kept telling myself that everything was ok, and I didn’t need to change a thing. But eventually my coming out happened (with a great outcome), and when it happened, it happened against my own will.

This essay was inspired by Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon — a film about a 17-year-old boy, who, like me, was forced to come out even though he didn’t want to; a movie about a boy who dared to claim his life as his own. So here I am, writing for the first time about my own coming out. After seeing the film, I couldn’t stop smiling and seeing myself though Simon. I was once that teen and cannot stress enough how important my parents’ reaction meant when I could actually say those three words out loud: I am gay. My closet was comfortable, but that was not the same as being free.

There’s this scene in Love, Simon when Nick Robinson’s Simon and his mother talk about his coming out. When he actually did it, he did all the talking. But the mother’s response spoke volumes to me and probably to every person who has hidden a secret from the ones they love. Simon’s mother says that when he was just a kid, he was the happiest boy in the world — he was carefree, he liked to dance, sing, and laugh. But as he started to grow up, it was like he was holding his breath, walking upon egg shells. And this hit me close to home. Like Simon, I wasn’t hiding anything at that age, but there were always these situations when I got extra careful with behavior that people might interpret as “gay.”

With that in mind, I remember Hugo Münsterberg 1915 essay “Why We Go to the Movies.” In relation to Love, Simon, the level of representation and connection that I experienced answers the author’s questions. It’s a truly unique phenomenon to not only see and feel your experiences projected on a big screen but to share them with others in a communal space (if only for a couple of hours). I can only imagine what it might’ve been like to experience Love, Simon when I was 17. Maybe, just maybe, I’d have to acknowledge the need for a change. No one should be afraid to love during their teenage years.

So, I think it is truly important for a major studio to release a timely romantic comedy such as Love, Simon. Don’t get me wrong: all the genre clichés are there: two boys meet, they start to like each other, they have a misunderstanding and then have a chance to make up and correct what was wrong. Simon has a comfortable life, but he is gay and doesn’t feel like sharing that to the world. Because of this secret, he misses out on the first love experience.

I can only hope that Love, Simon finds its audience and everyone gets the chance to see it, like I did, in a theater full of people clapping and celebrating when Simon finds his first love. Representation matters, and this film matters, even though it’s far from perfect. In times like these, Love, Simon should be celebrated.

Walter Neto (@wfcneto) is a literature postgrad student, film critic and filmmaker wannabe.