Sunday, 25 March 2018

Love, Simon and why coming out narratives are so important

I have been excited about Love, Simon since I first saw the trailer last year and I was lucky enough to go to a preview screening of the film on Wednesday evening.  This film has been in the back of my mind for months waiting for it to come out and I was so looking forward to finally seeing it.

I am happy to say that it completely lived up to my expectations.

The film doesn’t come out in the UK until April 6th so I will keep this blog post spoiler free. I want to talk about why coming out narratives are so important and, as an extension of this, why Love, Simon is such a big deal.

There’s been an article doing the rounds on twitter where the author asks if LGBT+ teens actually need Love, Simon (why do they NEED anything??? Just give them happy films without needing a reason). 

This is nothing new, as I see the “but why do people NEED to come out, what’s the big deal?” comments every time anyone relatively famous talks about being anything other than straight.

So let me tell you.

Firstly, I’ll ask you to think of a teen film where the main character isn’t straight. Not a side character, not the gay best friend – the main character.

Next, let’s open the scope to queer films in general. How many can you name that didn’t involve someone cheating, someone dying or getting ill, going back to a straight partner, someone having to sacrifice something unimaginable (hello, Carol, anyone?) or any of the other various issues that seem to crop up in queer films to stop LGBT+ characters getting together?

There aren’t enough and they definitely shouldn't be so hard to find.

On the other hand, Love, Simon is a gay coming of age film about a boy who doesn’t seem to have any problems with his sexuality other than the fear of other people’s reactions. At no point does he seem to have negative feelings about being gay - he just doesn't know how to tell people. 

Even before he has come out, he is shown as having a strong support network – a good relationship with his family and a close-knit group of friends. I think many people might underestimate how reaffirming some people will find this representation on screen.

I came out when I was 18. I was terrified. The first time I admitted out loud that I wasn’t straight, I was drunk and crying outside a nightclub to a girl who would later become my first girlfriend, but who at the time I thought was straight. I remember getting home and crying so loudly in the kitchen that it woke up my mum, but I couldn’t tell her what was wrong and, despite the fact I usually tell her everything, I didn’t come out to her until several months after that.

Before I came out to each person in my life, I completely prepared myself for the possibility that they might want to have nothing to do with me afterwards. This fear extended to everyone from my immediate family, to the friends I’d grown up with. I mention this to illustrate just how scary coming out really is.

The only person’s reaction I didn’t have doubts about was my mum and yet it still took me months of worrying before I managed to find the words to tell her.

During this time, I watched so many coming out videos on Youtube. 

This might be an area of Youtube you’re not even aware of if you’ve never had to look, but if you search ‘my coming out story’, then there are hundreds of videos of people sharing how they did it, what people’s reactions were, their advice on how to approach it.

It was through this that I found the lesbian and bisexual youtubers who I still follow today. It was the first real experience I had seeing queer girls I could relate to and emphasise with, who were out and proud and in happy relationships. They had come out and they had emerged on the other side, happy and mostly unscathed. 

As it turned out, when I did find the courage to come out, I was really lucky. Not everyone was (or still is) completely happy with it, but everyone who is important to me was tolerant at the very least and at the very best, couldn’t have cared less either way.

Although coming out videos were the resource I had, that was five years ago and I don’t think they’re good enough anymore.

Yes, they’re helpful and I hope people are able to keep sharing their stories and advice online but I think young LGBT+ people should have more choices than I and other people my age had. They definitely shouldn’t have to look as hard as I did.

Films like Love, Simon start conversations, normalise young LGBT+ relationships and while they may be on the idealistic, cheesy side of things, they are also the fluffy content that many young people need when they're trying to make sense of their sexuality.

It really says something that Love, Simon is one of only a handful of happy LGBT+ films that I can think of off the top of my head and believe me - I’ve watched a lot of them. The handful gets even smaller when you narrow it down to happy LGBT+ films featuring and aimed at young people.

Love, Simon is just a coming of age love story that happens to, for once, put a gay character in the spotlight. I wish it had been there when I was 18. I’m sure I would have been a lot less confused and maybe, with more films like that, it wouldn’t have taken me until adulthood to finally come out. My generation certainly had it a lot easier than previous ones, but that's not an excuse for why we don't need to keep improving.

That may begin to give you some insight into why Love, Simon is so incredible. The fact that a queer film is having such a wide release is surprising in itself. Queer films now seem to be getting the recognition they deserve at award ceremonies but more often than not are aimed at adult audiences and only screened at independent arthouse cinemas, spending mere weeks on the showing schedule. 

Not exactly accessible representation for confused or questioning teens. LGBT+ stories need to be normalised and they need to be given the opportunity to be heard.

Love, Simon warmed my heart, gave me hope and left me beaming. The audience in our screening clapped when Simon got his happy ending. Representation is so important.

And this is, hopefully, just the beginning.


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