Coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community for the first time is a rite of passage for nearly every queer person, a threshold one crosses that separates lives into a “before” and an “after.”
Love, Simon — a movie adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda — is one of the biggest, most mainstream films to portray what it’s actually like to go through that process. The movie itself is a pretty straightforward teen romp, but as some critics have noted, that’s arguably one of the things that makes it so revolutionary. Because Love, Simon is not a niche film, it has the potential to inspire young adults everywhere to come out in their own lives.
The film stars Nick Robinson as its titular character, a teenager who is not out who becomes anonymous internet pen pals with a boy (who also isn’t out) at school. As the story unfolds, the audience sees Robinson’s Simon grappling with his fears about how to come out, the threat of being outed against his will and, ultimately, what happens when he gets the chance to open up to his family and closest friends.
Unlike so many other milestones for young people — prom, a first kiss, rowdy house parties — coming out to one’s family and friends is something teens rarely see modeled for them in the media and in entertainment. But it’s clear that Love, Simon has already helped some young adults start the conversations they so desperately wanted to, but didn’t know how.
Mic spoke with three of them over the phone about what it was like.
(Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. Last names have been withheld for privacy reasons.)
Amanda, a 16-year-old in Texas
Mic: How did you first hear about Love, Simon?
A: I had read the book previously, so I already knew the story. But when I saw the trailer — I was in the theater with my mom, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this looks really good.” She was like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” Because she wasn’t 100% on board with LGBTQ stuff.
But when we saw the movie, she actually cried watching it, so I think that eased her into it before I told her.
When did you know you wanted to come out?
A: I thought about [doing it] before, but I never went through with it just because I was scared [of] what [my parents] would think. But once I saw the movie, it bottled up inside me almost, and I felt like I had to get it out.
Were there any scenes in particular that really struck you?
A: The mom’s speech [to Simon after he comes out]. Both me and my mom cried. Just [the mom, played by Jennifer Garner] being like, “This doesn’t change you. You’ll be able to be more you than you have.” It was just so touching.
Did that give you an image in your head of what you wanted your own coming out experience to be like?
A: Yeah, really. Me and my sister both like girls, and we both had this image in our heads that they would be so mad when we told them. But once I saw that [movie] and I saw my mom cry, I was like, “OK, I think she’s fine with it.”
How did your coming out compare to the movie?
A: We were in the car [after the movie] getting ready to come in, and I just took a deep breath and said, “I have to tell you something.” She looked at me worried, like I was going to tell her something terrible. I was like, “I like girls also.” She started crying and she hugged me and said, “It’s OK, this doesn’t change anything. I still love you.”
Did you tell your dad, too?
A: Yeah, I told him right when we came inside. But I hesitated. I was more scared of his reaction because I live with him. My parents are divorced. So I didn’t want him to be really mad or, like, totally disown me. But luckily he basically said the same thing, that he was fine with it and that he loves me.
Rob, a 25-year-old in Tupelo, Mississippi
How did you first hear about Love, Simon?
R: I had read the book before I even knew they were making a movie about it, and it was something I was hoping they would turn into a movie — and when I found out they actually were, I was that much more excited.
Can you describe what you felt when you first read it?
R: It made me really emotional, and normally books don’t do that [for me.] I felt like I deeply connected with it and I knew that something was going on [with me] that I needed to figure out for myself.
When the scene in the book happened where [Simon] came out to [his friend] Abby, I started crying, I’m not gonna lie. I was like, “Wow, this kid here is so young when he realized this and here I am, 25, and I’m struggling with it.” I wish I had the confidence to do that with someone.
I remember after reading it — I don’t wanna say “sinking feeling” — but I had this really deep feeling, like something’s going on here [and] I’ve got to figure it out soon. I’ve been dealing with this for years. And this book is making it come even more into focus for me.
What scenes in the movie stuck with you most? Which ones gave you the feeling that you needed to come out?
R: The first scene was at the beginning, when [Simon’s] father [played by Josh Duhamel] was making those little [homophobic] jokes and you could see the hurt in Simon’s face. My family used to be like that. I haven’t really spoken to many of them since coming out, but some of my family members would make snide jokes or comments about it. And I wouldn’t know what to do or what to say.
The [other one] was his scene with his mom, Jennifer Garner, when she was giving that speech that he could finally breathe: “I feel like you’ve been holding your breath for so long. You finally get to be happy.”
When they both started crying, I lost it. I had to get up out of the theater. Luckily, nobody was in the bathroom when I went in there. I just remember collapsing to the floor, crying. And that was the moment, right there, when I knew I had to come out to everyone. Because at that point, I was only out to maybe two people. And when I saw that scene for the second time, I lost it completely.
I’ve actually seen [the movie] three times. I went to see it opening night, the Thursday it came out. And then Saturday was when I went to see it again — that’s when I collapsed — and then I saw it again this past Monday.
How did you actually come out?
R: After I saw the movie for the third time, I texted my stepmom, like, “I need to talk to you.”
For me, I felt like it was a lot easier to come out to someone I don’t really know that well. So I came out to her and she told me, “Sweetie, be prepared. There are gonna be people who love you for it, there are gonna be people who hate you for it, so be prepared for any reactions you get and only come out to anyone else if you feel comfortable and if you feel ready.”
She said she would always love me and support me no matter what. When she said that, I felt bad that I came out to her and not my dad. So I texted my dad and my brother in a group message and I was like, “I need to talk to you guys when I get off work.” When I was on my lunch break, they called me and they asked what was wrong.
Of course [my dad] had the normal reaction, where he was nervous about what other people would say or do to me if they found out. He was just showing concern, [but said] he would still love me. My brother was the one I was the most shocked by. He was the one who was actually the most supportive out of all my family. He basically said as long as I’m happy, he doesn’t care who I’m with, if it’s a guy or a girl.
After I had collapsed in the bathroom at the theater, I walked back into the movie right in the scene where Simon and his dad are talking outside. When I sat down, seeing his dad cry, and hearing my dad cry over the phone [later] when I told him, I was just like, “I have to do something about this. This is not something I can keep inside anymore. I have to let other people know who I am.”
Do you feel a sense of relief now that you’ve told people?
R: I did. As soon as I made a [coming out post on Instagram], I felt a humongous weight lifted off of my shoulders. But with that, it also brought worry. I couldn’t keep any food or liquids down. It was just an added stress.
Ever since coming out officially as bisexual, there have been people who have disconnected with me, have blocked me on social media, told me never to contact them again. There have been those people, but there have also been those people I never thought would be supportive [who were.] It’s a mixture of both good and bad — especially down here in the Bible Belt.
The only person I haven’t told in my family is my mom. She’s the one I’m most worried about.
Kaila, a 17-year-old in Los Angeles
How did you first hear about Love, Simon?
K: I’ve always been a fan of Nick Robinson. That’s how I heard about it. But after seeing a trailer for it — I’m super into the LGBTQ community and I think we need more representation, so seeing that there was a teenage romance movie about a closeted gay [man], that really sprung my interest.
Before you saw Love, Simon, how did you feel about coming out to your parents?
K: My parents are super open and accepting of everyone, partly because we’re in a really liberal state. So I knew that they would accept me, and I had a feeling they already knew but didn’t want to ask me about it. I knew my parents wouldn’t change their opinion about me — it was just [that] I was scared to actually say it. It was just scary for me to actually go through with it.
So I was excited to tell them, but I was super nervous.
And you thought this movie would be a good way to start that conversation?
K: Yeah. I told my dad first. My dad and I are movie buddies, so I thought seeing the movie and then talking about it after would be a great conversation starter for me to say, “Hey, you may already know, but I’m bisexual.”
How did it go?
K: In the car on the way back, that’s when the nerves really hit me. I said, “A reason why I wanted to see Love, Simon” — and I started crying — I said, “You may already know this, but I’m not straight. I’m bisexual.”
And even though he was driving, he immediately pulled me into his side and he held me and he told me that he already knew. He said that it didn’t change anything and that he loves me and that he was proud of me. So, that went really well.
And then later at dinner [with my parents], I told my mom. I said, “Mom, I already told Dad earlier,” and he immediately went to hold my hand under the table. I started tearing up again, and I said, “But I have something important to say. A reason I wanted to see Love, Simon is because I’m bisexual.” She also said she knew and that she loves me. So coming out to them, they were super accepting and basically nothing’s changed, besides them asking questions now and then.
What’s it been like to see your post about coming out to your parents blow up on Twitter?
K: I never expected it to take off like that. The official Love, Simon account both liked and retweeted it. [The book’s author, Becky Albertalli] replied to my tweet about it. And so many people were replying to my tweet, telling me congratulations and thanking me for sharing my story. It’s just a really great feeling, but it’s so much that every time I refresh my notifications I have more.
I literally haven’t gotten any negative comments at all. It’s so nice that so many people are supportive.