Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. A day to spread awareness and recognize the importance — I’d even use the word sacredness — of sharing the reality of one’s sexuality with a heteronormative world. Coming out to this “world” could be as expansive as a post on social media, or it could be as more limited conversations with loved ones and local communities.
Coming out comes in all shapes. No one-size-fits-all way to go about it.
It’s been nine years since I widely came out by writing my first book. That’s certainly one of the more dramatic ways to come out, but then I’ve always had a certain flare. Coming out like I did isn’t for everyone, but I do believe some scope of coming out is good — I’d even say necessary — for any gay or same-sex attracted (SSA) person to live a healthy, fruitful life longterm.
We just need other people in our court, praying for us and with us, walking alongside us through both the shadows and light of this life.
A life that includes our sexuality.
Nearly a decade beyond coming out, I’m convinced I never could have made it this far alone, couldn’t have remained isolated with matters as central to being human as sexuality.
Each of us has a unique timeline, of course, and coming out today — on Coming Out Day, of all the days — may not be right for you. Maybe a social media posting is too dramatic for your taste.
But whether you’re young or old, single or married, I would encourage any gay/SSA person reading to consider: when might be time for you to come out, even just to one person?
Coming Out and Love, Simon
I recently rewatched the 2018 queer coming-of-age film, Love, Simon, and gosh did it hit me in all the feels all over again. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s sad, it’s heavy, it’s . . . complicating.
Coming out is complicating. It can be disruptive to friend groups and family structures, in addition to the inner workings of one’s soul. This movie is a masterful storyteller of the coming out process.
Movie spoilers ahead.
Love, Simon tells the story of a closeted teenager discovering an unidentified gay student at his school as they exchange stories in emails through the highs and lows of adolescence. The film portrays some brief same-sex kissing which may be distracting or triggering for some, though I don’t find the kisses or romance excessive or gratuitous.
I enjoy this film a lot and have gleaned much from it. Indeed, I see so much of myself in Simon and this story.
Beyond its romantic, mysterious plot-line, Love, Simon is an exploration of queer adolescence in the 21st century, complete with social media postings and aliases. The coming out experience lies central to the story, as Simon explores the new terrain of his sexuality with friends, family, and his entire school.
I’d love all straight people — straight Christians — to watch Love, Simon, because it will show them how gut-wrenching (and also beautiful) the coming out process is for a gay person: of finally letting another human into the biggest secret of one’s life.
These sexuality-focused conversations and postings are often long in the making, days and nights and months and years of brutal silence, inner angst, even self-loathing.
It’s a big deal to come out, however one does. A momentous thing to open this sacred side of your soul, even a smidgen, allowing the light of another human’s eyes inside.
What Love, Simon does beautifully, among many things, is dedicate precious time to several coming out scenes: with a friend, with a best friend, with a dad, with a mom, and with the world.
Coming Out to a Friend
Simon is driving home with newer friend Abby. ‘Have you ever been in love?” she asks him from the passenger side.
“I think so,” he says. Then he pulls over.
“Abby . . . I’m gay.”
Nick Robinson’s acting as Simon feels so on point throughout the film: his twisting facial expressions, his pauses, his gulps, his fidgety demeanor. I notice all of it, feel it deeply, with every coming out scene. I find myself transporting back to numerous coming out scenes from my own life.
Coming out to Abby is Simon’s first time beyond anonymous email exchanges with “Blue.” It’s the first time we hear him say “I’m gay” to another person or even out loud with himself. With his mouth. Face to face. The silence of the vehicle thick, tangible. Pervading.
“Are you surprised?” Simon asks Abby.
“So you knew?”
“But you’re not surprised?”
Abby smiles. “Do you want me to be surprised?”
“I don’t know,” Simon says, staring out the windshield.
It’s a somewhat humorous, somewhat awkward exchange. Coming out is awkward. Especially coming out for the first time.
It’s information about yourself that you can never take back. It will certainly change some things. But it also need not change everything.
“Well I love you,” she reassures him. Looks him in the eyes.
He looks back. Smiles. “I love you too.”
It’s a lovely scene. I think back to my own coming out with a newer friend, someone without complicating layers of history to distract me. He and I walked laps around a park that day, and he hugged me multiple times throughout my sharing.
I’m grateful to have had that coming out experience with him. He gave me such a gift that day. Newfound confidence to stand on for years to come.
Coming Out to Your Best Friend
Simon comes out to 6-month-long friend Abby before he comes out to 13-year-long best friend Leah. You might think that sounds backward, and Leah confronts Simon about it.
“If you’re my best friend, then why’d you come out to Abby and not me?” she asks, her face painted with disappointment.
But Simon’s logic makes sense.
“I think it was easier,” he says. “I knew that if I told you that everything was going to be different. And I really wanted things to stay the same.”
I feel that tension in relationships. The desire for change. But also this competing desire for sameness. Coming out — vulnerability at large — is risky. You don’t know what comes next.
Simon and Leah have been friends since they were toddlers. They’ve grown comfortable with each other. They seamlessly feed off each other throughout the film, cutely dressing up as John Lennon and Yoko Ono for a Halloween party. They experience some romantic tension.
Then suddenly one-half of their relationship is gay.
A major conflict causes Leah and other friends to pull away from Simon midway through the film. But one by one, they all come back. Simon’s best friend also comes back.
Coming out can take some time for both sides to acclimate to the new landscape. I’ve felt similar romantic tugs and the navigating of new dynamics with female friends. But I’m grateful for those who have stayed with me, for the more authentic road that’s formed before us.
Coming Out to Your Dad
It would have been easy for Love, Simon to focus only on Simon’s high school friend circles and his pursuit of this anonymous emailer. But the film also takes time to explore Simon’s relationship with his parents, a “B plot” of the movie.
Furthermore, Love, Simon doesn’t just show Simon coming out to his parents as one unit in a single coming out scene. We also see Simon’s individual conversations with each parent.
I imagine the conversation between Simon and his father will hit a lot of people in a tender place. It’s a broad paintbrush, of course, not accurate for everyone, but many queer people do feel a certain disconnect with their same-sex parent. Particularly during that awkward adolescence.
Simon’s father (Josh Duhamel) is the sporty, kinda goofy dad type. He makes gay jokes with the family, and he prods his son about masturbation and hot girls on his computer.
They meet in the driveway one day after Simon’s already come out.
“How long have you known?” Dad asks.
Simon shrugs. “I was around . . . thirteen?”
Dad winces. Feels the regret from all those gay jokes, from the 17-year assumption that his son is straight because, well, statistically he would be, right?
He comes back from that regret, though. Comes back strong, declares to his gay son: “I wouldn’t change anything about you.”
He then proceeds to break down in tears as Simon tells his dad to stop crying. An endearing exchange.
Chalk up this scene as one of the sweetest of the movie, a dad stirred with emotion before he opens his arms and tells Simon to “come here,” hugging him nice and tight.
We all have our complicating relationships with parents, particularly as gay men with our fathers. Some of us have come out to our dads, and they received us well; others haven’t been as fortunate. Others have yet to come out to their fathers for matters of practicality or fear. Others still never got the chance to come out to their dads in this life.
I love that line — I wouldn’t change anything about you — because it implies being gay isn’t just about who you’re attracted to, who you want to kiss or date or have sex with.
This implication carries into his coming out conversation with his mother. Simon’s a sweet kid. The one who helps his dad with anniversary gifts, encourages his younger sister in the kitchen, and generally serves as that loyal friend.
I feel it too, that certain sensitive nature uncommon to many other men and more common among gay ones. I empathize with other people, a particular affinity for other gay/SSA men on this “Side B” faith journey.
When I cofounded YOB in 2015, I wasn’t looking for a new job or a new way to be self-sufficient. I really wasn’t.
I just wanted to help create a space where other men could feel the same reassurance I once found. That they weren’t alone in this life. In this faith. In their sexuality.
I don’t know if I’d have this same driving empathy for a people-group if I were a straight man. My sexuality is absolutely intertwined, and I’m grateful for it.
Coming Out to Your Mom
My deepest held breaths of the movie fittingly come during a scene with Simon and his mother (Jennifer Garner), a scene that uses breathing as a metaphor.
After coming out to his parents, Simon notices his mom writing on the couch, her face contorted with emotion. He eyes her, waits a few moments (have I mentioned all of Nick Robinson’s excellent pauses in this film?), then asks her the same question he asked Abby: “Did you know?”
I think we as queer people are all a little curious if other people “knew.” If they did know about our sexuality, why didn’t they say anything after all this time? And if they didn’t know, did we really deceive everyone that well? Are we really happy either way?
“I knew you had a secret,” Mom says. “When you were little you were so carefree. But these last few years, more and more, it’s almost like I could feel you holding your breath.”
I feel like Simon’s mom is describing me in this scene. I was such a carefree, cute, curious little blue-eyed blond boy. I organized all the games with my siblings and the other kids at recess. I loved running around outside, riding my bike through the neighborhood, and playing catch in the backyard. Life was simple then.
But then I grew up. I grew quiet. I grew timid. Puberty happened. I started noticing boys in class and in the locker room. I fantasized about other boys. I grew socially detached from other boys.
I held my breath, more and more. Grade after grade. Year after year.
Simon sits down across from his mom as she looks her son in the eye. “As soon as you came out, you said, ‘Mom, I’m still me.’ I need you to hear this: you are still you, Simon.”
And then the line from Mom that gets me, guts me, the line I’ve replayed from this movie more than any other: “But you get to exhale now, Simon.”
Simon’s face twists again.
“You get to be more you than you have been in a very long time.”
When I came out to my parents at 19, I felt like I could finally start to exhale. A process that would continue in conversations with siblings and friends for seven more years before my first book came out.
Coming out in smaller steps and then the largest one helped me feel like I could finally explain why I was the way that I was. Why I was so sad and lonely and shy in middle school. Why I never had many male friends. Why I nearly quit working at an all-boys camp one summer. Why I never dated any girls.
With each coming out, culminating with that last one, I felt like I could start to be that carefree little boy again, organizing activities with the people around him and riding his bike wildly through the neighborhood.
Like his dad, Simon’s mom also translates her reassuring words into action, into touch, rising from the couch to walk over and kiss her son’s head. “My boy,” she says, still identifying him as her own.
I’m grateful for my parents, my family, how they’ve received me. But my heart also groans today for anyone who does not feel that same identification with — from — their own parents.
I pray for their exhale.
Coming Out to the World
Toward the middle of the film, Simon is outed by a classmate to the whole school and must navigate the irrevocable consequences.
Simon confronts his classmate in the parking lot. “I’m supposed to be the one that decides when and where and how and who knows and how I get a say, and that’s supposed to be my thing! And you took that away from me.” He curses at him and enters his car, slamming the steering wheel multiple times.
What’s done is done can never be undone.
This scene hits me hard in this age of teen bullying, particularly online. And being outed by someone is absolutely bullying, the consequences literally lethal. LGBT+ youth are four times as likely to commit suicide as their straight peers. Search “LGBT youth suicide” and you’ll find an ungodly number of articles. Stories. Tragedies.
I honestly can’t imagine growing up gay today. I don’t know how parents navigate these new technological waters with their teens, let alone LGBT+ youth.
I don’t know what I would have done had someone outed me. Of having to face my sexuality before I was ready. The terror, the shame, the anger, the fierce regret from something completely out of my hands.
I’m grateful to have been able to choose the “when and where and how and who knows and how I get a say.” I know not everyone is so fortunate.
My heart goes out to those who have been outed against their will. That they somehow find peace in the storm they never caused.
Note: Brief language in this clip.
Love, Simon and Me
I think what hits me most about Love, Simon is the parallel course I’ve walked with Simon. That pivotal life event of finding someone online who’s just like me. It’s a 21st century plot line, the Internet’s providing that sense of belonging that we never dreamt would exist in our “real lives.”
Of course, who Simon encounters online is somewhat different than the spiritual brothers I first encountered fourteen years ago. But the reactions in our bedrooms were quite the same: our eyes lighting up on the laptop screen, the room around us going blank, the world around us hitting pause as we clicked and scrolled; as I quickly created an anonymous blog just as Simon created an anonymous email.
My life will never be the same because of the Internet (for better and worse, I suppose). Who knows how I would have processed faith and sexuality had I been born a hundred years earlier? Or even twenty or thirty?
There’s no telling how many more brutal nights of held breaths I’d have faced, alone, without any assurance that someone, somewhere was also wrestling with the biggest secret of his life.
I somehow made it 19 years in this life. How much longer could I have lasted in another?
On this Coming Out Day, I’m truly grateful. Grateful for the love and support of family and friends and multiple churches spanning the decades, and for a community like Your Other Brothers to help shoulder this weight with me. People who see me. A place for others to be seen.
I am not alone. You are not alone.
We are not alone anymore. Praise God.
What did you think of Love, Simon? Where do you find yourself on the coming out spectrum: fully out, somewhat out, or not at all out? How can we pray for you if you’re on the fence with coming out? Share a coming out story below, if you feel so bold! Or come out to us anonymously if you’d like, if you’ve never taken that step. We’re with you.