Teenage romcom Love, Simon is making headlines as the first mainstream movie released by a major studio to feature a gay protagonist. Advertised as the cute coming out story of a normal boy in a normal town, Love, Simon seems worlds away from the “gayngst” and misfortune that is so prominent in many major LGBT+ movies, such as Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don’t Cry. But amidst cheesy one-liners, the shy, sweet feeling of a high school crush, and a dreamy pop soundtrack, Love Simon hits a nerve for anyone who is a part of the LGBT+ community: the prospect of being forced out of the closet.
For many people, coming out to someone else, especially for the first time, can be a huge moment. Like Simon says, “Announcing who you are to the world is pretty terrifying.” You open yourself up. You become vulnerable to judgement. Despite the fact that there’s no way to truly prepare for it, you run through a million scenarios in your head, from the best to the absolute worst case possible. You brace yourself for rumors. For the hurt of losing a friend. You worry about having to justify and validate yourself. Maybe you pack a bag at the door, just in case. Regardless of who the person you’re coming out to is, liberal or conservative, supportive or not, there’s still a sense of uncertainty that lingers. There’s an uneasy feeling of doubt, knowing that things could go any which way. Coming to terms with that, and deciding to come out anyways, can be difficult and terrifying.
Being outed is all of that and more, because you are left with no control over the situation. It catches you off guard, forces you into a position you might not be comfortable or safe in; it can be a distressing or even frightening experience. Sometimes, being outed is the result of something malicious—someone lashing out in revenge, betraying your trust. Sometimes it’s an innocent accident, a result of ignorance or a slip of the tongue; maybe someone introduces you as their “gay friend,” or mentions your identity or orientation to someone else. These might be well-intentioned at heart, but regardless, there can still be consequences.
More often than not, the person doing the outing is straight or cisgender and can therefore fail to understand how important it is to come out on your own terms and how devastating it can be to have that taken away, as they have no experience with being closeted themselves. They might not realize how harmful the consequences can be or understand what the big deal is. But it is a big deal. Being outed not only takes away your control, but also your ability to choose, leaving you feeling like you don’t have a say in your own life. You feel robbed. Helpless. Vulnerable. Love, Simon sums it up pretty well: “That's supposed to be my thing,” Simon yells. “I'm supposed to be the one to decide when and how and who knows. You took that from me!”
If there’s one thing you should take away from Love, Simon, it’s this: everyone deserves the chance to come out on their own. Whether it takes you one year or twenty, it should be on your own time, when you’re ready, and not as a hurried explanation or an attempt to salvage something. Sharing who you are with the world is already plenty nerve-wracking—no need to make it worse. Your identity should never be a weapon to use against you or a means of revenge, and it’s not the punchline to a joke either. After all, coming out of the closet is hard enough—it’s so much worse when you’re not the one opening the door.