Love, Simon, a film about a gay high-school student coming out and searching for love, marks the first mainstream LGBT teen movie to receive a wide release from a major studio. While it has been widely hailed as groundbreaking, there has been dissent from a number of prominent critics, who have taken issue with the film’s generic storytelling and its emphasis on a white, privileged, conventionally masculine lead character. As Dan D’Addario asks in a piece for Time: “Can a love story centered around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?” He concludes that “kids like Simon, in 2018, already have a good shot of fitting in. They don’t need this movie.”
For some young people, that may be the case. But the teenagers across the country that I spoke to — all of whom recently came out, or are in the process of coming out — also described genuine excitement about the film. While their different families and communities shaped their individual coming-out experiences, all of them said they were deeply moved to see a positive mainstream representation of gay teen romance onscreen. Many of them had changed their Twitter handles to “Love, [Blank]” in support of the film; others felt emboldened to come out, or had friends and classmates come out to them after seeing the film. Here’s what they had to say.
Some names have been changed; interviews have been condensed and edited.
“I wished my dad would have been more like that”
Jerry, Texas, 17, gay:
I didn’t make the decision to come out. It was like in Love, Simon — I had no other decision. My best friend at school at the time kind of exposed it to the public. I was really shocked. He knew the consequences could be bad. I had told him how my dad took me outside one time when I was 12 and he gave me this really harsh talk, where he asked me if I was gay and then threatened me if I were to come out. From that moment on, I started getting really anxious and was really, really depressed, and I was getting bullied around middle school. So when my best friend knew what was going on with my life and then he decided to tell other people about it, it really hurt. My dad works as a bus driver at the school, so he knew he’d find out. At that moment I was feeling scared because a lot of people started finding out and I had no control over it. I could see everything fall apart and I couldn’t do anything about it. It wasn’t my decision to make. It was a decision that somebody else took for me.
After that it was really hard. Some guys on my soccer team started to threaten me, telling me that they were going to jump me, they would scream at me in the hall, and they would call me things like, “faggot.” And the coach for soccer, he would, like, give us speeches about how gay people ruin the world. It felt really bad. It would hurt a lot.
I knew I could handle anything that came after that, and I did get through it. It made me stronger in a way and made me more secure about myself, and made me feel like I was capable of more things than I thought I was. Everything started to get better. Now those guys always try to make up for what they have done. Things are definitely way better than what it was years ago.
Everybody needs a love story. When I watched Love, Simon Friday night it was the first time that I felt like I can finally relate, like completely, to a movie. Like when Simon and his dad, when they talked about his coming out, the only thing that I could think of was that I wished my dad would have been more like that.
“It’s really draining, living a lie”
Amir, 18, Toronto, gay:
I was born into a Muslim family, so having to realize that I am gay was tough because every day I’m taught that what I’m doing and feeling and thinking is not right in the eyes of God. Every day, I felt ashamed. In the Middle East, if you are found out to be gay, you are prosecuted in public and are hung to death, and knowing my dad was a part of that background scared the living daylights out of me. I still haven’t come out to him or my mom. It’s really tough to sneak around them, to tippy-toe around them. It’s really draining, living a lie and feeling like you’re not safe to be who you are with your own family.
I watched Love, Simon two days ago, and I can’t stop talking about it. I understand how people could criticize it, but at the same time, this is a point of view that more people in the LGBT community should witness because all of the other stories that I have seen just show all the heartbreak and all the bad stuff. When I saw the happy ending, I was completely fan-girling. I was crying, laughing, yelling at the movie screen saying, “That’s what’s supposed to happen!” I personally think that it’s great to show that some people have happy endings like that.
I’ve been to a lot of events where older gay men have talked about their experiences, and I just want to thank each and every single one of them who have made it so much easier for us. Without them, who knows where we could have been. We probably wouldn’t even have movies like Love, Simon, you know?
“You can make normal, cheesy movies about this topic”
Payge, 14, Arizona, lesbian:
My coming-out experience was a little weird. I basically came out the night that I knew, on the night of my 12th birthday. I kind of just decided, I like this girl, and I don’t want to think it’s a problem, so I’m just gonna tell people that I like a girl. Most people were accepting. And my mom’s okay with it. She’s the one that kinda told me to be myself and she’s the one that took me to see Love, Simon.
Love, Simon meant really a lot to me. Because it’s just another rom-com, like a cheesy movie, but it’s got two gay characters in it. And I think that’s just so special because it’s basically like, This is a normal thing, like, you can make normal, cheesy movies about this topic and they can be in theaters and you can go see it. Like, you don’t have to make some cinematic masterpiece or, you know, have it be like, something totally huge, it can just be like another normal movie. I think that it has helped a lot of people. One of my friends who I didn’t know was bisexual, after they saw Love, Simon, they came out to me.
“I took my mom to a screening and she was very confused”
Ellie, 18, California, bisexual:
I read the book [Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, on which the film was based] in 2016, and Simon was so clear about who he was, he knew that he had feelings for this guy, he just didn’t want his life to change — which I identified with so much. After I read the book I closed in on it: like, this is what I am, I’m bisexual, I can’t change it, but at least now I know for sure. I just felt so understood in that moment. And I did end up telling my best friends and they were really accepting.
When the movie came out, I knew I should take the next step and come out to my parents, but I was really scared because they’re both very conservative and they were both born and raised in India. And in India you have to be married to this perfect husband, and just a lot of years of tradition and culture that I didn’t want to mess up. So I decided, you know what, it’s been two years, and I’m comfortable with myself and can actually say “bisexual” without losing my mind, so I was like, Okay, I can do this. I took my mom to an advanced screening of Love, Simon and she watched it, and she was very confused because she hadn’t had much exposure to LGBT people. She was like, Why is he saying he’s gay? and I was like, No Mom, he’s happy and he found someone he loves very much, and she said, Okay. And I said, I’m like that too but I also like boys. And she said Are you sure, and Would you still be open to marrying a guy? And I said, Yeah, of course. I think she still thinks I’m going to marry a guy, but she heard me out and didn’t shut me down so I’m fine with that.
I started a Twitter account for the movie when the movie started filming. Even before that, people were so excited about it because we all just know what we’ve been through and we’re so supportive of each other and we just want to have our voices heard, and this movie is a way to do that. We’re so proud of it — we didn’t help make it or anything, but we kind of feel like it’s our story being told. I kind of helped start the thing where people changed their names on Twitter to “Love, [Blank].”
People were messaging me on Twitter, people from Singapore and Malaysia, places with very homophobic governments, and they were saying they get access to this movie but they don’t get access to indie films — because it’s such a big studio they get access to it, and they get to finally see themselves and be represented and feel that they’re not alone. They didn’t get Moonlight but they’re getting Love, Simon.
“I’m still me and I just happen to be gay”
Luke, 16, Charlottesville, gay:
I came out to a friend back in 2014 and then to one of my really close teachers who I literally consider my second mom, I came out to just this morning. As for family … eek. Both of my parents voted for Donald Trump, they’re both NRA members, anti-choice, don’t believe in marriage equality, blah blah blah. I don’t really open myself to them or get deep with them. Like with my parents, I’ll be in the car and my brother will go on a rant about how all gay people are pedophiles, and I’m like … Thanks for talking about me, I guess. I would say there’s a big generation gap here, and also a gap between the city and more rural areas.
At the school I go to, it’s so supportive. Yeah, I’m gay, but my friends don’t see that as something that is me — I’m still me and I just happen to be gay. I saw the Love, Simon trailer and I was like: I need to see that! Yes, you have more celebrities coming out now, but you can’t really relate to them — Simon, I could relate to him.
“I’ve made three friends talking about the movie online”
Kiara, Indiana, 16, bisexual:
I came out to my friends during a Christmas party, and they were all really accepting and I just kind of felt really loved. And, my parents, my dad’s truly really accepting. My mom didn’t take it well at first, but I feel like she’s getting more used to it now. People at school, they don’t care and it doesn’t bother them much.
I went to go see Love, Simon with one of my friends who also identifies as bisexual. And we both sobbed our way through it because we truly love the representation we’ve been getting lately and it just made us so happy. I changed my handle on Twitter to Love, [Blank], because I know that everyone who does that just feels a really deep connection to the movie, and it just feels like, Okay, if you have this in your handle, I can kind of, like, relate to you on a spiritual level. I’ve made about three friends talking about the movie online, and it makes me very happy that it can bring people together. The internet has helped me discover more into myself and see more what I truly was. A lot of people online are more accepting than the ones you meet in real life.
“Walking out of the movie, my mom understood me so much better”
Drew, 16, Missouri, gay:
Unfortunately, Love, Simon isn’t showing in my town — we had to drive an hour away to see it. And I was lucky enough to see it with my mom. Walking out of the movie she understood me so much better than walking in. We talked the whole drive home — like, about what it was like to want someone and how hard it is because you don’t know who’s gay and who’s not, and how hard it is to come out in the first place and how lonely it can be, and how once you do it it feels so much better.
I began to come out in October of last year to my closest friends, and then I came out to my parents. Before seeing Love, Simon I didn’t really feel the need to say “I’m gay” to the whole world, because people either assumed or they knew. But after seeing that movie I felt so proud of who I was that it was nothing to be ashamed of, so I tweeted it, and I got entirely positive responses. People I wasn’t friends with reached out to me saying I’m proud of you, and a lot of random people DM’d me saying I was an inspiration to them, and it made my heart so happy.
“I didn’t realize how emotional it would be”
Addie, 15, New York, lesbian:
I haven’t fully come out to my school yet, but I have come out to my friends and my parents. A lot of my friends identify as LGBT in some way, so that was very easy. Coming out to my parents was different. It was at the beginning of my sophomore year and I didn’t know how they were going to react and I was very nervous. I actually packed a bag and left it outside before I came out, just in case I had to leave — I didn’t know what to expect at all. My dad’s pretty conservative and his family has made a lot of homophobic-type jokes in the past. I basically wrote a letter and left it for them and then I walked a few blocks away and sat in a tree for like an hour. And then I got a text message saying, like, Come home we love you. It could have been a lot worse — I’m kind of grateful. Though they have said to me, Oh, maybe you’re just gay till graduation, I think it’s a phase, that sort of thing.
People are usually pretty okay at school but there’s always a handful of people who can be problematic. Last year they were talking about making a gender-neutral bathroom and some kids started a petition saying trans people are not human, and all this crazy stuff. And the beginning of this year I was walking on the street with my gay friend and these guys were yelling all these gay slurs at him and saying sexual things and pulling on his sweatshirt and stuff. When we told the school they did take enough of an action that I felt okay about the situation, but it was still gross that it happened. I’m pretty glad to be living in 2018, but I know it’s still a problem and a threat.
I saw Love, Simon with like ten of my friends. We took up a whole row, and they were all crying and laughing and smiling and just so happy. I was actually surprised by how much it affected me personally, because when I went in I thought it was just going to be a fun little thing. I didn’t realize how emotional it would be, to see some of the issues that I’ve personally faced in a theater in a mainstream movie — that was crazy.
“If my parents watch Modern Family, they can’t be completely disgusted” —
Emily, Oklahoma, bisexual, 19:
I can very specifically remember the moment I was first like Oh man, I think I’m gay, and the first person I thought of was Mitch on Modern Family. My family grew up watching that, so I was like: Okay, if my parents watch Modern Family then they can’t be completely disgusted. I originally came out to friends in my sophomore year of high school. I just came out to my family last month. It was a little more intimidating to come out to my parents, because I was fully aware that I could be disowned or I might not be able to go home again, which made it a lot more high stakes. Their reaction was positive, though it took some coming around to.
I’m in college now, but my hometown was always kind of not a very accepting or open place, because it’s a small, very religious town in the Bible Belt. The attitude is like: Don’t talk about it. In Oklahoma we have these things called “no promo homo” laws, which are basically like teachers and educators aren’t allowed to talk about homosexuality positively, and you can’t talk about same-sex relationships in sex ed or education classes.
Anyone who says a movie like this isn’t important is so out of touch. I’ve had three friends come out to me since seeing it. I’ve personally seen it five times. The moment where his mom is talking to him and is like, You can exhale now, I was sobbing like a child — that was my favorite part of the movie. If someone had told me that when I was in high school it could have changed my world.
“Look what this movie inspired me to do”
Tali, 16, Northern Virginia, lesbian:
I’m seeing Love, Simon tonight for my sixth time. The first time I saw it I was still closeted to my family and most of the kids at my school, and the next day I came out to my parents and then posted something on Instagram to let the rest of the world know. I hadn’t been planning it, but I saw the movie and something clicked and I was just like … I have to do it. I just have to. And I feel a lot happier now.
Seeing the movie again after that, from an out perspective, was really different in a great way, because I appreciated it so more, because I was like, Look what this movie inspired me to do, and I felt so safe and comforted while seeing it. My coming out was a very positive experience, and I know in the past people weren’t as lucky. In 2018, LGBT teens are all expected to come out and announce who they are — while that is happening, I think coming-out stories are still very needed.