To horribly paraphrase John Green, I came out the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. (Sorry.) “When did you know?” is a common question fired at you as a not-straight person, but there was never any clarion call or moment of epiphany. I just grew up attracted to girls as well as boys. I don’t remember having a crisis about this; it just was, and it just is.
In Becky Albertalli’s tender and funny debut novel, Simon Spier comes out as gay at the age of seventeen, which puts me to shame in terms of getting on with it, but then he is in a compromising situation. He’s not having a crisis about his sexuality. Simon is into boys, and that’s okay, and he knows that’s okay. But the thing is, when you’re not straight, it has to be a Thing. When you’re not straight, people feel they have a right to know, and god forbid you told somebody else first!
Coming out is awkward, and as Simon says, everybody should have to do it. Like him, I put it off for as long as humanly possible, because “I just didn’t want to have to talk about it.” I knew it would have to be a big deal. Nobody relishes the opportunity to take loved ones aside and intone solemnly, “There’s something I want to tell you.” I’m not straight, but it isn’t a big deal, it’s just my life. I am speaking from a position of enormous privilege, and I acknowledge that: again like Simon, I never feared being disowned, or beaten, or being told I was going to hell. For some people, coming out is one of the bravest and/or most dangerous things they will ever do, and those of us lucky enough not to fear for our lives can shoulder a bit of awkwardness if it all helps build a more tolerant society. Coming out is awkward, and in many ways I feel it shouldn’t be important, but it is.
In 2015, I can mention my adorable girlfriend in passing, and people don’t immediately cross themselves or throw rocks at me, but it does feel strange. Like pretty much every other human on earth, I’m assumed heterosexual by strangers, so I can’t talk about my weekend plans without outing myself every single time. There’s real weight to that word “girlfriend”, my momentary wavering – is this person safe? can I change how they see me? – but feeling free to be honest is wonderful, and “partner” or “friend” both seem awkward half-truths. I’ve been out to my family for a couple of years, and to my close friends many more, but I am still coming out. At least once a month, if not weekly.
Simon still has that ahead of him, of course. He comes out several times in the course of the story, and each time it brings a lump to my throat. When he tells a close friend, Abby reacts with respect and understanding, and I am glad for him that he gets to have that. Coming out to his family is trickier, but not because he’s worried about their reaction. Simon’s reluctance to make a big deal out of something he’s long accepted about himself is something I really identified with. It’s just hard work talking someone through a change in what they can assume about you. (Also, The Great Depression sounds like a banging playlist.)
However terrible and ridiculous the whole coming out thing is, though, and however oppressive the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it is kind of a big deal. Who you love and how you identify and this deep, intimate part of yourself: it belongs to you. It’s yours. This agency is taken from Simon. He is robbed. What is taken from him is important, and when he yells at Martin in the parking lot, it’s a devastating moment.
People existing anywhere outside of the default run the risk of their identities being seen as fair game. These violations matter, because the people who suffer from them are just that: real people. In this book, tensions are often running high (it’s high school!) and people hurt each other and make each other mad, through spite or ignorance, but there are consequences. (Ms. Albright will make sure of it.) There is forgiveness. Simon is much more than his sexuality, as we know well from being inside his head throughout the book. His life is just his life, not a gay life, and this is a love story, not a gay love story. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a sweet, smart, hilarious book, and I hope for many more like it.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is out today, 7 April 2015
I received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.