Love, Michael – Part 1: Running Away

Read more Love, Michael: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Love, Simon (or Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda) is a book and film about the life and times of a seventeen-year-old high school student coming to terms with his sexuality and his first (male) love.

For LGBT youth, it isn’t always as easy as looking to the nearest Disney or blockbuster film to see yourself  up on the screen. It’s not often you see a character with your interests (both general and love) and backstory, and that is the beautiful simplicity of Love, Simon.

For the first time ever, a major studio has released a teen film with a gay leading character.

Looking up at the story playing out on the silver screen, I was shocked because for so many years I thought that there couldn’t possibly be anyone who went through the same things that I did.

As I kept my head down and tiptoed through my life, in my blinkered ignorance, I thought I was alone in my story.

I thought that the challenges I experienced were mine only, and weren’t things that other people weathered and survived – but watching Love, Simon, these scenes were practically my life verbatim.

When we watch a movie, often it is so we can be taken away from our lives and exported to a fantasy world. Whether another city, another country, or another world. One filled with magic and creatures, or one with stories of people with lives different to our own.

But sometimes when we watch a movie, we see ourselves and our lives being played back to us. Whether it’s who we are, or who we used to be, it’s like the director has picked us out, and had written our biography for us. That’s where diversity on the screen is so important.

It can be a story about a loss we can share, or a relationship, or a moment in our lives; in Love, Simon it was a character and the journey to coming to terms with his sexuality.

The most heartening thing about seeing Love, Simon on the screen, is the flow-on effect it can have on a generation. I got to read and see the story as someone who has been ‘out and proud’ for almost seven years now; but the people who can see the film with their friends and family, or read the book, when they need to be reminded they aren’t alone most – that’s why this movie is so important.

With this film, LGBT people have the opportunity to relate to a character that is where they are right now. Whether in the closet, or in high school, and working out if they are ready to open up about who they are.

For almost a decade now, Holding the Man had been the most comparable story I had to my own. But as diversity on the screen and the page expands, so too do the stories that strike a similar chord inside of ourselves.

Not everyone can relate to Tim Conigrave, or John Caleo, or even Simon – but as these stories become more widely consumed and supported, more characters will come to join their ranks, and more of us will have the opportunity to see ourselves up there.

When we see a story about us, and see it celebrated, it can set off a celebration within ourselves. Whether it helps us not feel so alone and alienated from the world, or perhaps it helps us to stop hating one particular part of ourselves – when we see ourselves on the screen, it cements in us, that this part of ourselves is worthy of being known and told.

By sharing the story of Simon, and sharing the stories of our own, we can have an impact on someone who we know, or someone we don’t.

But perhaps Love, Simon’s biggest triumph is its heart. Showing that every and all love deserves a cheering audience; whether it be a crowd gathered at a Ferris wheel, or a surge in your heart when the love of your life gets on the ride to join you, Love, Simon shows us that we all deserve a love story, and that love of all kinds deserves a Hollywood-style reception.

There were three parts of the film that hit closest to home for me, as if plucked from my memory and put down on a script. These three stories will make up three separate pieces in which I will be discussing the themes and scenarios explored, and how they shaped my life and my own character.

As they say, everyone deserves a good love story – and I’m more than done keeping my story straight (but you already knew that).

The Scene: Simon is at his high-school dance, when the girl he is dancing with tells him that she is falling in love with him, he bolts.

Throughout my time as a teenager, I was never OK with the fact that I was gay. But along with that, I wasn’t very good at the whole ‘proving I wasn’t’ part either.

This seemed like a pretty necessary component of the ‘Straight Michael’ charade I presented, built as a way for me to avoid facing any probing questions or opinions about my sexuality.

For many of those who spend time ‘in the closet’, there is a façade you present to the world, hoping that the character you create is the one that people will like, and it is your job to keep it on show at all times.

You create this character with all the attributes you wish you had, whilst omitting all the parts of yourself you don’t like, because at that point in time, the real you doesn’t seem like something the world will accept anytime soon.

So, as I tried my best at presenting ‘Straight Michael’ to the world, you’d think the obvious thing to do to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes first and foremost would be being seen (romantically) with as many girls as you can.

Being seen with a girl gains you extra points in the ‘I’m-not-gay-game’, and is the most effective smokescreen a gay-closeted male can produce.

I knew what I had to do: get a girlfriend, be seen with a female romantic interest, or at least have it known that there was a girl somewhere in my life that was mine.

Believe me, I really tried, but there was something so engrained in my being that repelled the idea and the act so strongly that I couldn’t even act my way out of it.
Year 8 Drama Club Michael would be appalled.

The deepest parts of myself just couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t fake a relationship, and I couldn’t fake any part of the courting process.

I’m sure to most people it’s not hard to fake interest, or even pretend you’re enjoying a kiss or two. Though I guess I was just a platinum-status gay who was just so terrible at anything ‘straight-related’, that I instead appeared to be an asexual being, going through my early years without an attraction to anyone on either side.

I filled my life with so many girls, who were my best friends, but unfortunately none of them were the kind of girl my façade required.

As I got older, the requirement for a girl in my life was getting more and more vital, people were pairing up all around me, and being alone was enough of a reason for talk to start.

I held off drinking and going to parties for as long as I could, because by all the accounts, once you start drinking and partying, there is a lot of hooking up involved between the sexes.

The idea of drinking never scared me, really, it was the fear of going into the next phase of my life, and still not being honest about who I really was that made me equal parts scared and sad.

I was scared of not being able to live up to the party atmosphere of getting drunk and hooking up, but even as a sixteen-year-old, I was also reaching the end of my tether with lying about who I was.

I was also sad, because I was watching myself growing up more and more whilst becoming less and less of myself.

But the inability to be romantically attached to a female began well before I was an alcohol-swilling teenager,

It started back in grade 6, in fact.

What is now more of an ‘aha’ moment looking back, was more of a moment of confusion to my eleven-year-old self.

Whilst on my primary school oval, I began to hear through the grapevine that a girl liked me.

Back then I wouldn’t say I was gay, but nor would I say I was straight. I was still very much in my blissful childhood ignorance stage with no romantic interest yet to consume my mind.

Yet a part of me freaked out when I heard this news, and so I completely ignored this girl until all possible romantic flickers of flame had well and truly burned out on her end.

And it didn’t stop there, fast forward three years into the future.

It wasn’t much better in Year 9, when I assume an interest in girls was meant to well and truly have engulfed the attention of your average heterosexual teenage boy.

A girl told me that she thought she might be ‘falling for me’, and (as was becoming a common theme in my life) I stood there stunned into silence, until she ran away from me and I left the country the next day on a two-month-long student exchange to England.

Safe to say, once I returned from the motherland, all romantic desires from both parties were at a healthy zero.

Once I left high school, I somehow mustered up enough courage to be able to stomach kissing a girl*, and proudly found myself in an embrace with a girl in Southbank out the front of the Crown Casino.

(*NB: This is not an insult to any of the girls I kissed, you were incredible, it was all me, I swear)

I made sure enough people saw it, and enough people heard about it, that any questions surrounding my sexuality were somewhat quietened for a few months.

A few months later I was at the same girl’s birthday party, and found myself in another intimate situation, this time with her (legally-aged) younger sister.

**I think we can safely say at this point that straight-Michael would have been truly terrible for this earth**

It all started fine enough. I knew what I had to do and got down to doing it. But it seemed the drunker I got, the less I could pretend to be interested in this girl (I repeat, my own shortcomings, not hers), and a switch flipped in my head, and I realised I quickly needed to get out of there.

It was when I was being ushered into her family bathroom with a mischievous glint in her eye, that it was all systems go – for the front door: ‘3…2…1…blast-off’.

I bolted down the front hallway, and burst out of the front door, headed towards the safety of the road, and eventually a cab home.

What I didn’t remember, however, was that this house had six steps down directly out the front door, and in my not so subtle runaway moment, I ran straight out the front door, and stacked it hard down each of these steps, and awoke sprawled out on the garden path with a throbbing ankle.

I was then promptly carried back into the party by a 6’4 man (gush!) to have my ankle strapped before being placed gingerly into the back of the cab and taken home. Pride and foot not intact.

In terms of exits, mine was about as subtle as the boys from Priscilla tearing out of Sydney on a bus, with a silver train flapping in the wind.

Fortunately for my mind, and for the women of Australia, this would prove to be one of the last times I had to fake my way into people’s minds as the ‘straight guy’.

No matter how hard I tried, I would always find myself in the arms of a man, and the angrier I got, the less straight my mask would sit.

Within the next year, I had had enough of the lies, and was confident enough of myself to allow the outside world into my true self, and my true relationships.

There’s nothing in this world harder than keeping up a version of yourself that isn’t truly you. Everything you say, and everything action you make, is well thought-out and calculated.

There is an intention behind everything, and when you’re in that state of mind, every slip-up you make is terrifying.

You can run from the girls and you can run from yourself, but in the end, the exhaustion you feel, and the emptiness you get from hiding yourself, will always catch up with you.

And the weight that comes off your shoulders when you finally open up, and are your honest self for the first time ever…it’s pretty awesome.

No more running.

Read more Love, Michael: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3