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

Scene: Martin, a student from Simon’s school, comes across the emails sent between Simon and his anonymous love-interest, ‘Blue’. In these emails, Simon and Blue talk openly about their homosexuality, and begin to fall in love. Martin uses these emails to blackmail Simon into subservience, threatening to release them to the school should he resist.

I still remember so clearly when I opened my laptop and saw the email there waiting for me.

In it, it listed my exact address and the name of the school that I went to.

“Ignore me again” he wrote, “and people at your school will know your secret”.

My life, as it was back then at sixteen, did actually flash before my eyes, as I realised that this was the end for me. No matter how good I was at hiding who I was, making up lies, and sneaking around, this one person now held every bit of power over me, and to them I was completely acquiescent.

I had been speaking to people online through chatrooms for over a year now, relishing those few moments of peace where I could air the real me, and speak to other gay guys in similar situations, no longer having to hide behind a wall of lies.

These people never knew my name, and I often didn’t know theirs, but I was more myself with these strangers than I was with my closest friends.

So, when I struck up a conversation with a new internet pen pal, I went through the whole routine of opening up parts of myself to them, whilst withholding any information that may be deemed too identifying, or too incriminating in the wrong hands.

A few quick emails were sent back and forth, alongside (foolishly for a 16-year-old boy who was doing his best to keep his double life a secret) a picture of my face and my mobile phone number should we ever decide to meet up.

Back then nothing on the internet was ‘location-based’ so all I knew was that this particular person was from Melbourne.

After a few conversations, it occurred to me that my new ‘friend’ and I were very different in who we were and what we wanted, and so, I stopped replying to their emails and moved on to finding someone else to talk to.

It was too easy, on the internet, just to click out of a chatroom conversation, move on and never think ofthat person again.

But that’s when things took a turn for the worse and began to get far too close to home.

Waiting at a bus stop a few weeks later, a car pulled up alongside me and the window came down.

When we locked eyes, I knew exactly who he was.

My eyes widened, and my stomach dropped as he quickly did a u-turn and sped off down the road.

My heart was pounding through my chest.

This was the first time I had ever been ‘spotted’ in public. The first time that who I was online matched up with my own life.

I got a text on my phone shortly after that I never replied to, “ 😉 ”

And then it got worse.

A few weeks later, I saw him again, on the other side of the road as I was walking my dog around my neighbourhood with my sister.

As I opened my laptop later that day, it really didn’t come as a surprise to me to see an email there from him, waiting for me.

“How was your walk? Is that your sister? I know it wouldn’t be your girlfriend. Haha”.

I quickly deleted the email, hoping that if it was out of my inbox it would also be out of my life.

But I could feel the water was rising rapidly around my secret, and I was already almost out of breath.

Then, the email that sent it all crashing down came a few weeks after that.

He had seen me walk into my house after school, and now knew my exact address and the high-school I went to and was threatening to send my photo and the ‘incriminating information’ to people he knew there, thus outing me to the world.

At just sixteen, I was ready for my life to be over.

Someone had gotten hold of the biggest secret in my world and was dangling it over my head as if it were a game.

I had so many thoughts and emotions coursing through my body it was like electricity.

Part of me wanted to dive headfirst into the sand and ignore this (very real) threat and continue on in the life I was leading.

Part of me wanted to reply with abuse, anger and tears, and explain to him the cost of this cruel game.

But I was stopped by another part of me that knew he was very aware of the power he held, and was relishing it.

And for the first – and only – time in my life, ignoring a very real threat, and pretending it didn’t exist was the right answer for me.

I didn’t reply to the email, and nothing happened.

It wasn’t easy, for a month afterwards I was more on edge than ever – but fortunately, the longer I waited, the more it seemed that my secret was safe for another day.

And so was I.

I never heard from him again, and I didn’t ever find out what this person wanted from me whilst threatening to ‘expose’ my innermost secret. Whether it was a powerplay, or a way to become more involved with me, it seemed they were after a response they never received.

But it’s safe to say that this person never did, and never will, know the extent of the damage they caused, and how much pain and angst came from their actions.

No part of me is grateful to them for keeping my secret, and I don’t know exactly what I feel towards this person now.

What I do know is that I have put it behind me, and it has taught me firsthand a very worthy lesson.

Not about hiding parts of yourself, or trusting others.

A lesson about the seriousness of the game some people choose to play with others.

Sexuality, or any part of a person’s life they choose to keep private, should never be used as fodder for a power play. Nor should it ever be used as a weapon or a bargaining tool.

No matter how insignificant we may believe the implications are, a secret is a secret, and a threat is a threat.

The gossip behind sexuality may be interesting for those on the other side of it, but for the person who is the topic of conversation, it can change their life for the worse.

My sexuality was a topic of conversation for so many people, from before my teen years, up until I came out (…and probably even now for some).

Every time I heard it through the grapevine that someone else was putting in their two cents about that part of my life, the safety walls of my life shattered, and I scrambled to put them back together, to ensure my secret would be safe for another day.

“I don’t care that you think my ‘coming out’ was gonna be a big thing. Look, you don’t get to decide that. I’m supposed to be the one that decides when and where and how and who knows and how I get to say it – that’s supposed to be my thing! And you took that away from me” – Simon (Love, Simon, 2018)

Our sexuality is our own and does not belong to any other person in the world.

If, and when, we are ready to talk about it, we will talk about it.

But gossip and, on a much more serious level, threats about it is a game of cruelty that can have far-reaching consequences that we may never see.

So be kind, be aware, and be good, to everyone you meet. Because everyone is fighting their own battles, and when the weight of the world is on your shoulders, all it takes is one stumble for it all to come crashing down.

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).