Tomorrow Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hits the shelves, about a small-town boy who’s falling in love with a male classmate via anonymous (yet emotionally revealing) emails, but isn’t yet out to his family and friends. It’s about first love and coming out and coming of age, bursting with hope and joy and intensely quotable insight into trying to figure out who you are while other people are watching. It’s one of my favorite debuts in a year that’s full of exciting debuts, and it’s going to be so important to so many readers. Here’s Albertalli on why Simon’s is a coming out story, and why it matters.
It’s 2015, and people are sick of reading about teenagers coming out.
I see this all the time. Readers want characters who “just happen” to be queer. Agents want LGBTQIA+ stories that “go beyond” coming out. Enough with the coming out. CAN WE PLEASE MOVE PAST COMING OUT?
Here’s the part I agree with: we really do need more stories about LGBTQIA+ kids who are already out. Teens who are out and proud need to see themselves in books. Teens who are out and struggling need to see themselves in books. LGBTQIA+ kids need love stories like Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads to You, or fairy tale retellings like Malinda Lo’s Ash, or futuristic adventures like Alex London’s Proxy (three books I adore). But, way too often, people dismiss coming out stories entirely. I see people imply—or state directly—that stories about the coming out process are outdated or irrelevant to teens in 2015.
And I disagree with that. A lot.
My book, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, is a gay love story. It’s also a story about friendship. Quite honestly, it’s also probably a 320-page product placement for Oreos.
But it’s definitely a coming out book. Coming out is a huge part of Simon’s story. Every year, in mid-October, there’s a National Coming Out Day. It’s also Atlanta Pride Weekend. It’s not a coincidence that my book begins in mid-October.
Here’s the thing about Simon: he’s very much a product of his environment. He’s relatively self-assured. He knows he’s gay, and he doesn’t hate himself for it. His family and friends are generally accepting. But he does live in Georgia. Specifically, he lives in a fictional suburb of Atlanta called Shady Creek, which is a very thinly veiled version of my hometown, Sandy Springs. Atlanta is a surprisingly liberal city, especially for the South, but Sandy Springs is a different beast. I’ll sum up the political climate here in four words: we elected Newt Gingrich.
There are kids who are out in Georgia—of course there are. There are kids who are out in Sandy Springs. But I can say this with certainty: where I live, coming out is not yesterday’s issue. I wish it was, but we’re not there yet. As I write this, there’s a bill under review in our state House of Representatives with wording that specifically allows business owners to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ and other customers, under the guise of “religious freedom.”
To put it simply, that means Simon could be kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands with another boy—like Blue.
And it’s not just Georgia. Consider Aaron Soto, the main character of Adam Silvera’s forthcoming More Happy Than Not. Aaron lives in the Bronx, where race, masculinity, and sexual identity intersect in complex ways. Any show of even platonic intimacy among boys is disclaimed by the phrase “no homo.” From Aaron’s perspective, being gay means wearing a giant target on your back, and the prospect of coming out brings terrifying risks.
Coming out stories are definitely still relevant for kids like Aaron.
This stuff matters to teens. Politics matter, microaggressions matter, family pressures matter, environment matters. When I hear people say they want more stories that don’t focus on coming out, I agree. But when I hear people dismiss coming out stories as irrelevant, I want them to drive through Simon’s neighborhood right before an election. I want them to spend an afternoon with Aaron’s friends.
I want them to imagine living 32 years without ever having seen a gay couple holding hands in their suburban hometown.
There is no universal gay experience. All stories are relevant, and all stories are needed. Even now. Especially now.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hits shelves tomorrow, and is available for pre-order now.