Skip to content

Month: February 2020

Review: Docile

I first heard about K. M. Szpara’s Docile on an Our Opinions Are Correct episode titled “The New Anti-Capitalist Science Fiction”. My speculative passions tend to go in a different direction from the exploration of social justice themes, so I was initially only mildly interested. Then, as I listened to the interview and Szpara’s passion in describing his work, I became more and more interested. And when I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Docile, I jumped on the chance to read it early.

The story takes place in a maybe-future, maybe-alternative reality, where debt cannot be negated by bankruptcy or death, but is instead inherited throughout generations. The United States have been separated into trillionaires, the people who work for trillionaires, and the destitute, who are bent under backbreaking debt. A new system allows those to sell part or all of their debt to corporations or rich individuals in exchange for a portion of their life. They become a “Docile” — read, indentured servant — and retain only seven rights, most of which do them little good, since almost everyone opts to take Dociline. The drug makes one into an obedient blob of blandness, perfectly able to follow commands, but otherwise oblivious and unable to retain memories of the time when they are on it.

However, Elisha Wilder knows that Dociline is not as harmless as advertised. His mother once sold ten years of her life to chip away at the family’s debt, and the drug never left her system. So, when he decides to sell his entire life away to absolve his father and sister of what’s left, he uses one of his seven rights to refuse the drug. The problem? His new patron is heir to the pharmaceutical empire that makes Dociline. And once Alex Bishop realizes what he has inadvertently gotten himself into with Elisha, he sets on a mission to house-break his new Docile through a system of rules, punishments, and rewards. But this leads to effects neither of them could have anticipated.

Docile is a work of dystopian fiction. It is also, in a certain sense, a romance. But at its core, it is a story about agency, consent, and power dynamics. With a lot of butt stuff! The tag line on the front cover reads “There is no consent under capitalism”, and that theme permeates every page of the story. The relationship between Elisha and Alex is so unbalanced from the get go, that any argument pertaining to consent is blown out of the water. For Elisha, the “choice” is between signing his body autonomy away (and he is well aware the transaction will involve sex), or allowing his parents to go to debtor prison, or his 13-year old sister to take his place. It is a false choice.

However, Szpara does us dirty and makes us sympathize with Alex as well. Docile is written in the first person, present tense, alternating chapters between its two main characters. Were the story only told from Elisha’s point of view, it would be easy to think of his young patron as the villain. But we get to be in Alex’ head so often that it becomes impossible not to understand what forces have shaped him. And that’s where the tag line shows its brilliance. Because Alex has no more real freedom than Elisha does. He has to own a Docile to satisfy his family and board of directors, or he risks losing everything he has worked so hard to build. To him, this is just as much a “choice” as it is to the person whose life he has purchased.

Docile however treads delicately around this dynamic. Szpara never quite “excuses” what Alex does to Elisha, even if he helps us understand him. While he is not a full on “villain”, he is certainly in the wrong for a large portion of the story. And once the dynamic is broken — in a development that I found not only unexpected, but tremendously satisfying — there are no easy answers to the predicaments both characters have found themselves into.

Docile does its best to explore the complex layers of consent honestly, but Szpara does something that I have already seen criticized — he makes the sex scenes arousing. Like, really arousing. He is good at writing sex. Not the alluded, romantic, or symbolic type of sex either, but the smutty, borderline pornographic, things-are-called-what-they-are type of sex, with some kink as the cherry on top. However (and this is where Docile should probably come with some content warning), as the book makes it clear that Elisha’s “consent” is anything but, what Alex does to him is… well, rape. Should rape be “sexy” then?

No, it should not. But things are not as simple as that. As Szpara keeps us so close to the characters that we can taste their sweat, he allows them to experience what happens to them through their own senses. Elisha experiences his own breaking in a fog of confused arousal, and so I appreciate the author’s ability to convey that in the description of the act. Now, does this explanation work for everyone? No. Should it? Maybe not. But it did work for me and in a certain way, it heightened the experience of reading the story.

In the end, Docile is very clear about what its goals are, but it goes beyond the call of duty. I expected some exploration of late stage capitalism, some romance (though I was surprised at how complex Szpara’s approach to that was), perhaps a whiff of slave-fic. What I did not expect, was how well the book would be written. The nearly 500 pages flow with ease, the voice of each character so engaging, the plot so well paced, that I could not put the damn thing down. The book delivers on its promises, but more than that, it is entertaining as all fuck, smart, just the right amount of sexy, and both brutally, and tenderly honest. It is a big recommendation from me, and I cannot wait to see what Szpara does next.

Reading Update: 02/26/20 – State of the Reading Update

If you’ve been with me in all three seconds of this blog’s existence, you will remember the very first Reading Update and the shameful admission that followed. ‘Tis true, I suck at planning and adhering to plans once I make them. BUT! Things happen — ARCs, and Cons, and I-Saw-Something-Else-In-A-Bookstore-And-Had-To-Read-That-Instead. Anyway, I am happy to report that despite my many failures as a human being, I have now covered half of the books I set out to read back in that first post, despite the process being interrupted by reading a ton of other stuff. This blog has already fulfilled one of its purposes, which is to keep me accountable. Even if I end up being the only one reading the account.

Working on the Craft: Omniscient Out of Sync

As I am listening to the entirety of Writing Excuses for the 3rd (I think) time, I decided to actually try and do some of their prompts this time around. In S07E12, titled Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint, the exercise in the end asks us to write a dialogue from an omniscient third person, in which the characters are out of sync with each other. Now, I am relatively certain that the goal here was to achieve this through mostly/exclusively dialogue. But once I started, I found myself enjoying the scene, so this is what happened. I think, objectively speaking, I may have only paid lip service to the actual prompt. But it was still fun to be in the heads of two people not understanding each other, so I don’t consider my time wasted.

Villem felt hot all over. He wished it were as simple as a fever but knew better. His hand twitched, wanting to scratch the bandaged wound under the sleeve of his shirt. He stopped it. Scratching only made the itch worse. And the waves of heat radiating from the bite.

‘Something happened to me,’ he said, his throat dry. ‘I was… attacked. In the forest.’

Linea felt the words like slaps on her cheeks. Her little brother’s face was red with anxious flush, his entire body seemed to tremble. She had known something was awfully wrong the moment he slammed the door of her hut open. She wanted to reach out and comfort him. But it seemed that it was too late for comfort. And this was her fault.

‘I am so sorry, Villem,’ she said. ‘Did they hurt you?’

How could he deny it? His sister had always been on his side, even when he had grown up different from other boys. She stood by him and defended him when the others made him an outcast in the village. Would she turn away from him now? ‘N-no. Not a lot. I bandaged it, and…’ His hand went to the hidden wound now, rubbing at the place over the sleeve. The shivers the touch sent through his entire body were almost pleasurable. ‘I am sorry.’

‘Bandaged it? Let me see!’ She reached forward, but her brother pulled back as if burned.

She felt the beginnings of true anger. The other youths could be cruel. Their parents thought Villen morally bankrupt, and had taught their sons to fear his attentions, and their daughters to mock his manliness. She knew they teased and insulted him. But to draw blood? This was an outrage. He was different, but he was still part of this community.

‘I need to teach them a lesson,’ Linea said through gritted teeth. ‘The village healer’s family is off limits to these monsters.’

‘A lesson?’ Villen stared at her in disbelief, the feverish heat in his body almost forgotten. Was she deranged? He had always looked up to his sister, but the things that had attacked him in the forest were beyond even her ire. ‘You cannot teach them a lesson! They will tear you apart!’

She was baffled, then felt her heart break. Had it become this bad? Did he really fear the other villagers this much? A decision formed then, one that was both sudden, and – she realized – the result of months of buildup. ‘We are going to leave this place,’ she said.

‘Our home?’

‘It has not felt like a home since father’s death. And I think things will only be getting more… compicated.’

‘Complicated.’ Villen repeated the word. ‘Complicated.’ It felt strange in his mouth. Like trying to fit a ball in a square hole. His sister thought going away from the village would help him? Or was she just trying to save the villagers? He couldn’t blame her. Already, his nose assaulted him with smells he had never experienced before. His ears throbbed with too much sound, as if the hut was full of people whispering, feet shuffling, cloth rustling, wood scraping on wood. It was driving him mad. ‘Where would we go?’

‘There is another village a day upstream into the mountains,’ Linea said with more confidence than she felt, and turned her back to him, already making lists in her head, looking at the shelves on the wall. ‘I need to pack a few things, leave some notes for the elder, and we could be gone by morning.

‘And you think they could help me there?’

Her hand froze as she reached for a book. She wanted to lie and say yes. But she could not. As a woman of healing, she knew that there was no helping her brother. He was not broken or sick. He was just born different. It angered her to see him this distraught. Perhaps the new place would be kinder, see that he was a gentle soul. She wished he didn’t have to hide his desires from others, for they harmed no one. But could he? And if not, how long before things in the new place were just as bad as here?

Still, Linea forced a smile as she looked at him over her shoulder. ‘I can help you. I will help you. But not here. We must leave.’

Villen felt relief flood him. His sister could help. She knew herbs and medicine. Maybe she could stop this curse. He opened his mouth to thank her, but a wave of nausea overcame him. A horrifying itch spread from the bandaged wound under his shirt, and the skin on his hand grew darker before his horrified eyes, tiny black hairs sprouting from his skin. He looked up, but his sister had her back to him. He felt a sudden urge to jump on her back, to tear and bite, and smash.

‘Oh, Villen?’ Linea said, turning to find her brother with his back to her, about to leave through the already open door. He stopped. In his hunched back and stooped shoulders, she read so much tension that it scared her. He was like an animal about to pounce. Tears threatened to well in her eyes at the thought of how threatened the villagers had made him feel. ‘Pack light. We will have a long walk and little time to rest, if we want to reach the village by nightfall.’

He stood still, his shoulders rising and falling with his ragged breaths. Linea made to go and put a hand on his back to make him relax, but as she stepped forward, he just grunted and went out the door.

And as Villen walked outside in the cool night air, he knew there would be no leaving. Not with his sister at least, who only wanted to help him, but who would not survive a day’s travel with him. He knew it was too late. A soft buzz fogged his thoughts, made it hard to focus. His chest swelled, skin stretching over muscles and bones that were growing bigger than they had ever been. He felt his shirt ripping in several places. The smells and sounds of the village assaulted him from all sides.

‘Oh hey, look, it’s Villen, looking for victims in the night,’ a mocking voice said. He looked up, his vision suddenly tinted red. Two boys stood across the little square. One pointed at him. The other laughed. For some reason, he could not recall their names.

He started walking toward them.

The Unbearable Lightness of Drafts

Back when I started this journey of “You know what, Imma do this for realz!”, I began reading and listening to people who knew more than I did about the craft of writing. Everyone had their quirks of process, different things they were better or worse at, varying ways of approaching it. I am happy to have seemingly reached a point, where it doesn’t all feel abstract and I can start figuring out how those experiences apply to me, rather than stumbling completely in the dark.

But one thing that none of the books and podcasts prepared me for, was drafts.

As I have said before, my current writing is a mutated form of obsessive-compulsive discovery. I completed the initial draft of a novel some time ago, after a fairly pants-y process of figuring out what the story was, and how to get it to go where it seemed to want to go. I went back constantly to rewrite, adding or removing passages, lines, or entire chapters. Then I gave it some time to ferment, while jotting down thoughts as they came to me, about what the second draft should be like.

Now, over halfway through said second draft, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. Happily, this is not preventing me from working on it, but it is so much more difficult than I expected it to be. The book is… not small, and I have introduced some significant changes after I had time to think about it. But my brain helpfully dredges up a constant stream of loose ends, things that have suddenly become inconsistent or nonsensical after the new alterations, or simply “better” ideas of how events and characters are to evolve.

This is not my first novel, but it is the first I mean to push through a querying stage. As such, it is the first time I am faced with such a level of complexity in editing, and I was surprised at how difficult it was. (This is not to be taken as me claiming that I am doing a good job of it…)

The conversations by professional writers regarding drafts, that I have encountered so far, are mostly about the spectrum of outlining and discovery. Whether people favor one, the other, or a mixture of the two, the focus tends to go into the different approaches, with multiple drafts taken as a given when the process is closer to the discovery end. I had expected that, of course, since my fledgling attempts at outlining started way after I was finished with my the first pass on this work.

But the sheer chaos of it, and the daunting awareness that for every change I make, I might be creating three new problems? Or that I might be losing the structure of the novel? Or realizing that for all the time this draft is taking, the novel will require at least a couple more? I mean, seriously, can you have an impostor syndrome before you’re published, or is this just over-the-counter anxiety?

Either way, the challenge is still about 5% more inspiring than it is depressing, so I am muscling through and learning from it. But It goes to show just how surprising certain obstacles can be, despite thinking you have anticipated them. Apparently – just like in literally every other field known to the human species – no amount of preparation can make up for the real experience. Who knew?

Reading Update: 02/19/20 – Pre-Convention Edition

It may have already become evident from the Reading Updates so far, that I tend to change plans mid-stride. My reading habits are not entirely chaotic, and if anything, the act of putting them down on this blog has helped tremendously in keeping me on track. But sometimes one encounters extenuating circumstances. Getting ARCs of books I’ve been anticipating, is one such. Another, are conventions. Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2) is happening soon, and there are several panels with science fiction and fantasy writers. Some of them I have never heard of. A few have been on my to-read list for a while.

And a couple have changed my life and inspired me to pursue writing as a career.

But either way, this means catching up on some books I had not planned to read yet. Not that I am complaining, it’s always great to become acquainted with a new author. Now I only have to find the balance between excitement at specific titles, guilt from not not following my plans, and the urgency of reading books before the convention comes, so I am not a total idiot if I interact with people I admire.

In the end, I get to read a ton. So I still win ^_^

Working on the Craft: Unreliable Third

Continuing my journey through Brian Kiteley ‘s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, and Exercise 3 is both simple, and infuriating: Write a fragment of a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator in tight third person. We are so used to unreliability being the realm of first person, that it was a really exciting thought process to tell a story I knew was wrong, but through the perspective of a more detached, supposedly less subjective point of view. Kiteley’s idea is that in this way, the author can play within the edges of unreliability, and actually coax more trust from the reader. And unlike a first person, where you understand the thought processes of your character and know how to use them to mislead, it seems that if you use third limited, you have to believe your own lie to a greater extent. Or at least that was my experience.

Waking up was a burst of joy. He arose and contemplated his reflection in the mirror.

That he was alive at all, was a miracle to his parents. When the terrifying illness had taken hold of their precious beautiful newborn, they had wailed. Oh how they had wailed! Matronly nursemaids had ran from the castle screaming in terror. Healers had fainted, too weak to comprehend what had befallen the Duke’s family.

His mother and father had wept for joy, he knew, when the illness had simply gone away one day. He woke every night, basking not in dreaded sunlight, but in the feeling that radiated through his home – of a family that cherished and loved him, of servants that rejoiced in his existence, saw him not as master, but as kin.

He opened the door and left the shadowed cave of his chambers, as he did every night. He enjoyed roaming the corridors upon waking, once the harsh dayglow he only faintly remembered was gone from the world. The hallways would echo with his footsteps, hushed voices drifting from far away. Those usually dwindled further as he approached. He wondered now, as he sometimes did, at the coincidence. He was the beloved master, the shining liege, and as he grew fat with joy, so did his servants and parents grow to love him even more. But yet there was rarely a soul nearby when he began his nightly strolls.

No matter. Should he wish for something, he knew he had to only call out.

There was much to do in the castle at night, much to experience. His pale skin glistened. The light from the lanterns that lined the walls painted oily colors across the length of his arm when he raised it before his face. He laughed, turned it around to see the play of crystalline reflections, as it danced up his lean triceps. The skin of his neck stretched and he felt the familiar click inside as he moved his head to chase the pattern further, over his shoulder and down his ribbed back…

A soft gasp brought him out of his reverie and he allowed his neck to return to its usual position, to look upon a young servant boy, standing frozen at the entrance of a side chamber. The boy’s eyes were wide with awe and a bead of sweat traced a line down the side of his face. The servant dare not breathe for fear that his beautiful lord would avert his countenance away.

He laughed. The boy need not fear. He moved forward, crossing the distance with a single glide, and reached with long fingers to caress the servant’s face, taking the bead of sweat with the tip of a nail. The boy trembled with adoration. He laughed and made to turn away and heard a gasp behind him.

He got confused for a moment. It happened sometimes. He was used to it and did not let it worry him.

As he continued roaming the corridors, screams sounded somewhere behind him. They made him wince. The castle was a happy place. His very presence brought delight to all who lived there. And yet, on occasion during his nightly strolls, there would be such dreadful tumult! It made him angry, but he was as merciful as he was beautiful. The bounty of his joy was big enough for all to partake, even if at times they would refuse to be content.

His very mother had wailed and screamed at him once, the tears so striking on her normally smiling face. She knew how much he loved her smile, and so she always smiled for him. But that time she had not smiled, even when he told her to. She had been the one confused then, his mother. Her voice shrill with accusations, yelling something about a brother, calling him – him! – a monster. Her distress had been tiring, and unnecessary as well.

He had never had a brother, he told her, and all the monsters had gone away once he had come through his illness as an infant. He had hugged her tight to console her, and her screams had turned into rasping sobs. She fell on the floor when he let her go, twisted strangely, but when he had made to help her stand, she had screamed that there was no need. She smiled then, the way she knew he liked, and so had his father, when he had turned around to see him standing at the doorframe.

His mother only sat in a chair now, with wheels. He giggled as he thought about the silly contraption, but she was so attached to it. And she never yelled at him anymore, so of course he indulged her in her game, even if it must be uncomfortable at times.

The last vestiges of his confusion were now gone, and he found himself alone once again, in the hallways of his ancestral castle, seeking joy. He licked his fingers without looking at them. They tasted slick, salty. Metallic. He loved that taste. Lived for it. Through it.

As he traveled down the corridors, sometimes skipping on the stone tiles, sometimes gliding above them, he laughed his rich laughter, reveling at the happiness he felt. His dark world was beautiful and filled with the brightness of love. He only had to reach out and pluck it.

A Portrait of the Artist as Another Artist, But for Fun?

This post comes to you, courtesy of Mur Lafferty. She did not write it, nor does she know of its – or my – existence. But she inspired it through something she talks about in her podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, Mur picked up the violin. She says she is learning it as an outlet for creative expression without any external pressure, such as she feels in her writing career. This made me consider my own relationship with art in general, and whether I am even capable of doing something in an uncharted artistic field, just for personal enjoyment.

I have been a violinist since age five. My parents – both of them working as professional musicians to this day – chose that course for me when I was an infant, and I was having music theory and violin lessons before I started first grade. This is not unique where I come from. In a quirk of the Eastern European education system, I had access to a music school that incorporated every aspect of the craft into general education. And by the time I graduated and applied to college, I had a profession.

As a child, I never questioned this, and by the time I would have, I was already good enough at it, that it was unnecessary to question. But ultimately, I never had a phase of my life, in which the violin was something to do “for fun”. And with this comes, I think, the dissonance I feel when I consider Mur’s picking up the violin for personal gratification. It makes me jealous. Because I realized that from the moment I decided that I wanted to become a writer, I also never had a phase of doing it “for fun”.

Writing is a passion for me, but I have no framework to approach it in any other way, but professional. I want to learn how to do things well, what the mechanisms under the words are. The bones and muscles under the skin. I want to understand writing, and I want to be a professional writer. To be represented by an agent, to work with an editor for a big publisher. It is a dream, for sure, but it is also a product of how I view the creation and “performance” of art. I think I can do it, or else I would never have started.

In a way, this makes me sad. I want to be able to sign up for an improv class and just enjoy myself. Or heck, even an acting class! Pick up sculpting. Painting miniatures. Whatever. But I fear that I would never be able to keep the voice in my head at bay – the one that tells me that I have to be doing this “the right way”, or not at all. And I think that by being unable to do that, I might be missing something essential from the creative process.

Do you do some kind of art just for fun? If so, what life do you come from? What drove you into pursuing this form of expression? I would love to read about it.

Reading Update: 02/12/20 – No Impulse Control

I visited my boyfriend in Berkeley, CA this past week. As it turns out, this town is an orgy of bookstores that cater to every possible variety of reader, and I was not ready for this! The end result was a pile of books that I had to lug back to Chicago, because, as the title of this post hints at, I have zero impulse control. In my defense, those are all books I have wanted to read/own for a while. But the simple fact is, I acted like a puppy that was suddenly let off the leash in the dog park, and I feel not even the tiniest bit of shame…

Working on the Craft: Imperative

Another exercise from Brian Kiteley ‘s The 3 A.M. Epiphany . As the name suggests, this one requires you to write 500 words of a 2-nd person narrative that is made entirely by imperative commands. I may have cheated a bit here and there — as far as I am concerned, it is still a command, even if it features a whole entire sentence surrounded by dashes, like, say this one — but the overall process was fun and just the right amount of challenging, so I am going with it.

Wake up. Come on, open your eyes. Try not to wince when the light pierces your brain, it makes you wrinkle. Don’t think how grey and bleak it is, don’t try to calculate how many days the cloud cover has remained in place. Try to crawl from under the blankets faster. Remember where you are – the big guest bedroom, as befits your so-called rank. Take account of all the gaudy details the palace architect and that horrendous interior designer have seen fit to vomit all over said interior. Appreciate it for a moment, yeah. Try not to dwell on why you agreed to this state visit in the first place, considering you are just a marionette and have absolutely no authority to do anything this country’s glorified dictatrix would ask of you.

Don’t dwell, I said!

Get up – stop coughing, it makes you look like even more of a decrepit old man than you already act like! – and get to that bathroom. Yeah, don’t stare too hard at the mirror. Try to get cleaned up, to the best of your uninspiring capability. Wash the shame of last night’s “reception”, or as the young kids call it – “a clusterfuck of getting shitfaced on disgustingly expensive wine, while half the continent is choking on poverty thanks to your hostess”. Yeah, take that hangover pill, you know you want to. Forget that it’s another admission of weakness. Embrace it – weakness is not out of your way. Don’t think too hard, just choke it down, like you choke down your continuing political impotence.

Get dressed now. Do this right, or you won’t be able to impress the Empress, or whatever she calls herself these days, or her lackeys who you are supposedly here to woo. Consider this carefully and dress appropriately, so that your look screams courtly humility, with just a touch of “I will degrade myself for you”. Remember why your country sent you and try not to think of what the assholes who built this wonder of architectural kitsch will do to your people if you fail. Don’t think about it – seriously, I know I didn’t stutter – and pick that shirt with the pink ruffles. Look at yourself in the mirror now, and asses your capacity to present just the right amount of court buffoonery before you make the trip.

Ok, now get to the throne room for the early morning reception. Act like you don’t know that they did this on purpose, to make you and the other bobble-heads like you feel emasculated, defeminated, or however-else-they-identify-ated. Pretend that it doesn’t sting. Fail a couple of times on your way if you need to, while it’s still safe, then put on that broad, somehow charming “sentient block of cheese” smile you are renowned for in literally no circle, and get on with the theatre of diplomacy.

Walk down the long, gaudy strip of carpet like a good, obedient boy. Don’t look at the crass opulence on display, pretend you don’t hear the snickers. Ignore the metric fuckton of frills and lace half the court is wearing, then avert your eyes from Her Corpulent Majesty, the Whatever She Has Decided to Be Called Today, and just bow. Keep a straight face, damn it! Stifle the giggles – nobody has time for your nervous breakdowns – and offer her The Speech. Accept her gracious grunt of acknowledgement.

Go mingle with the rest of the diplomacy victims once this is done and over with, and act like any of you matter. Try not to think what her obnoxious kingdom can do to yours, and if you can’t do that, hold the depression until tonight’s reception starts. Allow yourself to drown the inner shrieks in more grossly expensive wine like an adult.

Then do it all over again tomorrow, and then do it the day after, until you have saved your nation, or have found any other meaningful reason to keep existing.

Simon vs. the Tragedy Porn Agenda

This is something I’ve wanted to write about for well over a year, and I might be the only human in the world who is interested in the subject at this point. But as this is my blog, I get to go for it, and perhaps someone out there will care. Plus, it might give you an indication as to why my blog is named as it is.

I came out at 25. Late, by modern standards, and yet it felt like I had wasted half a life by then. I was never really technically “in the closet” to begin with. My mind is capable of phenomenal feats of compartmentalization, and so the “gay thing” had been stuffed so deep in my consciousness that I was in a permanent state of absolute repression. And so, I “came out” to the world about the same time I came out to myself. Moving to the United States, seeing life not as I had expected it would be, but as it could become, began a process of buildup in me that had only one possible healthy outcome.

The word just popped into my mind one day, unexpected and unasked for. GAY. It wasn’t any different from the million times I’d said or thought it before, and yet it was also profoundly, relentlessly new. Because it was about me. The moment was shocking, to be sure. I don’t think I did much else that night.

But it felt like a prelude, not the main event.

Two days later, I managed to type those three letters in a Skype chat with a friend back home. My fingers moving on the keyboard, the pinkie hovering over the Enter key. Then — almost despite myself — pressing down. It was the hardest physical feat I’ve ever accomplished. The sheer fever of the moment, the diamond-sharp awareness that your life is about to be split into a “before” and “after”. The condensed, immovable now of my first coming out to someone else was beyond the intensity of anything I have experienced, before or since.

The fever didn’t subside through the next few weeks of telling people face to face and embracing what it meant to me that they knew. That I knew. At first, the fear and underlying excitement would flare up every time — what if this is the one person who will reject me? Who will make a disgusted face, close up, turn around, curse at me?

It never happened. Despite the out-of-body aspect of it all, the self-defense mechanisms I had developed in the past two decades had picked the territory well. I was in a college town, surrounded by young, progressive people, many of them queer themselves. I was safe, or close enough. I was met with nothing but love and support.

Which is, of course, almost perversely disappointing in a way, when the climax of all those years of fear and trepidation is nothing nearly as dramatic as you had built up in your head. Because you being gay doesn’t matter to anyone else even remotely as much as it does to you…

Love, Simon (directed by Greg Berlanti and based on Becky Albertalli’s breakout YA hit Simon vs. the Homo-Sapiens Agenda) was a quiet success. A mid-budget romantic comedy is already something of an outlier in this era of massive block-busters and indie sleeper hits. But the movie’s John Hughesque atmosphere and the disarming charm of its characters added to its status as the first teen movie by a major studio with a gay protagonist, to make it an event in a year marked by shattering cinematic experiences.

However, it was a much more personal revelation to me. Not because of any groundbreaking social message, or a profound, heretofore unseen approach to the queer experience. But because it captured the feelings I brought up earlier. The moment when you are not sure if your throat might close and refuse to form the word. The strange disappointment that your coming out isn’t nearly as shocking to the other person as you thought it would be. The overpowering emotion of being loved for who you are, not despite.

I saw this movie in theaters 9 times. I rewatch it every year on National Coming Out Day. It is not the greatest cinematic expression of our times, and even compared to some other contemporary queer movies, it may lack artistic and — to some — social depth. But that is a surface read. For all its gorgeous visuals and universal themes of desire and longing, Call Me By Your Name for example left me at a distance. There was little for me to resonate with. I rarely lounge for an entire summer in my family’s south Italian mansion. I have never had fiery romances with precocious hyper-intellectual teenagers. Peach is not my sex fruit of choice.

Which is not to diss what is truly an incredible movie. But Love, Simon did something else, and did it better. It showed a gay boy dealing with coming out in a relatable setting, and it showed the outpour of kindness and love that he received. It spoke with the language of personal experience, and it used small gestures, unspoken words, and that same fever that I myself lived through. And that message clearly worked, because the movie quadrupled its budget and survived heavy hitters like Ready Player One and Avengers: Infinity War in theaters.

We are trained by art to perceive suffering as the greatest form of storytelling. Doubly so for minority narratives. But just as with every other marginalized group, the queer experience is not always — not even predominantly — dramatic. It is not exclusively a tragedy to sympathize with. Sometimes it is just tender and simple, and full of small stakes that can matter more than anything else in the world. Sometimes it is just saying a word when silence feels like death.

And in this regard, Love, Simon was one of the most subversive and groundbreaking LGBTQ-themed movies of this past decade.