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Category: LGBTQ

My Top Five Favorite Books of the Year

For the holiday season, the bookstore I work at is making a display of all the employees’ favorite books of 2020. Each of us had to pick 5 favorite to put on there. My own list was pretty extensive, so choices had to be made. In the process of deciding what to choose, I left out sequels such as Harrow the Ninth, or massive cultural successes that obviously didn’t need my help to sell, such as Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste.

With that in mind, I am very happy with the end result. It unintentionally ends up promoting small press, debut authors, and queer identities, and this feels like the little bit that I can do to help this year suck a tiny bit less.

To clarify, this is not a ranked list. I love each of those five titles for different reasons, and I am not looking to pit them against one another. Feel free to click on each title to read my review.

Anyway, without further ado…

Simeon’s Top 5 Books of 2020:

Docile, by K.M. Szpara

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Only Good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones

The First Sister, by Linden A. Lewis

Surrender Your Sons, by Adam Sass

Review: Surrender Your Sons

As a gay man, I didn’t grow up suffering. Sure, I was in denial, I repressed a lot of shit, and I missed on my entire teenagehood. That sucked. But I didn’t get disowned. I was never bullied. I have rarely been discriminated against.

I was never sent to conversion therapy…

A part of me feels the need for vicarious trauma. For personal outrage, despite the lack of personal experience. It is a profoundly disturbing mixture of perverted FOMO and guilt. As a Queer person, do I really own myself if I didn’t suffer? Do I have a right to my identity? The answer is, naturally, yes, of course I do. But the feeling is still there, and it makes books like Adam Sass’ Surrender Your Sons a near-cathartic experience.

At the age of 17, Connor Major is a skinny 5’6 gay kid in rural Illinois, who just came out to his church-zombie single mom. His life is, as a result, not awesome. His phone has been confiscated, so he is isolated from his few friends. His two-towns-over boyfriend is unable to fully comprehend what he is dealing with at home. And his mom and the town preacher insist that he admit to the paternity of his ex-girlfriend’s newborn (he didn’t do it!).

The best, however, is yet to come, as Connor finds himself literally kidnapped and carted off to a remote island off the coast of Costa Rica (no dinosaurs though). There, at Nightlight Ministries, boys and girls like him are sent by overzealous parents to get “fixed”. Except, everything is off, even by conversion therapy standards. And Connor was warned about this place back home.

By someone who is now dead.

When I first read the blurb for this YA thriller, I was both immediately on board, and a bit skeptical. Conversion therapy? In 2020? In this economy? But Sass navigates the anachronistic core of his premise with elegance. By hanging a lantern on the absurdity of such a place in present day, he gets to place it in an exotic location. What’s more, he gets to have his characters have a near-meta understanding of their surroundings, as they navigate not only the camp itself, but its cultural context as well.

Surrender Your Sons is a brilliantly written debut. The book exudes the kind of easy sass (pun forever intended) and colloquial flexibility that always make me ugly-jealous. Connor himself is beautifully portrayed as a neurotic kid who has the capacity for both courage, and complete emotional collapse. The rest of the cast are just as well depicted, if in less detail. There is raw vulnerability and innocence coming out of the intimate first person narrative, even when the circumstances around Connor are anything but innocent.

As I said before, this is a thriller. The back cover suggests more of a mystery than the story actually ends up being. But to me, the mismatch between my expectations and the reality were in favor of the book. Surrender Your Sons is a story about tragedy, both past and present. About violence and the desolation that bigotry and self-loathing can heap upon the world. One sentence in particular stuck with me long after the end:

‘That’s what a hate crime does: it reaches out, through space and time, and touches you with a greasy hand.’

The book begins with a content warning. There are themes in there. Suicide, abuse, and surprisingly hot depictions of sex that must have barely passed the YA standard. Despite the effortless prose, Surrender Your Sons is certainly not an easy read on an emotional level.

Sass ends up weaving a story both more mundane, and more personal than the blurb implies. And far stronger for it. I read the last 50 pages with perma-lump in my throat, as one of the best denouements I have ever seen in a book meticulously takes us through the lives harmed or ruined by Nightlight. In the end, Surrender Your Sons was an exciting adventure with a powerful emotional charge. Dealing with serious darkness, but ultimately hopeful. And I thoroughly loved it.

Reading Update 07/15/20 – Too Much, and Just Enough

Sorry for the topical pun, which will cease to make sense within a week. But as I am halfway through Mary Trump’s unflattering and devastatingly empathetic portrait of her uncle, the title has been percolating in my head. This post is about something else however.

I have been reading a lot lately. My life is in the middle of some significant changes. For good and for bad, alas, but both aspects amount to more reading time. It’s a borderline feverish state of ingesting books, and it feels amazing! Reading has always been therapeutic for me, and working at a bookstore, it also makes me feel connected to my job.

On that note, apparently I am good at hyping up things and making people buy them. Who knew!

A bit of housekeeping. Last week I mentioned reading Sam Lansky’s Broken People. I ended up absolutely loving the book, but the reasons for that are a tad too personal to really talk about in a coherent review format. His story resonated with my own current circumstances, underlying mental health issues, and overall life experience in a way that never really matched, but at the same time informed them. I don’t even know if I could recommend it to people, because the experience was so personal.

Anyway, here’s to reading, and having complicated experiences with books!

Reading Update 07/08/20 – Broken People

My one and only experience visiting Los Angeles was very contradictory. There is a profound sense of nihilistic romanticism about this city. A glorified shallowness that translates into some kind of higher purpose loneliness. Yet, even during the winter holiday season, it was mostly just hot and spread out. More a network of suburbs than a coherent city. On a day-to-day level, the experience was a bit boring, mostly dedicated to endless Uber rides.

And the lack of bookstores was a surprising drain on my psyche.

At the same time however, there was a curious static charge in the air. Hollywood. The movies. The history of the movies. We took several studio tours, and I loved every second of them. LA lives and breathes its conceit, and it makes you believe in it, whether you want to, or not. A couple of years later, I struggle to recall the things that bothered me about the city. The memory has acquired a patina of romance and timeless melancholia. Up until now, I had even forgotten how literally nobody in that place can whip up a decent Bloody Mary!

I promise I am going somewhere with this wildly long prelude. I was listening to a recent episode of Crooked Media‘s podcast Keep It, featuring an interview with author Sam Lansky. Something about the way he talked about his new semi-memoir-semi-fictional novel Broken People resonated with me. It brought my own feelings about LA, despite the obvious differences between me and him. Lansky’s youth, spent back in New York City before he moved across coasts, is way more dramatic than mine. In fact, our experiences have little in common on pretty much every level.

But the “anxious late 20s/early 30s gay” voice ensnared me immediately.

I am only two chapters into the book so far, but this voice is so wonderfully clear, and it evokes so many of the feelings I both had, and have absorbed through media about LA, that I am already in love with it. It’s not really the type of work I review on this blog, but if it inspires something more, I still might, once I finish the book.

Reckoning

I have been thinking about how to approach the torrent of revelations coming out of Twitter in recent days. Not because I am in any way close to any of the people involved, but rather because I felt I needed to. And I fully recognize that this situation is not about me, and my thoughts are unlikely to enrich it. But this blog is part therapy, and I hope I also don’t cause harm by speaking on the subject.

Several notable authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy have been dragged out for various forms of harassment of women, non-binary folks, and queer people they perceived as vulnerable. Those include Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Mark Lawrence, Max Temkin, and Warren Ellis. Some of them I’ve met in person, others I know only through their writing or reputation. None has made any overtly bad impression on me.

And I don’t for a second struggle believing the accusations leveled against them.

It’s not even about believing the accusers in this case. Most of these men have freely admitted to their actions, with varying degrees of accepting responsibility. Some have ran away from Twitter, preferring to act like victims. Others are so far standing firm and accepting their punishment, whatever that’s worth to anyone.

It made me consider my own behavior. As a pretty firmly established gay man who hasn’t been on any kind of “prowl” in quite a few years now, I have never considered myself any kind of threat to women. More than that, in my few and limited interactions with female and queer authors, I’ve made it a point to be respectful and considerate.

But I have no way of knowing how successful I have been. I have witnessed autograph tables of accomplished, wonderfully talented women stay empty. Meanwhile, one lane over, a male author would have several lines struggling to fit into the allotted space. I have been in some of those big lines, rather than the empty ones. Of course, sometimes the reason was the particular names involved, rather than gender.

But this raises another question — if a not-inconsiderable number of the most successful writers in the field are men, do they not have an even bigger responsibility to make our shared spaces feel safer and more nurturing for women and queer folks? And what message does it send to these people, when they come to conventions and conferences, only to be met by crude jokes, belittling behavior, and other forms of often overt harassment? Because let me tell you, a super buff dude grabbing me in his lap while telling me he wants to pee on me, would NOT make me want to return to that space.

We are all capable of calling this out. And I believe we are responsible to do so. As fans, as hopeful writers — scary though that might be to our proto-careers — and as people who believe in human dignity and every person’s right to feel safe in any public space they enter. We can uplift underrepresented voices, so that these public spaces are not ran by drunken cops or writer dynasty legacies.

And in the mean time, it takes more than a Twitter repentance. Many of these dudes are fairly successful in their careers. So, put your money where your apologies are. Make meaningful steps to help women, POC, and queer authors. If you need an apology tour, go donate to a charity, or check yourself into rehab. It is high time that “taking responsibility” means more than 240 symbols on a social network.

How Dead is the Dead Author?

We live in tumultuous times. COVID-19 is here to stay, with incompetent governments mistaking wishful thinking for policy, exposing us to it on purpose. Massive global protests have finally forced us to face point blank the reality of police brutality against people of color. The economy is working for no one but the richest few.

Pandemic, economic collapse, MURDER HORNETS!

But nothing in this apocalyptic year so far is nearly as bad – nearly as horrifying – as… *checks notes*… uh, people who menstruate, according to J.K. Rowling.

In his original essay, La morte d’auteur, French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that the text is an independent entity from its author. His claim can be boiled down to ‘there are too many dimensions to any work of literature, for interpretation to be limited by the context of authorial intent’.

We live in an era of social reckoning. Trying to come to terms with how – frankly – awful many revered writers actually were (or still are). ‘The death of the author’ has acquired a new meaning. It is now used as a reason to continue enjoying works by shitty people. ‘The work is not the author, so why should I forsake both?’ There is merit to this position, but there are legitimate counter-arguments as well.

For one thing, it is easy to not care about the author when the author is no longer around. Sure, Wagner was a scamming homewrecker and a virulent anti-Semite. But Wagner is also incredibly dead, and his works are free domain. Ditto good old Howie Lovecraft, who may have been so shockingly racist, that even fellow racists of his time were like ‘Dude, come on…’, but plenty of wonderful people have since used his work to create diverse art that absolutely rejects his personal worldviews.

But what do we do when the author is very much alive? When they actively profit from our consumption of their work? Yes, I am very obviously referring to the newest TERF-y bullshit of J.K. Rowling. Who is apparently living through, and I quote, ‘the most misogynistic period I’ve ever experienced’. And seems to think it’s trans people’s fault. A horribly tone-deaf position from a person who has had every possible opportunity and privilege to learn better. She is not unique, of course. Plenty of artists have revealed themselves to hold one bigotry or another, be it because they were exposed, or because they wear it proudly on their sleeve for all to see.

There is no point in naming names. If you are part of ANY kind of minority, you know a bunch of living creators who think you are not entitled to the rights and dignity they have. Or that by you gaining anything, they will lose something.

So, do you want to give them your money? I know I don’t. But does their awfulness surgically remove all the experiences you’ve had with their works before you knew who they were? I do not believe that it does. Or at least not automatically.

I learned about Orson Scott Card’s rampant homophobia at a very intense period of my life. I was still adjusting to my own coming out as gay and my place in the world. The shock was too big. I’d had a lot of love for his books, but I could no longer read them without feeling grossed out. It affected me personally.

But Harry Potter has had a far bigger place in my growing up than Ender’s Game ever could. And I am not trans. I try to be as good an ally as I know how, but ultimately Rowling’s awfulness is not personal for me the way it is for my trans friends. And even to some of them, the messages, joy, warmth, and feelings of safety they’ve derived from these books are still there.

Are they wrong? Should they hate the books, now that the author has shown herself time and again to be garbage? Should I?

No. In the end, there is no ‘should’ here. Liking things is subjective. Supporting things has many levels. Nobody should be forced to reject something they love if they haven’t lost that love on their own. Having to separate the creator from the creation is already trauma enough.

I love Harry Potter. It is a flawed work from a flawed author, but it’s been with me for a very long time. I have too many good memories associated with it, and rejecting it would mean rejecting them as well.Will I give Rowling more money in the future, be it for books, or the movies based on them? Honestly, I don’t think I will. But this is a separate issue from appreciating a series I already own.

Art is subjective on every level. From its creator, through the work itself, to the one it’s meant for. It has to be considered on a case by case basis, or it stops being art. If J.K. Rowling is your Orson Scott Card, and your feelings of her works are too tainted to maintain any positive emotion for them, that’s ok. If you are disgusted by her, but you still love Harry Potter, that’s ok too. If her behavior has inspired you to find and read fantasy and science fiction from trans and non-binary authors – that’s AWESOME!

There is no rule for how to deal with disappointment, and anyone that tells you there is, doesn’t understand what art is.

Reading Update 05/27/20 – Ethan of Athos is Gay

My Vorkossigan Saga re-“reading” project on Audible just covered a book I had never read before. Ethan of Athos is a side story that only mentions Miles. Furthermore, it wasn’t even published in Bulgarian back when I read the series as a teenager. So, it was fun to experience something new in that universe.

It’s a lukewarm spy action story on a space station. We’ve all read those (and if you haven’t — what’s the matter with you?!), and Ethan delivers nothing new. With that said, it is also a story of a gay man, coming from an all-male planet that relies on technology for procreation. It does it awkwardly, with outdated ideas of bigotry that already aren’t all that prevalent, and are unlikely to survive a galactic expansion.

Now, we can all agree that the Vorkossigan Saga isn’t the most progressive series in the galaxy by today’s standards. The rigid duality of male and female, the cringe-inducing use of “it” to describe in-between genders. The overtly patriarchal and classist undertones. It doesn’t hold up when placed next to works like Ancillary Justice for example.

But most of the Vorkossigan Saga was written a long time ago, and by those standards, it is staggering how progressive it actually is.

Ethan of Athos was published in 1986. For all that I find Ethan himself to be obnoxiously naive, snooty, and annoying, he is a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man dealing with homophobia and misguided prejudice. And thriving. What’s more, Bujold gave him to us in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, in the year when the term “HIV” was created. In a mainstream entertainment genre, as part of an already successful series.

When viewed through the lens of that time period, Ethan of Athos is a truly remarkable work. And while it will never get near my favorite list of stories in that universe, I am very happy to have read it. Apparently, I could love Lois McMaster Bujold more.

Working on the Craft: Loving

The title says it all. The exercise asks that you write a short scene about someone you love. It challenges you to both make a conscious choice about the type of love you will be focusing on, and the means by which you do it. It is easy to become sappy, or to fall into stock phrases. I found it very exciting, however, because to me love is always in the details, whatever kind of love we talk about. So, here is my exhibitionist little scene about my boyfriend ^_^


He looks down at his notes, and I fall in love with him all over again.

He doesn’t lean, even though you’d think he would. He has this grace that tall, slim people sometimes have, a swan-like curve of the neck, where he just encompasses the notebook below him, rather than bending to read it. A pen is moving between his long fingers, sometimes touching his lips in an unconscious sign of thoughtfulness. You could draw a line from the feet of his crossed legs, running all the way up to that pen. It would be a bold line – a single fluid movement with no sharp angles, yet it would still look like a lightning.

The laptop is open on the desk in front of him, and it’s all gibberish to me. High mathematics are for people with better brains than mine. But to him it’s a language, and he is fluent in it. The code of the universe, and he can crack it. That is what stops me at the open door – a realization that strikes every time I see him work. His mind can encompass something so profoundly complex, that I have no choice but to be in awe of him. More so, for knowing how little of his ego is involved in the equation.

He works with quiet intensity. Not the dramatic movie style “10 seconds until detonation” type of intensity, but rather the deeply human drive to know and understand. To discover. I know the face I will see if I call out to him. Thin. Elegant. Beautiful. And deeply annoyed at me. His eyes will do the slow blink as he takes a moment to stop himself from snapping. I love him for that as well. He is in his zone, and I would be a distraction. Sometimes I draw his attention regardless. But not now. He is an explorer, and I’d rather just watch him explore.

Often, that is all I need.

He rolls the chair away from the desk, gets up, and walks to the mobile whiteboard by the wall. His movements carry an effortless grace. He is a dancer, even if his dance happens inside his mind. It has nothing to do with the music in his AirPods. When he traces the marker on the board, you can see the artistry. His movements are always broad, because even his confusion is underlined by confidence in his ability to comprehend. To solve.

His back is straight as he works, and he never hunches, although – again – you would expect him to. Tall people, especially tall people who stare at screens or boards all day, so often do. But in his office, in his natural habitat, he has made his world to fit his stature. He doesn’t hunch, because he never has to. There is beauty in this.

He notices me, standing by the door, and I act like I haven’t been there a while, but am just now passing by. He smiles.

There is beauty in this as well.

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.

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.