In an age when millennials and Generation Z are actively fighting to carve out a space where they can be who they are without shame or apology, Love, Simon hits theaters right on time.
The film tells the story of 17-year-old Simon Spier, who is closeted to everyone in his life other than the anonymous classmate he emails with. But when Simon’s secret is threatened, he’s propelled into a journey of self-acceptance and pride.
Keiynan Lonsdale, whose character in the movie is named Bram, is no stranger to this type of story. In 2017, the actor came out publicly after he was the subject of several rumors concerning his sexuality. In an interview with CASSIUS, he said there were plenty of places he felt like he could pull from for the role, and he drew on his personal experience.
“I could really feel for these characters on a personal level,” he told CASSIUS. “Whether you’re struggling with your sexuality or not, I think people understand what it’s like to wear a mask. But there’s a certain double life that I think you can live and get really good at when you’re in the closet. You can even hide that person from yourself. I wanted to tap into that with Bram. I felt like there were a lot of similarities.”
Whether you’re struggling with your sexuality or not, I think people understand what it’s like to wear a mask.
Lonsdale said that the opportunity to play Bram was special as he didn’t feel like there is enough representation of queer people of color on screen, especially for Black gay men. In the film, Bram is an athlete in the South, which adds many levels of complexity to his character.
“For Bram, he’s keeping up this image because everyone expects him to be a certain way,” he said. “He’s cool, likable, sporty—he’s someone they wouldn’t typically expect to be gay. I think there’s pressure for him to live up to this false standard of who he’s supposed to be.”
In some ways, Simon’s coming out experience reflected Lonsdale’s. His friends had his back, his mom was super supportive, and it was a liberating experience. When he came out for the first time to one friend, the best thing he did was offer him a safe space.
“He told me, ‘You don’t have to be gay, straight, bi—just be you, be Keiynan,’” he said. “I don’t think he knew how huge that was for me to hear, but I think all a friend can do is just say, ‘I love you for who you are. Your sexuality is not the entirety of who you are. It may feel like it because you’ve been holding onto it so long so it feels like absolutely everything, your whole world. But the essence of you is perfect and has always been the same.’”
I think all a friend can do is just say, ‘I love you for who you are.’
However, there’s one person whom Lonsdale is still hoping to have his coming out moment: his father.
“I don’t have a close relationship with my dad, but I hope to one day,” he said. “I don’t know how much he knows about me in the public eye, but I think that telling him my truth would definitely be a big deal for him. That’s just the reality of his view on life coming from Nigeria. But I’m excited for when we have that conversation because I’m open to however way he reacts, I’m not afraid.”
While Lonsdale admits that he isn’t always this certain or confident in every aspect of his life, he’s just learning to let go and not take anything personally. He understands that people come from different experiences and backgrounds and their beliefs aren’t an attack on him directly.
“I realized that everyone is just as confused as me in terms of life, what we’re doing here, everyone’s going through their own crap growing up,” he said. “How can I be angry at someone for being exactly as they are? How can I take that personally? People usually operate out of fear. Once I could see the bigger picture on that stuff, suddenly I didn’t have to take anything personally.”
Lonsdale said the best advice he can give to anyone looking to support a friend coming out is simple: “Just let the person know you love them—it might not seem that huge, but I think it’s the best thing you could do.”