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Culture shaping identity

Just about everyone you’ve ever met and haven’t even met is different from you. Not just personality wise, but also by cultural background. Culture is one of the few things that separates yet unites people. It shapes our identity in many ways. From what deities we worship, to the way we talk, to what we eat, to what we wear, to what we think. Culture helps shape many things, sometimes the results are good, other times they’re not. It’s specifically not-so-good when it comes to sexuality. Sexual orientation is something that is somewhat taboo in most parts of the world. However, it’s only taboo if you’re not heterosexual.

Because of how people treated non-heterosexuality in the past, it has made a mark on the world that future generations have been trying to remove for years. And so far it’s going okay for the most part. Albertalli has given us a story about how a closeted gay teen’s identity grows in modern time. It’s quite simple yet not at the same time. And you have the culture in the book to thank for that.

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Simon Spier is a six-teen year old male who is gay. But he’s not openly gay, at least not to his friends and family. That’s mainly because of where he lives and how the past has lingered. Simon lives in the south, in Creekwood, Georgia. He knows it’s not the ideal location to come-out because his small town is unsurprisingly quite homophobic. However, surprisingly enough he’s not afraid of coming out, or at least that’s what he thinks as he states on page two: “…the whole coming out thing doesn’t really scare me. I don’t think it scares me.” Besides there was only one person who knew he was gay and they’re gay as well. Simon doesn’t know who it is at first since they only go by their screen name: Blue. But he has nonetheless built a close relationship with them. Then things take a turn for the worst as student named Martin Addison finds his email and blackmails him.

Martin tries to make it seem as if he’s not doing anything wrong and they have a very awkward conversation in first chapter. He even tries to advise Spier to come out, to which his reaction was: “I don’t even know where to begin with that. Some straight kid who barely knows me, advising me on coming out. I kind of have to roll my eyes.” But his irritation soon turns into anxiety for Addison has the audacity to say: “Okay, well, whatever. I’m not going to show anyone”,” and then pruposes his ‘great plan’ that envolves Simon. Martin wants Simon to help him get a chance with Abby Suso. He seems innocent enough, only he’s not at all for he’s blackmailing Simon.

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Simon doesn’t think much of it since he has no fear coming out. But he knows who does: Blue. Though they’ve never met face to face, he knows Blue lives in Creekwood and goes to their school. And if things were to get out of hand, he knows Blue will stop talking to him forever. It’s something he doesn’t want to happen at all since they’re so close and he’s unknowingly developing feelings for Blue. Not only that, he knows he’d get bullied in school and his family would make a big deal out of it. Those are the three things he dreads the most in the book.

Simon doesn’t really have much of choice other than to help Martin. He also doesn’t seem to freak out as much as most people would, but that doesn’t change the fact that he still doesn’t want anyone other than Blue to know. And this evident when Simon tries to tell his childhood best friends, Leah and Nick. He completely freezes and nothing comes out and he repeats this a few times. Simon can’t bring himself to say anything for he thinks his friends will think of him differently and make it awkward, since society nowadays has made something like this slightly uncomfortable. Though he knew they’d still love him for him, he still didn’t want their perception of him to change. This expressed when he thinks: “And this gay thing. It feels so big. It’s almost insurmountable. I don’t know how to tell them something like this and still come out of it feeling like Simon. Because if Leah and Nick don’t recognize me, I don’t even recognize myself anymore.” Being gay or anything pertaining to nonheterosexuality is this ‘big awkward deal’ in the book (and to be honest, in real life as well.) And Simon hates this as he’s expressed: “Why is straight the default? Everyone should have to declare one way or another, and it shouldn’t be this big awkward thing whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or whatever. I’m just saying.”

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Simon is no doubt frustrated and scared at the fact that society can’t get over something so simple. But alas, he’s not some all-powerful God and can’t do anything to change it. He could only hope that when the people around him find out, it wouldn’t all go straight to Hell. And because of how his small town isn’t as open minded as some others, he feels like his world his slipping through his fingers slowly and that he can’t get this particular weight off his back. So he eventually confides in Abby, and comes out to her. Naturally, she’s accepting and doesn’t make a big deal out of it which he is very much thankful for. This causes him to feel better and lighter than before. But that doesn’t change the fact that Martin is still blackmailing him and he couldn’t tell Blue or her or anyone else. He couldn’t even bring himself to bring up Blue to anyone. Though things were getting slightly better, it wasn’t enough for him to feel completely okay.

So, as the month goes on he does his best to help Martin get with Abby. And during the time he spends with both of them, he finds that if Martin wasn’t being immature, they could actually be friends. It was in these moments where he wishes he was straight. Though he wasn’t akin to straight people for he has expressed that he wishes they could “Get their sh** together”,” he sadly knew things would a lot less complicated. Simon tries his best to hide and control his feelings since he’s quite reticent. But eventually it goes down hill when Martin sees a misunderstanding and gets angry at Simon, prompting him to post the screenshots he has of his emails on the school’s Tumblr site.

Simon doesn’t even realize what’s happened until the next day when Leah and Nick come up to him and try but fail to ask him about it. He’s left confused until Nora shows him what’s happened. That’s when Simon feels his world has completely slipped from his hands. This wasn’t the way he had planned to come out to his siblings or friends or the rest of the school for that matter. Nora is quick to reassure him though, but he doesn’t really feel any better because the only thing that crosses hiss mind is Blue. So his next step is quickly towards Blue. He does his best to write an apology email, but ultimately what he feared happened. And for the rest of the day he was stuck thinking about Blue.

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Things don’t really get better as the bullying started on that same day. But surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as he thought it’d be. Martin even tries to apologize, but it useless for Simon just blows up. Simon doesn’t fogive him and tells him how he’s taken something from him. This shows that he’s considering the importance of sexual identity. Something he doesn’t really do in the first couple of chapters. The next thing he knew, he was sitting in his car, crying. Simon lost his grip.

But things slowly get better as he finds out who Blue is and his friends do their best to not make his sexuality in anyway an awkward big deal. However his family doesn’t do that well, as his mother explains to him, “You were our only boy.” That’s when he sympathizes with his mother, but still keeps his beliefs about sexuality. Martin still tries to apologize. But eventually, his life is good and he then thinks that maybe he wants his sexuality to be a big deal as in the last page he thinks: “Maybe it’s holy freaking huge awesome deal. Maybe I want it to be.”

Simon goes through a bit of an identity crisis because of where he lives. But the culture around him doesn’t make an inormous impact as he thought it could. In the end he was still the same Simon who loves Oreos and Elliot Smith. During the beginning of the book, he was very hesitant to come out, and he didn’t even have much pride in himself. But as the book progresses, he learns how be open with those around him and accepts himself even if his small town was close minded and his family thought that this was a ginormous milestone in his life. Everything he feared became a reality but he works his way around it and he soon becomes proud of he is. So as much as he hated the fact that his sexuality is a ‘big deal”,’ he was happy to know in the end it was. Though it was a roller coaster of emotions, the outcome was simple and only a few things changed.

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