I can remember a time when I was younger, sitting on a plane en route to Orlando to visit my best friend who’d moved away for college just a few months prior, and feeling like those words were a fairy tale. Ephemeral. Laughable. A concept that was simply wishful thinking. At least for someone like me.
Earlier that year, only a few short months after I’d turned eighteen, my older brother outed me to our parents. My father is an 81 year old ex-Marine. My mother is a devout Catholic. “Gay” and “queer” were dirty words. Phrases used to describe “perverts.” Suffice it to say, that moment reshaped the trajectory of my life, and ushered in the darkest days I would ever know.
My parents didn’t understand. They told me they wished I’d died when I was diagnosed with Leukemia eight years earlier. They sat me down and told me that they regretted praying for my survival, then told me the house I lived in was no longer a place for me to call home.
In my first novel, Boy Robot, a scene almost identical to the one I’ve just described happens to the lead character Isaak. Only the issue at hand is not Isaak’s sexuality. Isaak is a Robot. A humanoid being composed of synthetic cells, who, for all intents and purposes, is a human. Except for the fact that he isn’t.
In the book, he learns that there are others like him. Others who are being hunted by a government that would deny their very existence. He is rescued by members of a movement called The Underground, and begins a perilous journey to their hidden base in LA, where he begins to face his fear, and embrace the power of empathy.
The morning I sat on that plane to Orlando, I’d come from the hospital. My mother had attempted suicide the night before, and despite being forbidden from seeing her by my family who blamed me for the attempt, my sister in law took me to see her before I got on the plane.
“Don’t come home. They’re going to blame you for this. I’m so sorry. Don’t come home” my mother said to me in the ICU, barely conscious.
I left Oklahoma that day feeling numb. It took me three days to even speak of what happened to my best friend once I’d arrived in Orlando. “It gets better” was a pipe dream.
After that, however, things did start to get better. I moved to LA and began auditioning for TV and film roles, and began releasing music on my new Myspace page. I remember being so afraid to call my parents and tell them I’d booked my first show as a musician.
“Well… it’s at a gay club.” I can still feel my heart racing from the conversation.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world” my dad replied.
From that moment, everything changed. It took time, and tears, long talks, and a willingness to really work toward forgiveness, but somehow, miraculously, it did get better.
Things are completely different with my family now. We talk openly and they fully embrace my boyfriend as a member of the family. It’s almost laughable that they are even the same people who reacted in such a way to learning I was gay a decade ago.
Experiences like this shape you. The obstacles you overcome and the challenges you face mold the very fiber of your being. They form the story of your life. Superhuman powers and fantastical technology aside, at its core, Boy Robot will always be about a boy who had to run to LA in order to survive, find his tribe, and ultimately, learned to love.
And believe me when I tell you, it really does get better.
Simon and It Gets Better will be hosting the ROBOT RALLY at Barnes and Noble at The Grove LA this Sunday (10/23). Come get your book signed and take the It Gets Better pledge!