'love, simon' star keiynan lonsdale isn't scared to sing about kissing boys
After releasing the queer pop anthem 'Kiss the Boy,' he tells i-D how 'Legend of Korra' helped him come out.
Photography Joshua Baker
Spoiler Alert: Watching Keiynan Lonsdale and Nick Robinson kiss in Love, Simon has the power to make you believe in love again. Keiynan’s character, Bram, finds the courage to step away from the safety of his computer, join Simon on the ferris wheel, and kiss him in front of the entire high school. Keiynan’s coming out story has a lot of overlap with that of his character. Both feared their lives would be changed for the worst, only to find out there was an abundance of beauty and freedom waiting for them on the other side. “I felt like I wasn’t ever going to be able to live this truth,” Keiynan tells i-D over the phone, relief in his deep Australian accent. The 26-year-old is fast becoming an LGBTQ icon. Don’t worry, he’s prepared for the role. Keiynan made this clear when he released his new song “Kiss the Boy.” The emotional ballad features unapologetically queer lyrics like: “If you want to kiss the boy/ then you better kiss the boy right now.” It’s the mantra every LGBTQ person needs. Because as Keiynan showed us in Love, Simon: Sometimes, kissing the boy means not only having to reveal your feelings, but also who you are.
Keiynan talks to i-D about the pressures of coming out to the world, writing music, and being a double minority in Hollywood.
“Kiss the Boy” stands out for being a rare pop song that’s explicitly about same-sex attraction. Where did you find the courage to write it?
It was a full circle kind of thing from my own experiences. I got to the space I’m at now through a ton of experiences and a ton of ups and downs. When I found a way to self-acceptance, I think unlocked a lot more creativity and access to writing from a more truthful place. “Kiss the Boy” is a result of that.
How long did it take to create the song?
I did it in one sitting. Which doesn’t always happen, but those are my favorite songs. When they just flow and as you’re working on one part another part comes to you. I had written everything on “Kiss the Boy” but the bridge. When I was recording, the section for the bridge came up and the words just came out while I was recording it. That was such a good feeling, because it took the song to another space where it showed the depth. As much as it is a celebratory song, it comes out of suffering and realization.
And what was the struggle of coming out publicly like?
Coming out itself, once I got to that space, was beautiful. It’s not something I ever thought I could have done, so it’s like an amazing release. Once I had done that is when I realized I had put so much pressure and weight on sexuality. After I let it go, I realized there was so much more to me! So much more to life.
What is it like navigating Hollywood as a double minority? You’re not just a queer person or a person of color, but a queer person of color .
It’s really interesting. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t feel like I could live authentically, because there wasn’t that much representation out there. I didn’t come out so I could become that representation. That wasn’t part of my thinking. But it has organically gone that way. I’m extremely lucky because just by being myself I’m hopefully able to help others do the same thing. At the same time, I don’t think it does any service to me or others if I place a huge pressure on it. If I just continue to do what I do hopefully it will have a positive impact.
What I really like about “Kiss the Boy” is how specific it is. There’s no ambiguous lyrics or non-descript pronouns. Do you intend to keep writing unapologetically queer lyrics like this or was this just a really special, one-off moment?
I think I’ll play around with everything. It depends on what feels best for the song. While I was writing “Kiss the Boy” I knew I wanted it to be as obvious as possible. There can’t be any mistake that this is a boy singing about a boy and that’s that. There’s other songs where it may be more ambiguous, and there’s a message in that as well. I’m definitely not going to shy away from singing about guys or girls or whatever kind of love. The love that I feel is what I’ll put in the song.
How did you become the multifaceted creative you are today?
I guess it was just through trying to survive! As a young performer, it’s not that easy to make money doing the thing you love straight away. I had a passion for a lot of things, but I always wanted to be able to dance and act. The MTV VJ thing is something that completely threw me off guard. I never really saw myself as a presenter, but I was really thankful for the opportunity. I think we get told we’re only suppose to be good at one thing. Why can’t you be awesome at a lot of things? I’ve never really felt compelled to stay doing one thing. Fortunately, it’s working out.
You star in Love, Simon, which also depicts being queer and coming out. What does the film capture about your own coming of age experience?
I think what it best captures is that it has such a modern relevance. It’s not reflecting on a time that was or is in the future, but is like ‘Here we are now.’ Where yes your family is accepting and it may not be dangerous for you to be out, but there is such internal struggle and still such bullying. Even a lot of things with Simon’s dad’s comments a lot of us have experienced. Those are things I definitely relate to growing up from friends or family. Innocent comments that really stick with you and create shame. I think the film really beautifully touches on that. That’s why I really related to it.
What warms my heart is knowing Love, Simon will help a lot of gay teenagers come out. What films, shows, and other media played a big role in your own coming out experience?
I think even joining The Flash and the whole DC universe was a big thing. I think they’ve done a really good job at introducing queer characters in an organic way and not just stopping at one but still continuing the growth. They see the big picture. Being a part of that world made me feel safe. I could go, Oh okay, the company and show I work for is accepting and this is a part of Hollywood and it’s a successful show. Even cartoons gave me a lot of hope.
Oh, wow. What cartoons helped you come out?
I rewatched Avatar and Legend of Korra. In Korra, there’s a gay storyline that’s so beautiful. Just the fact that the creators were feeling so strongly about that and showing how important that would be for people of all ages to see, that made me super, duper inspired. It’s just a cartoon, but at the same time those things are so powerful.