Let me introduce you to Kim Ho.
Kim was just 17 when he wrote, and starred in, his short film The Language of Love.
In the ten-minute monologue, Kim plays Charlie, a young and confused student at Sydney Grammar School, searching for answers in the middle of a French exam. Charlie, you see, is in love with his best friend Sam. But the range of feelings he’s experiencing – fear, shame, pure joy – seem too terrifying to act upon.
This is amazing. http://t.co/eTF8RAHnFb
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) September 20, 2013
The short film is a tender insight into what is actually going through a teen’s mind when they realise they might be in love. Or gay. Or both.
The film has garnered massive interest around the world, and has been shared by Stephen Fry, Dannii Minogue and Ellen DeGeneres.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Kim to talk about the film, and what’s next for the budding filmmaker.
What made you want to create this video? Was there a specific incident, or person, or moment?
I submitted an early draft to a monologue competition run by the Australian Theatre for Young People.
The only thematic guideline was it had to be about love in some way. I was hugely inspired by a short film by GetUp! in support of marriage equality. Its message – love is love is love – is just so simple, raw and honest. I burst into tears when I saw it.
I wanted to write a piece that evoked similar emotions, but within my demographic: about a boy grappling with his sexuality rather than adults campaigning for marriage equality.
The speculation around your own sexuality since the film’s release must have been hard! Are you comfortable talking about your own sexuality, or would you rather to choose to focus on the LGBTI plight as a whole?
I was very fortunate that the release of the film changed nothing with my friends and family.
But I was taken off-guard when the first question Michael Cathcart asked me on the Books and Arts Daily radio programme was whether the film was autobiographical. He was among many who made suggestions about my sexuality that year.
I initially found this slightly insulting, in the sense that it assumes the film is ‘merely’ my own story instead of a carefully constructed artwork.
I’ve since realised there’s a power in withholding information about my sexuality. I’ve stayed deliberately quiet about it because the point of the film is that it doesn’t matter.
What was your experience like at school? And how do you think portraying a young, private school boy struggling to accept his feelings will help other boys like Charlie?
My high school, Sydney Grammar School, is secular, and does not enforce any religious morals.
During my time there, I felt very fortunate in this regard. Some of my friends were openly gay, and no one ever bullied me because of the film. Our headmaster allowed it to be filmed on campus and openly supported it.
However, I remember there being no information given to students about sexuality. Grammar has also not signed up to the Safe Schools program. Those who were exploring their sexuality rarely came out to their immediate circle of friends, and many came out immediately after graduating.
Is this because of the teachers, or the students?
Its pastoral care system is randomised, so students could end up in the care of teachers they don’t truly trust. I get the sense that being LGBTI+ is tolerated within the confines of appeasing its conservative patrons – as an extracurricular activity.
I suspect Grammar is among the most progressive private schools in this respect, and that’s appalling.
When I see that a young gay student could be expelled from some schools for daring to be themselves, it hurts me. Children are much smarter than we generally give them credit for, but they’re not invincible. It breaks my heart to see bullying not only tolerated, but carried out, by the very people who swear to keep children from harm.
If you had the opportunity to meet a young gay man such as Charlie, what would you say to him?
Once you leave school and enter the real world it gets so much easier and so much harder. Easier, because you can find your people, those who respect you and love you for who you are, rather than those who will bully you or merely tolerate you. Harder, because when the homophobes who bullied you in school grow up, often their voices grow louder, angrier. They say heinous things. They commit heinous acts. But with each act of fear and hate, you’ll grow stronger.
You can live your life according to the rules of these people. Or you can live your life on your own terms.
So for the sake of everyone, ASK SAM OUT!
We hear a lot about the Safe Schools program, but as someone younger, smarter, and more in-touch that those making the decisions, what kind of measures do you think could be put in place in high schools to encourage and support LGBTI students?
Unfortunately I doubt religious leaders who are virulently against homosexuality will be moved by slogans or flags when any attempts to promote compassion are howled down as brainwashing. I genuinely believe the key is provoking people, young and old, to walk in other people’s shoes.
And that’s done really effectively through art. Films like Gayby Baby and The Language of Love and Holding the Man aren’t brainwashing. They’re exercises in compassion. They’re offers of acceptance. They’re challenges to increase your empathetic imagination. A friend told me her grandparents radically altered their views on homosexuality after watching my film. These films have the capacity to create change, as a resource shared openly online, at LGBT+ festivals.
Why is it so important to do so?
Giving people a sense of the beautiful diversity of sexualities, relationships and family structures out there will help everyone. It will educate children who identify as heterosexual. It will give strength and reassurance to those who don’t.
If we keep celebrating diversity, we will eventually eclipse homophobes, make their irrelevance complete. Already their voices are thin and quavering and carry less and less power by the day. They are lashing out because they know this. They are insecure, anxious people who have gravely and selfishly misinterpreted the messages Jesus espoused – love, compassion, empathy, generosity, caring for those less advantaged than yourself – ironically, many of which feature in The Language of Love.
You can find more information about the film and Kim Ho at ‘The Language Of Love Film’ website.