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FOWLER: 'Love, Simon' shows important history

Opinions Column: Sex and the City

Recently, the movie "Love, Simon" came out, produced by some of the same people who produced "The Fault in Our Stars," an adaptation of John Green’s hugely popular YA novel. "Love, Simon" is not dissimilar to many teen-centered romcoms of today, except for the fact that the main character, Simon, is gay. The film is considered the first major film produced specifically for teens, which centers around a gay character’s journey in regard to his sexuality — and while this achievement is awesome and seeing characters who are not straight on screen is great, it seems worthwhile to consider how a gay narrative exists in the style of a teenage love story, which, when is seen on-scene, is usually saturated in heterosexuality.

Two things are at play when we consider "Love, Simon" — the history of the queer narrative and the history of the teenage romantic comedy. For example, in "Moonlight" and "Call Me by Your Name," it is easy to observe that there is an internal struggle in coming to terms with one’s queerness. It is not often within narratives that gay characters get happy endings — this is so common that there is actually a trope for it, the Bury Your Gays trope. By all means, the Bury Your Gays trope is negative, and there should be positive queer narratives represented within the media, but at the same time, it seems that nuance is necessary when considering to what degree queer narratives should differ or be similar to straight ones. It is worth noting, though, that the Bury Your Gays trope is one which more often than not applies to lesbian or bisexual women than it does to queer men. ("San Junipero," a "Black Mirror" episode, has been lauded for its dismantling of the Bury Your Gays trope in regard to queer women). And of course, as one considers queer male narratives, one may notice the lack of popular queer female characters, specifically in film — we have had Carol, but not much since.

"Love, Simon" has received mixed reviews for that reason. Simon is a classic character in teen romcoms — he lives in the suburbs, he is white, he has a happy family and is financially well-off. His family is liberal — in one of the moments narrated by Simon, he says that he knew his parents would not have an issue with his sexuality because of their progressiveness, and during this voice-over, the viewer sees Simon’s mom making a sign for some sort of march, which says something about destroying the patriarchy. On one hand, this takes much of the complexity away from the issue of coming out. Coming out, for some people, raises questions regarding the person’s physical safety, if his family will kick him out, disown him. One can only hope that the audience does not take the fact that Simon does not have any of these fears for granted, because although Simon nods at his luck, there is not much rumination about it. At the same time, the fact that Simon is aware that his family will accept him yet is still hesitant to come out certainly speaks to the difficulty of coming out. While some people may fear for their well-being when coming out, others likely do have some sort of knowledge that their family will not do anything horrible — and coming out is still something daunting for them. The acknowledgement that coming out is basically universally difficult, to some degree, seems important for queer audiences to feel validated in regard to but also for straight audiences to recognize. Of course, one situation is harder, but they both have merits. 

"Love, Simon" may not depict a best case scenario for a young man coming out — Simon is involuntarily outed to his friends by someone at his school, which of course causes some strife — but he is dealt a good hand. Even if Director Greg Berlanti wanted to keep his main character white, wealthy and within an accepting family, he could still show some of the complexity of being closeted. Growing up and coming to terms with one’s sexuality, and then subsequently hiding it for whatever period of time one may, is something which is lonely, sad and just plain difficult, regardless of how many privileges one is afforded. "Love, Simon" seems to, if not avoid these feelings, dwell on them for long enough.

Still, there is something to be said about seeing a gay narrative done in the style of a film which is so typically straight. While the film perhaps could have done more, what it does provide is a happy ending, an optimistic outlook for its gay titular character — and this is exciting to see. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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