Pop Culture Intervention

Do We Still Need Gay Teen Rom-Coms Like 'Love, Simon'? The Answer Will Always Be Yes.

"I wish I'd had 'Love, Simon' when I was a closeted gay teen."

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

As a twentysomething gay man who loves films, the prospect of seeing a rom-com about a gay teen on the big screen was a game-changer. This is why I — and others, it seems — was over-the-moon happy the first time I saw a trailer for Love, Simon. Finally, I could see someone like me at the center of their own coming-of-age movie.

Then, about a week before it premiered, I saw a tweet that, to put it lightly, pissed me off. It came from Time and it declared Love, Simon "a groundbreaking gay movie." Nothing wrong with that, right? Then came the controversial part: "But do today's teens actually need it?" Hold. The. Phone.

A wave of feelings rushed up my spine and my fingers got to typing before I could even register what was happening. I retweeted the link with four words that now, more than a week after seeing the Greg Berlanti-directed flick, still ring true and say everything I need to say in response to that troubling and harmful question.

The article seems to argue that Love, Simon differs from other LGBTQ-themed films because it is aimed at a younger audience — unlike previous Oscar-nominated works such as Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight (which won Best Picture), and Call Me By Your Name — and that the movie "faces a double blind." For those LGBTQ youth who are in bad situations, they "might well find its stabs at relatability fairly ludicrous." As for those who are in much better situations, they're "probably too sophisticated" for it.

The author calls Love, Simon "a milestone that feels overdue," a first of its kind that is rendered irrelevant by the today's world. They note that adults, such as myself, will watch this and it will mean a lot for them to see this world depicted, one in which being gay is OK — which is accurate. This, though, is exactly why it suggests that young viewers don't need it at all.

In the end, I believe the Time writer doesn't think Love, Simon breaks enough barriers — that it isn't looking toward the future and, instead, looks to the past.

Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein / 20th Century Fox

I won't lie, the article does make a few points that are valid. Does Simon (played beautifully by Nick Robinson) present himself as a seemingly masculine, conventionally attractive, cisgender, privileged, White gay teen from a liberal, accepting, loving, well-off, and picture-perfect family? Absolutely. But should we necessarily hold that against the character? Not in my opinion. 

It's well established in the film and in the book it's based on — Becky Albertalli's Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda — that this is the case. That said, the movie and its source material are delivering the story in a package the mainstream will easily be able to latch onto and use this opportunity to take a chance to offer differing points of views. Most radically by questioning why straight, White, and cisgender are the norms, despite this being the lens through which we're watching the events unfold. Also, it would be remiss of me to not point out that the big screen adaptation and the book go out of their way to develop full, rich, and diverse world — based in Atlanta, no less — in which Simon resides.

Should we take away from Simon because he is loved by his friend, his family, and his school community? That feels unfair. Does every story about an LGBTQ person have to be filled with constant bullying as well as feelings of misery and self-hate? That's derivative. Plus, those things are present in Simon's story, we just get to move beyond them — and that's what's so radical about it all.

Yes, we have made progress for LGBTQ acceptance with the dismissal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the legalization of same-sex marriage to name a few improvements. And yes, we still have a long way to go in terms of protecting the rights and lives of transgender individuals, as well as preserving how far we've come and continue to make further advancements. It's movies like Love, Simon that will help with this. Don't forget that bullying, suicide, and homelessness rates are higher with LGBTQ youth.

To say Love, Simon isn't the most revolutionary LGBTQ movie ever is fair, but that doesn't mean we should discount it. It's the first of its kind, a stepping stone that opens the door for other LGBTQ films to make a splash in the pop culture zeitgeist. Are we looking at straight rom-coms or coming of age stories and asking why they aren't pushing a conversation full steam ahead? Do we critique them this hard? One with an LGBTQ plot shouldn't be held to an insanely high standard — after all, we're making up a lot of ground and it's unrealistic to expect everything right out of the gate.

I wish I'd had Love, Simon when I was a closeted gay teen. The film isn't changing the world — it doesn't have to — it just has to change hearts And that's exactly what it does.

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