April 7, 2020
It’s true that one of the biggest divisions between straight and gay people is their skewed perception of the other group’s dating pool; straight people naturally won’t fully understand how difficult it is for gay people (any LGTBQ+ person, for that matter) to find a romantic or even sexual partner simply due to a smaller selection. And gay people, like myself, won’t always understand just how easy, or even difficult, straight dating is.
It’s not easy for all of us, but we all experience dating differently. The truth is, though, that gay people growing up will have less experience dating those that they want to date, unlike straight people, who can have a crush and date that crush without judgement or shame. “Love, Simon” shows us the difficulty of being gay in high school, and to say one good thing, it does paint a picture of what it’s like to be gay, but its fatal flaw lies in the movie’s context.
Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) is a white, clearly upper-middle-class 17-year-old boy with a secret. He’s gay. Simon’s group of friends are supportive of anything he does, and everyone seems to love him without question. Which is where the movie gets it right; no matter how loving your family is or your friends are, saying the words “I’m gay” and living your truth is almost never easy at first. It’s terrifying.
But unrealism wins in this case. Simon’s conflict revolves around this big secret he has, which he shares with an anonymous internet-user at his high school who’s come out as gay. But who is this mysterious person he’s fallen in love with on-screen? He goes through friend after friend trying to figure it out, from his tall, big-smiled friend Bram (Keiynan Lonsdale) to the charming waiter who gives Simon “the eyes” and tells Simon how glad he is that Simon came to the homecoming game. But alas, almost all prospects fall through with a disappointing reveal that they aren’t actually gay.
In an effort to keep his secret a secret, Simon follows his classmate Martin’s (Logan Miller) orders (blackmail, of course) to set him up with Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp) after he discovers Simon’s secret. As the story goes, Simon will do anything to keep his reputation, even pawn his friends off to other classmates. After all, Simon isn’t ready to come out. It’s not his time.
Very few gay people actually have the luxury that Simon does, though. Really, you don’t even have to have the word ‘gay’ in that sentence. Simon lives in this grand colonial house with his liberal, white parents; a large bedroom and queen-sized bed; and a family that will have coffee, orange juice and pancakes waiting in the kitchen every morning. Basically, every quality that would scream “privilege” in today’s world. Even his friends Bram, Abby and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.)–all POCs–are white-washed and mixed. Everyone else in the movie is white, white and white. Not at all representative of our nation’s reality.
Which is what we need. On one hand, it’s great that gay people have finally gotten a movie that at least normalizes homosexuality. On the other hand, it takes a step back in time and realizes the ‘American dream’ with your ‘average’ American character (read: white and straight passing). Maybe that’s just the way that gay media needs to be introduced into the mainstream, but at what cost? At least they didn’t use the “kill every gay romantic interest” trope.
Now, even though straight-passing is somewhat problematic in this movie, at least they successfully manage to bring up the issue with Simon’s other gay classmate, Ethan, who is quite the opposite from him. Seemingly care-free, the type that most of us would look at and assume to be gay (they even make that joke in the movie). Simon’s “all-hoodie wardrobe” isn’t on your typical gay person’s register, apparently.
That said, I’d disagree, in reality, with problematizing straight-passing qualities in LGBTQ+ people, because in the end, we all can dress, talk or act how we want, and maybe who we are just happens to pass as the stereotypical cis-het persona. So, because of that, I’ll give “Love, Simon” a pass on that.
What the movie does get right is how wrong it is to out an LGTBQ+ person. Simon’s online pseudonym, “Jacques,” is from the French translation of “Simon says;” and Simon says that he’s the one who gets to come out, to decide when and where and how to do so. As the game goes, we need to respect what Simon says. Outing someone is never acceptable, which is arguably the most important takeaway from this movie.
Is the movie enjoyable? Yeah. No matter how cheesy or how much it makes you go, “That wouldn’t actually happen” or, “That’s not how it is,” there are moments that make you tear up, and moments that make
you wish your parent(s) would act as warm as Simon’s perfectly accepting family. And despite the unrealistic lifestyle Simon lives, Robinson does a good job molding himself to the movie’s definition of “Simon.”
Credit goes to the young actors, many of whom clearly put their hearts into these roles. It’s a tough one to take on. Special gold stars to Katherine Langford, who plays Simon’s best friend, Leah. She really is a star, through and through.
So, take these words into consideration when watching the movie. Remember that it isn’t faithful to what the average gay person will go through, because many will be much worse off than Simon Spier in his silver-platter safe space. But also keep in mind that “Love, Simon” does have the LGBTQ+ community’s best interest at heart, and that means normalizing non-cis, non-straight lifestyles in American media. It’ll take more movies in succession, like this one, to get us to that point in the country where it isn’t overwhelmed with prejudice towards gay people.
Love, Israel, Culture Editor of The Scribe.