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Why "Love, Simon" is a Warm Hug for Gay Men

In "Love, Simon," the 2018 romantic comedy directed by Greg Berlanti, we encounter a significant departure from the historically grim or overly sexualized portrayals of LGBTQ+ narratives. The film provides a view into the life of a closeted gay high school senior, Simon Spier, who is striving to reconcile his sexuality with his daily life. What makes "Love, Simon" particularly interesting is how it straddles the line between a utopic narrative and the reality of many gay youth today. While it isn’t the perfect film, it still fills a genre gap that’s needed in gay narratives. Hallmark-like films, wholesome stories, films that aren’t just dark and tragic.

These opinions were taken from MenLovingMenMedia SubReddit for a public discussion and to help creators understand gay stories.

To understand the reception of "Love, Simon," one must first recognize its cultural context. After decades of queer narratives that often end in tragedy, or revolve around the sexual aspect of gay relationships, the emergence of a film that culminates in a Ferris wheel kiss is undoubtedly refreshing. It's the happily-ever-after many viewers, gay or otherwise, yearn to see. In essence, the film serves as a palate cleanser, a departure from the darker, more complex LGBTQ+ films like "Brokeback Mountain" or "Moonlight."

However, the reaction to "Love, Simon" is also textured with critiques. For some, the film's narrative is too sanitized, almost to the point of homogenizing the gay experience into a one-size-fits-all coming-out story. Simon is white, middle-class, and comes from a progressive family, which irons out much of the intersectionality commonly found in queer narratives. He is cushioned against many of the hardships that plague other LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those of color or from conservative backgrounds.

Yet, to dismiss "Love, Simon" for its lack of gritty realism is to overlook its emotional reality. The comments in the discourse surrounding the film illuminate this. Viewers find solace in its polished narrative, not necessarily because it mirrors their own experience, but because it reflects an aspiration. KennethHwang, in a heartfelt confession, illustrates that the film serves as an emotional refuge from a world that is still "far too brutal." Likewise, mistakes_were_made24 articulates that the film, though not entirely representative, still serves as a "warm hug," a comforting escape.

KennethHwang: I didn't watch it for the realistic value. I watched it, as well as Alex Strangelove, Heartstopper, The Fosters, Andi Mack, etc... for the gay child in me who craved for media that didn't have people like me either dying, breaking up or plunging into constant self destruction. I watched it for my teen gay self that was outed, ridiculed by my schoolmates and emotionally stunted by my parents. I watched them for my barely twenty gay self who was assaulted, slurred against and was at the verge of self harm. I'm watching them now for my early thirty gay self who wrestle with at least five minutes of suicidal thoughts first thing every morning.
It's not that I'm ignorant to the bitterness, solitary and pain of queer identity, it's that I know and have witnessed the sweetness and joy and profound happiness as well. Thus I choose to celebrate that in tandem with the hardship because it makes no sense to cut someone else with the mangled edges life inflicted upon me.
So if I happen to enjoy a cheesy coming of age gay rom com or a saccarine Hallmark gay TV hour long feature, then it's because THOSE twinkles also exist alongside the blackholes. Those that come after me deserve their emotional refuge in this world that, though better than mine, is still far too brutal on them. And I suspect that I'm not the only one with this sentiment.

mistakes_were_made24: My personal coming out journey was a bit different and I'm older but I pretty much agree with everything you stated. I had a bad coming out filled with bullying, shame, depression, trauma, and isolation so I need to see the happy fantasies too, to know that it works out for some people, that there can be happiness in being queer. I need to see the support I never got (that "you're still you" speech his mother gives him had me sobbing), I need to see gay teens able to have the normal developmental milestones that I never got to have to understand what was absent from my experience and to understand how I was failed. Sure I would have liked an actual gay actor to play Simon for equal opportunity but in the end it didn't matter for me. I watched the film 3 or 4 times in theatres and countless times at home. It's a warm hug for me, the same way Heartstopper is. I had similar reactions to both.

Moreover, the call for more "wholesome" gay content in the vein of "Love, Simon" underscores a community's need for varied portrayals that include joy and triumph, not just struggle and despair. As KC_8580 astutely points out, not every LGBTQ+ narrative has to be a "documentary." Romantic comedies offer an escapism that many crave, and if straight audiences have had this luxury for decades, why shouldn't gay audiences?

KC_8580: It's realistic but not for everyone... I mean there are very liberal-leaning places where you can have an experience like Simon's if you are gay like an an accepting family and an accepting community and also that is the experience for young millennials and Gen Z who are coming out in an more accepting family. Not all gays are having an experience of struggling and hardness.
Also Love, Simon apart from being fiction is a romantic comedy and in my opinion that is what gay need, beautiful stories, happy ending, happiness at the end and stories that make you dream.
I don't know what is the fixation some gays have with wanting everything to be realistic or reflecting reality or everything having to reflect as much suffering as possible or everything being political with a big political statement. Romantic comedies aren't documentaries! I watch Love, Simon and Love, Victor and also Bros, Heartstopper, The Holiday Sitter and all that stuff because I don't want to watch my reality being reflected, I have enough of that, I don't watch them seeking realism, I watch them because I want to watch happiness.

There are, of course, those who argue that the film's narrow focus on a sanitized gay experience is a miss. It certainly is a valid critique. However, this viewpoint can co-exist with the idea that "Love, Simon" holds immense value for those yearning for a narrative where love, acceptance, and a dash of teenage awkwardness culminate in a happy ending.

"Love, Simon" manages to be both a mirror and a window: a reflection of the realities many LGBTQ+ people face, and a portal into the varied emotional landscapes of a community. To demand that it fulfill every expectation is to place upon it an impossible burden. Yet, its existence—and the discourse it inspires—signifies an undeniable step forward in the ever-evolving storytelling of gay narratives in fiction.


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