When I saw “Love, Simon” last semester with my two best friends, I knew what I was getting into. It would be a film that was overly polished, about a gay high school student who, aside from his more general story, was ultimately unrelatable. Throughout my life, I have found sad films and sad queer films, when they were available, to be a kind of chicken soup for the melancholy gay boy’s soul. Films and novels that I have connected with most deeply, such as “Brokeback Mountain” and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room,” have what writer Brandon Taylor calls a kind of “aesthetic sadness” and tell the stories of outcasts, private lives and love unrequited or unfit for the circumstances at hand. It felt that these films were what really validated my sadness and my own struggles with my queer identity. I wanted to resist “Love, Simon” because it was outside the realm of what I knew to be queer representation in media — not only the representation of queerness that I was primarily exposed to, but the one I sought out, because as a lonely queer kid growing up, these kinds of films seemed to validate my struggle and nurture a longing in me that stemmed from the loneliness and my own internal experience of queerness growing up.
While I have lived among the most privileged generation of queer people in history, a certain outlook on life was fostered by a constant fear of reveal and rejection, the feeling of being a sexual deviant, after having grown up with the conversations around Proposition 8 that implicated same-sex marriage as an incriminating, sacrilegious and perverse lifestyle. I also grew up with the knowledge that one of my mom’s best friends, a first-grade teacher at my elementary school, was gay. I spent countless evenings and nights at his family’s house watching “Spirited Away” and playing dominoes in a space that had at times felt like a second home to me. But, alongside other students at school, I heard stories of parents who held their children out of his first-grade classroom for weeks until a transfer was made into an alternative one and discussions from children around campus that his relationship with his male partner was wrong. Being in third, fourth and fifth grade and hearing such conversations about someone who was so close to me was so deeply troubling. The upset feeling I experienced from hearing this discourse was compounded, too, by the inability to defend him, because no elementary school student’s words could hold fast against those of God, and moreover, by my gradual realization of my own queerness — that I was fated to live a life in which others perceived me in an identical way.
I think that I was worried that I might not relate to “Love, Simon,” but also that it would invalidate that kind of hatred as something in the distant past. Popular culture has a way of having too much luster, sometimes so much so that the portrayed lives of individuals on screen becomes alienating. But romantic comedies, as a part of popular culture, also have a way of reaching wide audiences with their universal plots of love, connection and emotion. When I saw “Love, Simon,” I cried. There is a line in which Simon’s mother tells him that she can see he has been holding his breath for years, having seen him grow up and out of the free-spirited child that he once was. My mom has said something very similar to me before, nearly verbatim. There has been something so unfamiliar, but refreshing, in seeing how queer popular culture has evolved in the mainstream, with music such as Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer and Troye Sivan’s “Bloom.” There is a part of me that wants to fault queer popular culture because the experience of unconditional self-love is something I have never totally been able to grasp and because of an intrinsic sadness that stems from my experiences of being queer that begs to be acknowledged. But the fact of the matter is that this is not the function of these films or this music. It is to celebrate the queer experience in a way that is so wide-reaching and public, a way for artists to proclaim that they are making space for their queerness, and you’re going to enjoy it in the process.
Admittedly, I have listened to Dirty Computer a lot this Pride Month, and I’ve thought a lot about “Love, Simon.” These small bits of queer culture encapsulate what Pride is supposed to be: an unabashed celebration of queer self-love and publicly embracing one’s identity. Much like my experiences at Pride weekend in San Francisco the past few years since coming out after high school, this evolution of queer culture in the media has taken getting used to, because in all honesty, it is nudging me toward an expression of queerhood that is unfamiliar and one that I have not yet grown totally comfortable with, one of radical self-acceptance and comfort that is simple and easy. And I am glad that it is.