Love Simon

There’s a Lot to Love About ‘Love, Simon’

Jesse Tyler Ferguson of Modern Family fame considers his rendezvous with a sales clerk his unofficial coming out. “I had been stealing porn for a while. I had quite a little collection. And I would bring it into the house, and then I’d get nervous, so I’d hide it under the mattress, or I’d hide it behind a shed in the backyard,” he remarks, following with how he’d permit himself to “borrow” them from local stores until the day he was caught. Cheeky in retrospect, Ferguson wisely concedes that, at the time, it amounted to the most dehumanising, humiliating experience ever.

For a lot of young queer persons, that unofficial outing — the liminal realm where forces beyond one’s own cognition and agency manifest a quasi-outing of sorts — is, indeed, dehumanising. Sexuality is so profoundly personal, so inextricably linked to the self and not just identity, but pure, primal survival. It’s an almost sacred violation, then, to not only undermine or disrespect but to take that away.

Greg Berlanti’s 2018 comedy-drama Love, Simon, adapted from the bestselling novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, follows closeted high schooler Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) and his semester-long battle to keep his sexuality a secret after acquaintance Martin (Logan Miller) uncovers emails Simon has been sending to another boy, known only as “Blue.”

In a twisted game of sex and deception, the movie isn’t really prepared to fully unpack, Martin threatens Simon, proposing Simon secure him a date with friend Abby (Alexandria Shipp) unless he wants his secret shared with the entire school. It’s all very bubblegum pop, lighthearted teen antics with PG-wit and a cavalcade of McMansions and A-list parents–including Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner. There is a darker undercurrent to the entire ordeal, though, one that might ring false to heterosexual audiences but rings painfully, distressingly true to queer ones.

The burden of concealing one’s sexuality is among the most enervating things. Shoulders sag under the weight of a nebulous, internal burden. It is exhausting, and especially for young queer persons, there is little one can do beyond work through the discomfort, feign and smile and pantomime happiness and contentment. Go to school. Go to work. Do homework. Have dinner with family and friends. Then, sleep. Only, the sleep never really comes, at least thoroughly and sufficiently to feel refreshed the following day. In the darkest moments of the night, the secret is ghoulishly illuminated, a hazy threat hovering overhead. Every action resonates under enduring inquiry. Did I dress too gay today? How did I look and sound? Does anyone know? Are they thinking it? Can they see — can they sense — my secret?

Love Simon ferris wheel

Martin does eventually share Simon’s emails with Blue in the film’s climax. Blue, angry that their secret has been exposed, temporarily cuts off contact, and Simon’s friend — in an almost embarrassing feat of self-indulgence — make it all about them, angry and resentful that Simon never felt comfortable enough to share this secret with them. It probes without ever really interrogating, a hippy-dippy exploration of sexuality refracted through a John Green lens.
Yet, shortly thereafter, Love, Simon parcels out a profoundly simple truth. Jennifer Garner, always a secret-MVP, sits with Simon, her son, in the living room. He asks whether she knew — whether, at any point, she suspected he was gay.

“I knew you had a secret,” she says. “When you were little, you were so carefree. But these last few years, more and more, it almost like I can feel you holding your breath. I wanted to ask you about it, but I didn’t want to pry. Maybe I made a mistake.”

Simon responds, telling her she didn’t make a mistake at all. She didn’t do anything wrong.
“Being gay is your thing. There are parts of it you have to go through alone. I hate that. As soon as you came out, you said, ‘Mom, I’m still me.’ I need you to hear this: You are still you, Simon. You are still the same son who I love to tease and who your father depends on for just about everything. And you’re the same brother who always complements his sister on her food, even when it sucks. You get to exhale now, Simon. You get to be more you than you have been in… in a very long time.

When I first saw Love, Simon at an exclusive early screening with my graduate school’s Multicultural Student Center, I felt like I could breathe. It was a staggering breath — broken and fractured — but it was the fullest breath I’d felt in a very long time. It was the first time I felt I could breathe in forever.

My own queer identity was buried, alluded to and suspected, but never confirmed. I was involved in queer academic conferences and wrote lengthy papers on queer discourse, but I never actually said that I was gay. I was holding my breath.

There are stops as the trains trundles from stop to stop through verdant valleys and snowy peaks on its way toward full, unencumbered representation, and Love, Simon is just the first one. There are reams of stops and passengers waiting idly by for their own mainstream portrayals. Love, Simon, though, is quietly groundbreaking, grossing $66 million against a meager $10 million budget.

It certainly isn’t perfect. It’s too cutesy, too YA-safe to resonate as well as it could. Simon, too, epitomizes Masc-4-masc acceptance. Outside of one musical interlude, Simon is veritably, almost deliberately, straight-passing, a filmic tactic exploited for mainstream palatability and remunerative returns. Granted, that’s certainly true for some gay men (and those persons/identities are just as valid), but it is also there to assuage the dominant culture and make Simon more palatable to mainstream sensibilities.

Simon, too, is white, and while Blue (Keiynan Lonsdale) is Black, he’s a peripheral part of Simon’s journey, not his own as a queer person of colour. Yet, as noted, Love, Simon was the first time I had the chance to breathe in a theater in a very long time. The queer love story wasn’t tragic. It wasn’t horror trying to bury its gays. It was just a simple movie. Funny, charming, and with a person just like me in the lead. I might not love Love, Simon the movie, but I love Simon for what he means. A cinematic future where queer persons lead. A future where their movies are sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always — in living colour –seen.

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