A few days before Christmas my mom asked if I wanted to go watch “The Greatest SNOWMAN” with her and some friends. Me, assuming this was some new animated, holiday movie, agreed excitedly! (Imagine my shock when I realized I was actually watching a movie about P.T. Barnum and there was no loveable snowman in sight!)
Regardless, I settled comfortably into my seat and began sorting the snacks I had smuggled into the theater. (I’m not trying to pay three dollars for a water.) Right as I was opening my chocolate s’more bar, a familiar scene filled my screen. I had seen it before, the awkward somewhat nerdy boy lying next to the typical girl next door in a very Fault in Our Stars way.
I just couldn’t quite recall why it seemed so familiar. Was this actor in a TV show I had watched? (Technically yes, he played Ryder Scanlon in my girlfriend Melissa Joan Hart’s sitcom “Melissa & Joey”) But that wasn’t it. I knew I had seen the preview before and that’s when my stomach dropped.
The movie, Love, Simon follows the life of a gay teenager as he navigates the difficulties of friendship and love. It’s one of the first gay coming-of-age movies produced by a major Hollywood studio. Simply put, it’s the movie I’ve been waiting my entire life to see. I just didn’t realize how afraid I actually was of seeing it.
The second I heard Nick Robinson, who plays Simon, say “nobody knows I’m gay”, I nearly had a panic attack.
It took me back to the first time I had seen the promo. It was during a commercial break for CW’s Riverdale. I happened to be watching with (lets call him Dan for privacy.) Now Dan has known I’m a lesbian for the last four years. However, he still reacted viscerally to the promo. “Oh god,” he scoffed. “It grosses me out to see two guys together, sorry it just does. I think there’s something weird about it.”
I absolutely freaked out on him. I can’t recall a time in my life that I’ve been angrier. I was essentially seeing red, calling him out on his homophobia. In response, he had the audacity to tell me that he was fine with gay people but not when they ACTED gay.
So, being the confrontational Scorpio that I am, I made a point to loudly say “EW!!” anytime I felt things were getting a bit too “hetero.” He didn’t appreciate it either.
Knowing that someone very close to me could be that overtly homophobic made me feel like I was on trial in that theater. My heart started to race as I looked over at my mom, her friends, and the old white men behind me. I kinda slumped in my seat and muttered, “oh my god, I hope no one says anything homophobic.”
My mind started racing and I refused to look at the screen. Will it be obvious that I’m gay? With my neff hat, buzz lightyear high-tops and plaid shirt, it’s not difficult to spot. Will I be opening myself up to judgment, bigotry and hatred if I defend the movie? Do my mom’s friends even know I’m a “friend of Ellen.” Despite knowing the profound need for a positive representation of gay love in mainstream media, I found myself secretly wishing it wasn’t being shown in my theater. It was “too gay.” I simply wasn’t ready for the persecution I imagined facing because of the loving looks and male-on-male intimacy.
Then I became so deeply ashamed of myself. In a society where gay teens are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, I realized that my own behavior was part of the problem. By not embracing Love, Simon I was being complicit in perpetuating homophobia. I was selfishly too busy ascribing to the faulty notion of watering down my homosexuality to conform to societal norms.
But this movie matters because representation of diversity in media is linked to increased levels of tolerance, understanding and acceptance. In fact, seeing queer characters on TV has been proven to have as much of an impact on acceptance as knowing someone personally. Just look at how much society has progressed since Ellen Morgan, played by Ellen Degeneres, uttered the words “I’m gay” on her hit TV show “Ellen” in 1997. After this, Ellen lost absolutely everything but now, 20 years later, she’s one of the most iconic talk show hosts on TV. She summarizes it best in an interview with Oprah: “The fact that [everyone is] willing to accept me into your homes every day when no one thought that would ever happen again, it means the world to me.”
(I’ll write a blog post about how TV has helped advanced the acceptance of LGBTQA people)
For years straight people have seen themselves reflected in popular media. They’re watching Roses and Jacks, Allies and Noahs and Romeos and Juliets every single day. But queer people are rarely afforded the same luxury. This year saw the highest percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer characters on primetime programming, but it was still only 6%.
Thank you, 20th Century Fox, for giving the gay community this wonderful gift. It’s a groundbreaking movie that will (and has already) brought hope to so many LGBTQA children, adolescents and adults. I hope it leads to a day where I can watch two men or two women kiss in public without instinctively fearing everyones response.
The trailer was met with laughs and only one audible groan (by the aforementioned white dude in the back.) It was a wake up call for me to deal with my internalized homophobia and begin working on living authentically. Thank you, Love, Simon.