When I was in high school, the Harry Potter movie franchise was in full swing. Except I wasn’t a Potter kid. Twilight started to take off. Except I wasn’t a Twilight kid, either. By the time both series ended, I jumped on The Hunger Games bandwagon to see what the fuss was about.
Still, there was a problem: No teen or young adult story featured a character like me.
Until this year.
Love, Simon, the first major studio teen film to have a LGBTIQ+ lead character, sees Simon (played by Nick Robinson) exchange emails with Blue, the pen name of the boy Simon’s talking to, after learning they’re both not-openly gay. The catch? Creekwood High School student Martin (Logan Miller) knows, and threatens to out Simon if he doesn’t hook him up with Simon’s friend Abby (Alexandra Shipp).
However, I left the cinema identifying with Ethan (Clark Moore), dubbed “the real queer role model of Love, Simon” by Them. The black, effeminate gay male receives schoolyard taunts by bullies. In response, he delivers A+ comebacks like “Can I get some hummus for that baby carrot?”
Like Ethan, I got called names from the guys at school. Fag, poofta, a gay c**t – you name it. But unlike Ethan, I didn’t respond to such taunts – and I wasn’t out either, meaning I copped the “Are you gay?” question a lot.
That’s not to say I didn’t identify with Simon and Blue. There was one scene I wished my younger self got to see. At the tail end of the movie, the guy behind Blue – Bram (played by Keiynan Lonsdale), a black Jewish boy in his class – asks Simon, “Are you disappointed that it’s me?” Simon’s response? “No.”
That moment unlocked so many firsts for me: it was the first time a queer person of colour was romantic material, the first time I saw an interracial gay couple together onscreen, and the first time I had seen a queer romance end on a happy note.
Love, Simon wasn’t the only movie this year to feature queer person of colour. Netflix’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before had Lucas James (Trezzo Mahoro).
Lucas assumes protagonist Lara Jean knew he was gay. “Don’t, like, tell anyone, though,” Lucas tells her. “I’m out and I’m not ashamed. You know, my mum knows. My dad … kinda knows. It’s just” – they both say together – “high school."
Even though Lucas takes up little screen time, his sexuality isn’t treated as a joke. He attends school, the lacrosse party, and the ski trip without someone making snide comments about his sexuality. Sounds unrealistic, yes, but I wished my high school experience was like Lucas.
I was relieved when the guys who bullied me left school – they were a year or two above me, for starters. Except the taunts kept coming when I was a senior – they came from the junior students this time.
The same can be said for Love, Simon’s Ethan, where even though his friends were not so surprised by his coming out, and even though he is subjected to bullying, he seems to enjoy his high school experience.
Seeing Ethan, Bram, and Lucas – and their high school experiences – meant so much to me. Growing up, I saw no queer men of colour onscreen. Just look at Christian from Clueless, male cheerleader Les from Bring it On, Damien from Mean Girls, and Patrick from Perks of Being a Wallflower. They were all white.
Lately, young adult stories have been led by non-binary women and women of colour – like Amandla Stenberg in 2017’s Everything, Everything and this year’s The Darkest Minds and The Hate U Give. Of course, let’s not forget Lana Condor playing Lara Jean in To All the Boys.
But I’d also like to see teen and young adult movies where queer POC get to be the heroes of the story. The stories I saw this year were led by cis white gay men: Love, Simon, Alex Strangelove, and Boy Erased. And as for Ethan, Bram, and Lucas? They were on the margins.
In her talk on Pretty Woman, essayist and author Roxane Gay called for more diverse love stories. “It’s ridiculous that we don’t allow ourselves to see people of colour loving each other and having lives and having fantasies,” she says. “When do we get that space?”
That doesn’t mean teen and young adult stories led by white gay men should be given less space. They’re as important as the stories I’d like to see, starring the Ethans, the Brams, and the Lucases in lead roles.
But I’m craving for that space, and so does my younger self.