- Beckah Whittaker
Why I didn't, in fact, love Simon
*SOOOOO many spoilers for this movie*
I went and saw the film “Love, Simon” last Saturday. I was excited to see a feature film with a big budget starring a gay character, and, with my dollars, wanted to make sure the studios knew that such projects were worthwhile. I enjoyed the film while I was watching it, although there were several scenes that made me uncomfortable. I left having had a good experience, but not particularly enthusiastic about the story or its telling. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had more than a few issues with the film. A couple of disclosures:
1) I have not read the book “Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” so I do not know how well the film corresponds to the original source material. It could be that the issues I have with the film were addressed in the book. It could be that the adaptation is really faithful and I would therefore have the same problems. I’m not sure.
2) I am a gay person. I identify as genderqueer, although I am biologically female. I didn’t come out until I was in my early 20’s, so I didn’t have the same high school coming out experience that many people (including Simon) have. I was raised in a very religious environment, so I did experience a lot of fear and anxiety regarding my coming out, although in the long run and with all things considered my experience was very positive. My family and friends have been very loving and supportive throughout my gay journey.
3) I’m not really into rom coms, so there may have been effective uses of tropes I'm not familiar with. What I realized, as I was driving home and thinking back on what I experienced, was that I just didn’t like Simon as a person. Most of the other issues I have with the film stem from this core disappointment in how the character was written/portrayed. I thought the actor did a fine job, but the character himself was kind of a jerk. I was disappointed he didn’t stand up for Abby when Martin first blackmailed him, that he didn’t express that Abby is a human being with her own feelings and autonomy and freedom of choice. I was disappointed he didn’t expend any energy trying to come up with an alternative solution in dealing with Martin. He made his little sister cry and didn’t even go after her to apologize when she came offering kindness. He curated a list of Christmas songs for the anonymous young man he was in love with. Who was Jewish (they could have been secular songs. I didn’t see the list. But still.) He put Bram in an incredibly difficult position and hijacked his own coming out story (which, frankly, I would have been much more interested in). And I was especially disheartened that he didn’t feel he could trust his friends enough to enlist their help, considering how his relationship with his friends was portrayed. I understand that coming out is a big deal. It is never easy, no matter how loving and supportive you believe your friends and family will be. But wouldn’t this have been a lovely opportunity to share a story about overcoming your fear and opening up to your friends rather than working so hard to try and prevent something that became inevitable in the end? Especially because, after Simon was outed, they all reached out to him with love. Everyone’s coming out story is different, and perhaps I’m being reductive, but I felt the story would have been better served if Simon had made the decision to control his own coming out, rather than exploit his friend’s emotions for his own self-interest. (And they were angry. Rightfully so. And then...they weren’t? I assume there was some kind of meaningful reconciliation in between.) One of the reasons I take umbrage with the story is it seems statistically impossible that there would only be one openly gay student in that entire school. Based simply on the abundance of stairways, Creekwood is a pretty big high school. I went to two fairly small high schools in somewhat conservative towns and I still knew more gay kids than Simon. And while Ethan was bullied, he still had supportive friends who stood up for him, which implies at least a nominal level of tolerance within the student body. When Simon was outed and he showed up to school, I felt a glimmer of hope when he saw the vice principal wearing a small Pride flag pin on his lapel. I thought, “yes, what a beautiful way to show support for the young gay kids who are struggling to come out. There are adults who are allies, who are there to be safe spaces in the confusion of high school.” And then he was still terrible, and ignorant, and I was left feeling as though another opportunity was missed. What was most disappointing to me, which is an unfortunately prevalent issue within the gay community, was the level of misogyny that went unaddressed. The scene in the Waffle House was especially distressing. Abby, a young woman of color, is coerced into spending time with someone she doesn’t want to hang out with, and when she offers him a small morsel of personal information, Martin seizes upon it and tries to use it to convince her he’s a good guy. He ignores her repeated “no’s” and denies her consent. The music implied the moment was supposed to be inspirational, but it just left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. And poor Leah. She became relegated to the female friend who is hopelessly in love with her best friend whom she doesn’t realize is gay. I may be being hypercritical, but it is a fact that women’s stories, especially gay women’s stories, are not regarded as being as important, serious, or valuable as gay men’s. This is especially true of trans women, who are subjected to a troubling level of hatred, disgust, and violence on a daily basis. These are issues I take with many gay films, including “Brokeback Mountain” and “Call Me By Your Name,” films I love deeply. I think it is important to recognize the problematic history of gay representation in Hollywood, and while “Love, Simon” is a step in the right direction, it cannot be above criticism or we are ignoring the issues inherent within our own community. I want this film to be a positive experience for some people. I want young gay people to understand they are not alone in their struggle. I want straight friends and family to become better allies by seeing a movie like this in theaters together. While I found more to fault than to admire about this particular story, I appreciate the reception it has been granted. I only hope next time around we can do even better.