In 2018, the movie Love, Simon created an uproar within the film industry and on social media for two reasons: one because it was notably the first film to be produced by a major Hollywood Studio to center on a gay teenage romance, and two because the story had a happy ending.
“Happily Ever Afters” are certainly a familiar trope found in almost every western Disneyfied fairytale or American romantic comedy in which two people meet, fall in love, and proceed to spend the rest of their lives together. Well, at least it is for white, cisgender, able-bodied, and heterosexual couples. For queer couples, happy endings are usually a little harder come by.
There’s a reason why the website TV Tropes, a pop-culture wiki, has cataloged “Bury Your Gays” as a media trope, which accounts for the excessive expendability of queer characters in relation to their straight counterparts. The phrase “life imitates art” holds true when you consider the real-life statistics of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, including those against trans women of color in the U.S.
For decades, queer characters in movies have suffered an unfair amount of tragic narratives thus coining the term “gayngst” (gay angst), in which they are shown to be suffering because of their sexualities/gender identities, or at least society’s unaccepting attitudes towards them. You only need to count the number of movies in which trans people have died (Boys Don’t Cry, The Danish Girl) or queer couples are separated by death or fate, never getting together at the end (Brokeback Mountain).
This is only augmented by the fact that the majority of queer movies center on white queer adults, leaving very little representation for queer teens, particularly those of color, who are often the most vulnerable members of our society and need media to validate their own burgeoning journeys of self-exploration and acceptance.
For every Love, Simon, there are 100 more straight Cinderella Stories where boy meets girl, they fall in love, and get together, often without the societal hurdles of homophobia or transphobia.
While Love, Simon was a beautifully validating experience for so many queer teens and adults, it still remains an exception within a very heterosexual rom-com hemisphere. What’s more, we have yet to see the teen Sapphic equivalent produced by a major Hollywood studio featuring a happy ending for young teens.
The last notable example of a film distributed by a major studio centering on a queer young girl is perhaps The Miseducation of Cameron Post, which, while important in recognizing the dangers of conversion therapy, didn’t exactly give teen girls the warm and fuzzies that Love, Simon did.
There is some hope of variety from other pop culture avenues, however. Recently, Netflix promised at least four queer films coming out this year, including the new Alice Wu production of “a modern-day Cyrano-meets-Pygmalion” story featuring two queer girls of color. They also included a lesbian storyline in their 2019 Christmas romcom Let it Snow.
As the recent Oscar nominations have demonstrated, Hollywood has a long way to go towards ratifying its lack of recognition for diverse actors or lack of effort to produce diverse films. While mainstream media (both fiction and nonfiction) is often dominated by heart-breaking stories of prejudice and violence against the LGBTQ+ community, especially its young LGBTQ members, queer happily-after-afters in teen romantic comedies not only stand to be important, but revolutionary.
In terms of creating what Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness calls “pockets of joy” in an otherwise harsh world, queer teen rom-com can help bring hope to younger and older generations alike in finding and achieving love from others and for ourselves.