Love, Simon (2018) tells the story of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) and the events leading to the public revelation of his identity. A certain online post leads to a series of anonymous email string that reveals both the depth and need of the human spirit to communicate and relate. But the tangle of social conventions and the circle of human feelings complicates Simon’s story and threatens to jeopardize his chances at freedom and love. Does it have to be a happy ending? But it’s the story itself that makes the ending.
I like how the film unfolds from the point of view of ordinary, normal life. Specifically, I liked how it started and took the whole narrative of the male homosexual in non-sexual terms. I mean most gay-centered films, mainstream or indie, begin or capitalize on the sexuality of the male homosexual. But Love, Simon departs from it and instead follows through a non-sexualized slice of life narrative.
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This cinematic portrayal is important because the male homosexual, and other members of the LGBTQI+, have always been seen from a hypersexualized perspective. Sure, sexual preference and sexual activity are key determinants of one’s identity. But what irks me is the sensationalization of queer sex like some sort of a carnival act.
“Butt sex”. Really? That’s your best card? Getover it. Pussy-sex is so cliche; and guess what, butt sex is a thing too among straight relationships. And, it goes both ways. See pegging.
Throughout the film, the normalcy of the gay person is emphasized. He is not special. He is not another specie. He is a human being just like everybody else.
Another good thing about the movie is it avoided the “Cover Girl” pitfall. What I mean is the story did not use the female as a launching pad for the gay man’s identity crisis and the ensuing hide-and-seek. Sure Simon could’ve used a dose of EQ, but the situation wasn’t so dire in a sense that he needed to use a lady friend to cover his tracks or to act as a sort of excuse.
But what’s so evident throughout the film is the effects of toxic masculinity, not only among male gays but also to straight guys as well. Toxic masculinity forces and oppresses every male to conform to a single mold of manliness which is being hardbodied/muscled, sexually assertive, dominating, an inclination towards violence/bullying, homophobia, and misogyny.
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Simon’s physical representation is also worth looking into. His physique and behavior departed from the stereotype that the male homosexual is a feminized male. His features are soft but not feminine. He is not effeminate. He’s not into mushy songs and enjoys the league.
Although the so-called signs of gayness are definitely unreliable and erroneous (like a guy’s way of checking out his nails kr elbow), these misonceptions are still held by so many today. This is one explanation why many a boyfriend call their girlfriend’s K-Pop idols as gays because of their almost feminine features and mannerisms. But girls, you know your Oppa isn’t gay, right?
The beautiful, feminized male is a staple of Northeast Asian pop culture. Tranlasted as “pretty boys”, “beautiful men”, they are called Kkonminam in Korea and Bishounen in Japan. What’s so amazing with these pop-culture constructs is that they were created and patronized to cater to a female audience. This is a reversal, this is the Female Gaze! Watch “Wang-ui Namja (The King and the Clown) and read how it contributed to the discourse of the pseudo-homosexual.
Going back to Love, Simon.
What I would like to point out in this film, however, is that it falls under the hegemony or the dominance of the “Coming-Out” discourse in the Euro-American queer theory and experience.
Simply put, this discourse states that a gay person must come out as a gay person to the public so his identity can be fully realized. He is to confess through words and deeds, physique and mannerisms, that he is gay. To “come out of the closet” means to be free. And anything less than that means that the gay person is oppressed or has not yet come to terms with his sexuality and identity.
I know that an identity must be communicated, communication being a two-way process, for its existence to be recognized. But why the pressure to reveal it to family, to colleagues, to the public? Why must the gay man be pressured, tyrannized to out himself in the expected way as stepping outside in a different set of clothes?
Here lies my problem with this coming out narrative. By giving so much emphasis on the ritual of “coming out”, it has become an exotic ceremony of sorts, an expectation, a norm which demands submission from its converts. Therefore making it an alienating, an “extra-normal” experience that actually highlights division rather than integration with society.
My readings on male homosexual culture in Northeast Asia, especially through the lens of Mark J. McLelland, author of “Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities”, indicate a resistance to the dominance of the “coming out narrative” of “Western Queer Theory”.
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According to McLelland’s Japanese respondents, they do not see the need and urgency to reveal their identity to their informal and formal social circles. This perspective towards the realization of the male homosexual identity shows how sensitive it is to cultural contexts and experiences. And therefore, to prescribe or to assert that there is only one way to realize this identity is both misleading and insensitive.
But the film, through Simon, takes a non-prescriptive turn by stating that coming-out is a freedom, a personal choice, where the manner, setting, and audience belongs to the gay man alone, and of which no one should tamper with. But since it operates within the Euro-American context, it predictably follows the dominant prescription.
Do not be pressured to conform. You don’t need to come out and reveal if that’s not really your thing.
Love, Simon reflects some realities but not all realities. Therefore, if you are a gay man reading this, do not expect and assume your life will follow the same course.
The lottery of birth and life-in-general is not always kind. Fortune doesn’t always favor the brave; for “there are dreams that cannot be and there are storms we cannot weather.”
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I know this film may not turn out to be your life story. But nonetheless, I agree with Simon: “You deserve a great love story, too.”
We all do.
And to help create great stories, my fellow Filipinos, support the passage of the SOGIE Bill and the Same-Sex Marriage Bill.
Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.