I first read Becky Albertalli’s Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, in a single sitting on a summer evening in the middle of my board exams. It was one of those books that leaves you smiling, that makes your heart happy and full. I remember calling up my best friend and screaming to her about how this book was undoubtedly the cutest thing I had ever read. In hindsight, I must’ve looked ridiculous, sprawled out on my couch, grinning and giggling out loud, when I should’ve been drawing out equi-marginal utility graphs. So when I found out that this outrageously adorable novel was being adapted for the silver screen, and would be released in India, naturally, I rejoiced.
The trailer promised a perfect coming-of-age movie; imagine my disappointment when I found out that the film wasn’t going to be shown in theatres the day before it was slated to release in India. I wasn’t the only one who was let down by this change in plans – queer Indian Twitter rose up in arms when the news broke, tweeting with the hashtag #ReleaseLoveSimonInIndia. Noted queer activist Harish Iyer tweeted ‘ Every year scores of children commit suicide, slide into depression, adults and the young battle loneliness, mental health issues because of unjust laws and the idea that sexuality is a monolith. More depiction would lead to more acceptance.’
India as a nation has it's principles rooted in celebration of sexualities with no inhibitions. We are the land of the Kamasutra. We know love. We know sexuality. We make love, we celebrate sexuality. Therefore, CBFC, thou art anti-national. #repealCBFC #LoveSimon
— harish iyer (@hiyer) June 6, 2018
A little bit about the film – Love, Simon is an endearing film, directed by Greg Berlanti and starring Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Keiynan Lonsdale and Alexandra Shipp among others. It tells the tale of Simon Spier, a self-proclaimed ‘normal’ guy, who is secretly gay. Our lovable protagonist is in an email relationship with another gay boy at his high school who operates under the pseudonym Blue. Simon doesn’t doesn’t know who Blue is, causing him to agonise over who his mystery man really is.
Over email, they end up talking about a wide variety of things. They pose questions like, ‘Why is straight the default?’ questioning why heterosexual people never have to announce their sexuality the way queer people do. But their conversations aren’t limited to their experiences as gay boys, they also talk about things like Oreos, Game of Thrones and Elliott Smith. The films drives home the message that ‘gay people are just like us!’ without creating that divisory us-and-them narrative in the first place – an important and commendable achievement.
It does a good job of normalising same-sex relationships while also highlighting the common issues faced by LGBTQ+ individuals like harassment, being outed involuntarily and online bullying. It shows the affection and intimacy of a teenage same-sex relationship without being explicit, and in a big change from other movies, it also gives the characters a happy ending. Unlike its predecessors, Call Me By Your Name and Moonlight, which, while being masterpieces, were denied release or overly censored in more conservative countries.
I found myself wondering what the impact of a film like this would have been on gay kids and their straight counterparts had they watched it while growing up. I posed this question to some gay men and this is what they had to say:
Tanay Sane, an 18-year-old student from Pune, says that it would have been great to have a coming of age movie with LGBT+ characters and themes growing up as it would have helped him to feel less alone, and it would have helped his heterosexual peers to look at him as ‘more normal’. He also believes we need to consider the point that the majority of Indians, having grown up in a homophobic society would not have gone to watch a LGBTQ+ themed film, especially at that point in time.
Akshaj Awasthi, a 19-year-old student from Delhi, says that, had he had the opportunity to watch a film like this when he was younger, it would have afforded him to recognise his internalised homophobia earlier and he would have felt free from the pressure to follow societally imposed gender roles and would be less afraid to be himself. He believes that his cisgendered, heterosexual peers would have benefitted from watching a film like this in their pubescent and formative years as it would have shown them a depiction of the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light, which is something that has been missing from Indian pop culture. They would also recognise the degree of oppression that gay people face, even when they are, like Simon, from well-off families with liberal values. Awasthi believes that a film like this could also be of help to closeted members of the community, dealing with dysphoria and other mental health issues, and would help them create a support system within the community.
Love, Simon is not the be-all, end-all of queer representation in films, and neither is it an outwardly revolutionary film. Coming of age films cater to a specific audience of young people and this film, in particular caters to a very specific queer experience- one of a white gay boy, with supportive family and friends – which is not the experience of a majority of queer people, especially in India where section 377 criminalises ‘unnatural’ intercourse, and even pride month began with hate crimes against trans women in Thane. Where a reputed school in Kolkata shamed and harassed students for ‘suffering from homosexual behaviour’.
Yet, I maintain that these hate crimes and examples of discrimination are exactly why this film is important for audiences like ours. Especially in a country where LGBTQ+ representation in pop culture is always presented in an unabashedly negative light or used as a punchline, films like these, that portray members of the community as regular people, ostracised for no fault of their own, have a certain gravity. Revolutions begin with stories and conversations, and underneath the undoubtedly important discussions of representation and queer politics surrounding this film, that is all it is – a story. A story of high school romance, and first love. I will always fight for good stories to be told, because stories get us thinking and talking and a film like this, depicting a heartwarming romance between two gay teenagers, is certainly something that would improve the mainstream public attitude towards the gay community, in the current climate. It’s a love story in the purest, most innocent form. It’s a happy ending for a demographic that deserves it.
Yamini Krishnan is a 17-year-old from Pune, who writes poetry and will be pursuing a liberal arts degree come August. You can find her on Instagram at yaminikrishnan_
Featured image credit: Youtube screenshot