Film

We Deserve To See Queer Romances That Don’t End In Death And Misery

It's real nice when gay people don't die on screen.

For a certain generation, the only queer relationship on TV worth talking about was the magical romance between Willow and Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It was notable for many reasons — it was one of the first lesbian romances we saw on screen, it was definitely the first depiction of levitating cunnilingus, and its violent ending gave birth to both a nerd-flaying uber-witch and a traumatised gay audience.

Since that episode, back in 2002, the battle has centred more on getting any representation of LGBTQI+ characters on screen, so we haven’t really been that fussy about what form it takes. But, as times have progressed, we’ve seen that when we do get queer characters on screen — and especially queer romances — they tend to end in tragedy.

But, things are starting to change.

Romantic Memes For At Risk Teens

In a recent article, Time questioned whether gay youth actually need films like the new teen blockbuster Love, Simon when their own lives have outpaced the advances the film makes in terms of representation.

“Can a love story centred around a gay teen who is very carefully built to seem as straight as possible appeal to a generation that’s boldly reinventing gender and sexuality on its own terms?” they asked. It’s a fair point.

Love, Simon is a lot of things — a sweet, YA coming of age film mostly —  but in terms of its delivery of its story, it’s not exactly revolutionary. It focuses on nothing more groundbreaking than a nice white boy falling in love and not having anything horrible happen to him.

If we want truly diverse queer stories, we need to focus on getting PoC, trans and gender fluid characters accepted on the screen. But that doesn’t invalidate why a movie like Love, Simon is actually an exciting step forward.

“Love, Simon represents something new: a look at what it’s like to be a gay teen that’s as slick and mainstream as can be, like any other YA romantic comedy,” Time put forward, unwittingly kind of disproving some of their own argument. That’s precisely the reason why young queers need films like Love, Simon — because we haven’t seen them before. This is “revolutionary”.

It’s an important step for queers to get our own slightly boring, unconfrontational box-office romances.

Another good example of this is the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name, a sensuous love story between a teen boy and a grad student set over a dreamy, timeless Italian summer in the ’80s.

This choice to make the film insular and without greater world context is important, because it allows us to focus purely on the gorgeous romance without tragedy wedging itself into the story. Given the time period it’s set in, Call Me By Your Name could have easily taken that path — AIDS was happening, and homosexuality wasn’t widely accepted.

But instead, for one of the first times ever, we were able to focus on the all-encompassing heartbreak and beauty and benediction of a simple romance — and see it happening to a queer couple.

Our Lives Aren’t Always Tragedies

For a long time, the only stories depicting homosexual romances were big tragedies.

We’re talking about films like the devastating Brokeback Mountain or Holding the Man, plays like Angels in America or even torrid musicals like Rent, in which queer characters in love always ends up being bludgeoned to death on the side of a road, or dying slowly of AIDS.

It’s not that these forms of art are bad, or shouldn’t have been made — they’re important, beautiful stories. It’s more that there’s an unfairness in only seeing one kind of queer romances, especially ones that assume they always end in tragedy.

There are, unfortunately, many good reasons why these stories have traditionally been the default. Traditionally, the only movies brave enough to tackle gay stories were big prestige Oscar-nominated films or arthouse indies. And due to the nature of those genres, they tend to skew towards tragedy by default. You don’t see a rom-com winning Best Picture, but you also don’t see gay leads in a rom-com. Even when we do have queer characters in a rom-com, they’re providing the titular funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Plus as awful as this is, art imitates life, and for a long time queer people’s lives have been dominated by tragedy. There’s a very good reason that a film set in the time and geography of Brokeback Mountain ends in horrifying homophobic violence. There’s a reason everyone in Rent is singing about having AIDS in New York in the early nineties. The world is reflected back to us in queer stories.

Another problem is that because queer relationships on screen are so scarce, they’re given more focus as plotlines. And much like with Willow and Tara in Buffy, this has led to a weird trend of queer couples on screen being killed off.

The most famous recent example was in The 100, where queer favourite and warrior queen Lexa was killed. It’s been argued that because of the positive investment that audiences have in seeing queer romances, showrunners find it easy to manipulate emotions (and ratings) by snatching away those relationships — usually in horrifying, dramatic and violent ways.

Yay For Representation!

This is why it’s so refreshing, delightful and non-traumatic to see a kind of bubblegum love story like Love, Simon on our screens. It’s about time.

It’s nice to see examples of happy queer relationships, but it’s also incredibly important because it provides hope for queer people. Movies like Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name and TV shows like Sense8, Brooklyn 99 and Please Like Me prove that queerness doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

For many, the cute romances and immediate acceptance of queer people that they’re seeing on TV and film unfortunately doesn’t mirror what’s happening in their own lives. In fact, in many ways, things are still pretty awful for many LGBTQI+ people. And it’s good that the struggle is reflected in art.

Queer people need to know that things will get better, that they can just fall in love and be happy. It’s vital that we see positive coming out stories on screen, and it’s equally important that young queer people see hope — and a future in which their happiness is normalised.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.