Computer Love“Love, Simon” Reveals the Liberatory Power of the Internet for Queer Teens

This story contains spoilers for Love, Simon.

We’re in an age where the internet might be the worst thing. From online abuse and harassment directed at marginalized folks, to the increased corporatization of the internet, to smartphone addiction, it’s hard to remember when the internet used to be fun. Love, Simon reminds us of how fun it was to get an email from another confused kid, hiding behind the mantle of anonymity and still figuring things out. Though on some level Love, Simon is a straightforward mainstream teen-flick release distinguished only by the fact that the central pairing is a same-sex one, the film also feels like a thesis statement about the liberatory potential of internet anonymity for queer teens.

Love, Simon, the film adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, centers on self-declared “normal teen” Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) who is harboring one big secret: He’s gay. He’s fairly sure that his family and best friends would be completely fine with this, but he’s just not ready to be out yet. Simon strikes up an online friendship with “Blue,” an anonymous male student who confesses on their school’s Tumblr page that he’s gay. When a classmate, Martin (Logan Miller), finds Simon’s emails to Blue, he blackmails Simon into hooking him up with one of Simon’s best friends. This sets off a series of events that form the A- and B-plot of your typical teen flick. Will Simon be outed to the school? Can Simon and Blue maintain their internet relationship? Will they ever meet in real life?

On the most basic level, Simon and Blue’s internet anonymity create some very good moments in this movie. As Simon wonders who Blue might be IRL, he narrows down on a list of candidates and promptly develops crushes on all of them. The film draws us into Simon’s fantasies, where these boys take Simon’s hand and draw him in for long kisses. It’s the same, almost-chaste anticipation that makes Carly Rae Jepsen work on such a totipotent level—what’s better, the feeling or the fall? For teenagers, they’re one and the same. And when you’re a teen who isn’t ready to disclose your sexuality, all love’s a fantasy. That sounds sad, but it’s also really, really exciting.

Accordingly, I can now declare what Love, Simon is about: That teenage feeling of having a crush on someone, potentially everyone; teens having only the vaguest idea of what gayness is and how it could apply to them; relationships in which you meet online; and queer teens’ right to, in Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s words, stay up late on their family’s computer. (Granted, Simon has his own computer and smartphone.)

Drew Starkey as Garrett and Nick Robinson as Simon in Love, Simon

Drew Starkey as Garrett and Nick Robinson as Simon in Love, Simon (Photo credit: 20th Century Fox/Illustration by Jessica De Jesus)

Gay teens have created their own community on Tumblr. Here, let me quote this statistic confirming what we already know: A 2013 study released by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 50 percent of surveyed LGBTQ teens reported having at least one close friend online, as opposed to 19 percent of non-LGBTQ youth. Love, Simon works on a gut-level recognition of this phenomenon: It can be hugely liberating to meet a kid your own age working through the same issues relating to sexuality, school, and well, life in general. And if you meet online without having to figure out how they fit into the complicated, microscopically-detailed social dynamics of your school peer group, it’s even better. In a smart one-two, Love, Simon smartly raises this issue and offers an answer by featuring an out gay character at school who Simon doesn’t hang out with, partly because he’s afraid of being outed, but also because they don’t belong to the same circles. It’s just not like that.

Love, Simon works because it feels like a love letter to a specific queer internet borne of staying up late, sweaty and paranoid, on the family computer. Director Greg Berlanti managed to translate the compelling allure of the internet onscreen, and for the first time in years, I found myself feeling cheerfully poptimistic about the (queer) internet again. Love, Simon brought me back to the feverish emailing from behind a veil of anonymity; the careful piecing together of a version of precarious, brand-new selfhood; and last but not least, the languishing over YouTube clips of Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie, that bastion of teen homoerotic thrills. Yes!

The downside of Love, Simon’s poptimism is its uneven take on social issues. There’s no indictment of the internet as facilitator-of-late-capitalism, but the film does address gloomier issues, including microaggressions, bullying, the fear of being outed, sexism, and Trumpism. Some of the elements, mostly found in Becky Albertalli’s novel, like Martin’s awkward blackmail, go off without a hitch when they are  given the due acknowledgement and screen time, while others were treated to a superficial one-two of acknowledgment-and-dismissal. Thanks for confirming that the film was made in 2017, I guess?

Overall though, I found myself swept away on a wave of cheerful goodwill for Love Simon’s queer internet. LGBTQ teens will almost certainly recognize the Love, Simon universe, blurred as some of its edges may be, and the movie might also make queer adults wish for a very different high school experience. As I came out of the theater, a grown woman screamed to her friend, “That was so CUTE!” Pretty much, yeah, this movie is so cute—and you won’t regret seeing it.

by Li Sian Goh
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Li Sian is a grad student and writer from Singapore living in Philadelphia. You can find her on Twitter at @extemporalli.

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