Where Do Queer Love Stories Fit in the Rom-Com Renaissance?

Because balancing fantasy and reality can be harder than it looks.

It seems that there’s a romantic comedy renaissance happening in Hollywood. In its opening weekend, Crazy Rich Asians dominated the box office, earning $34 million in the United States. Netflix’s recent original content has included rom coms—Set It Up and the highly-anticipated To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before—which are both met with stellar reviews from critics and users alike. Love is in the air, and the new slew of films look to be the best place to see it.

Warner Bros.

But as much as seeing love onscreen is great, not everyone is seeing themselves represented fully. In what feels like a resurgence of movies that depict love as fun and light, is there room in the genre for queer love stories?

The issue of including queerness within romance stories isn’t that queer characters are completely invisible. The problem, however, rests in the relegating them to the background, always, rather than main characters. Both Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before have one queer character each, both of whom come out fairly early on in each film. But both Crazy Rich Asians’ Oliver T’sien (Nico Santos) and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Lucas (Trezzo Mahoro) remain very much side characters; though they are not tropes, their lack of characterization beyond their relation to the main character had me hoping for more.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

As a viewer, I loved both films. I enjoyed being swept away into the fantasy of love conquering all, even through the lies, misunderstandings, and hilarious mishaps that ensue. But even in the idea of love being a universal experience, it’s apparent just how different the idea and execution of love are between queer and heterosexual characters—even if they face similar marginalizations through race, gender, or other identities as their counterparts.

What exactly would a queer romantic film look like? It’s hard to say. Queer stories always have the additional struggle of balancing authenticity—that is, addressing the realities that are so closely connected to queer history and the desire that some may feel to see romance between queer people given the same lightheartedness and rose-colored romanticism that can be found in mainstream love stories. And that can be hard to do.

Romantic dramas exist for LGBTQ audiences—Pariah, The Handmaiden, Blue Is The Warmest Color, and Moonlight just to name a few—but these stories center on hard realities that queer people already know to exist for them. Much of the drama with these films (and LGBTQ dramas, in general) depict queerness through a lens of tragedy. Finding ourselves and finding love is not always the fantasy we wish it to be. But is it possible that these two things can coexist in telling a queer love story?

20th Century Fox

It is. Queer rom-coms have been done before: Trick, Imagine Me and You, and I Can’t Think Straight, among others, have shown that romantic comedies aren’t just for straight people. But the latest, and the best mainstream example we have is Love, Simon. Part of what makes Love, Simon work is because it addressed something that queer audiences are still starving to see onscreen: a love story that centers them and their unique struggles, but also addresses the necessity in seeing our love depicted as normalized as possible.

“But before you dismiss it as a ’funny Call Me By Your Name’ know that Love, Simon is not in the ’serious gay movie’ category, nor is it supposed to be,” NNN wrote in an essay about the appeal of Love, Simon. “Love, Simon isn’t doing any of those things because it assumes, correctly, we’ve already arrived. The brilliance of the flick lies in its determination to blend in with an already established genre and treat gay teens as they should be treated—as young adults with problems just like everyone else.”

A disparity still exists in those who are still largely centered in the few queer romances we do have available. Queer people of color are still absent from romantic comedies, despite racial representation within LGBTQ media as a whole slowly improving.

The realities that queer people face is a necessary part of our history, and have a right to be depicted on screen. But it’s just as important that queer people know that aspects of their lives don’t have to be centered on tragedy to be meaningful. Queer audiences, like any other marginalized group, deserve to see positive, light, even “fluffy” representation to escape into.

Writer for NewNowNext, Refinery29, Wear Your Voice, BitchMedia, etc. Budding sex educator. @NerdsOfPreycast cohort. She/Her.
@BlkGirlManifest