One of the things I love most about reading, is how it can literally change someone’s life. Books have the power to change things, even if they’re minor things. They can. In this (hopefully) monthly series on my blog I am going to talk to you about the impact and the power YA books have. I’m going to include not just my own thoughts but also other people’s opinions and if I can find them, stats and figures.
This first post will be about Simon Spier (Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli), who has quickly become one of the most iconic LGBT+ YA characters and will probably only gain popularity once the movie (Love, Simon) is released over the world. I have sadly not been able to see Love, Simon yet because it’s not released where I live, but I have seen the impact it has had on many others.
This post does not include any spoilers about neither the book nor the movie it is simply a discussion of the effects Simon’s story has.
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is about Simon Spier, a closeted gay teen who has a crush on Blue, which is the pen name for a boy at school but he doesn’t know who he is. It is a story about coming out and the pressure to conform, about friendship, love and being gay in a hetero-normative society.
I think this story resonates with so many people who are LGBT+. It shows that they* are as much deserving of happy endings as anyone else is. It provides a start of a conversation that will hopefully last for a long time. It allows people to open up about their own experiences without the fear (or with less fear) of being judged. I have already heard so many stories of LGBT+ people for whom Simon’s story has made it easier to come out and come to terms with their sexuality.
*I’m saying they and not we because though I technically do belong to under the umbrella of LGBT+ or queer, I don’t think I should be included in this specific situation since I’m not alloromantic or allosexual and this book is not about my identities.
Simon and queer books
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda not only impacted people’s lives, it also gives rise to more LGBT+ stories being told. There are of course already books published but I don’t think that there have been stories about LGBT+ characters and LGBT+ issues that have been this popular and that really impacts publishing. Publishing now knows that stories like that of Simon sell and therefore it will hopefully become easier to publish other LGBT+ stories, and not only the “coming out” stories but all the stories: romance, adventure, sci-fi and so on. According to Malinda Lo, between 2003 and 2016 there has been a rise in LGBT+ stories and the number of LGBT+ books published by mainstream publishers has grown four-fold. There are no numbers from this source for 2017 and 2018 as of yet. However, the Cooperative Children Book Center has found that only 3.62% of all children’s and YA fiction published in 2017 had significant LGBT+ content (source). Of these books about half were about gay or lesbian characters. Though these numbers are low – much too low if you ask me – I believe those numbers are only going to grow more and more and a part of why is Simon Spier.
What we do notice when we look at Malinda Lo’s numbers is that the majority of these books that have been published are written from a cis male perspective followed not so very closely by cis female perspectives. CCBC did count the sexual orientations of the characters but it shows what is in my eyes a severe lack of representation of characters that are commonly placed under the “+”-part of LGBT+ (except for transgenders because weirdly there is even less representation for trans people than there is for non-binary people). Orientations such as pansexual, asexual and aromantic, are not or barely represented. All these numbers also do not show anything about intersectionality, or about the skin tone of the characters. What I really hope that starting with Simon, there will be more, many more LGBT+ stories that have intersections between mental health, skin-tone, privilege and sexual identities will be published, and that this book has revolutionized (or at least a little) the publication of queer stories.
Simon and queer movies
You cannot deny the success of Love, Simon – the movie adaptation of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. The movie is not only (one of) the first blockbuster movie(s) featuring a gay main character, it has also has made quite the impact on so many people. From gay teens finally seeing themselves represented, to the people around them who have gotten insight in what is to live as an LGBT+ teen in present society, the movie has touched many. As I have not yet been able to see the movie (can it be June already? Please?), I can only write this based on what I’ve heard from others who have.
There have been other movies featuring queer characters but none of them have had this same approach, or at least not to my knowledge. Love, Simon is not just a queer movie, it’s a teen movie about homosexuality. It has made its consumer base not only LGBT+ teens and adults but has made it accessible to anyone, which is one of the strengths I think it has. It has had advertisements and commercials on tv and the internet and all of that adds to the fact that it normalizes the topic of being LGBT+ and the struggles it comes with. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to marketing and seeing ads or commercials with LGBT+ people makes me infinitely happy. Seeing the massive amount of marketing that has been done for a movie that is queer and happy, is amazing.
Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (or Love, Simon) is not perfect. There are some transmisic jokes, and the way Simon is outed is also a bit problematic. But in my eyes, it is comes pretty close to perfect. Nothing is perfect, of course, but Simon’s story is such an important story that will lead to many more. And I cannot wait for all those stories.
If you can, support Love, Simon by watching the movie in the cinema, buying the book, pre-ordering the upcoming sequel about Leah, Simon’s best friend (Leah on the Offbeat). Also support other queer stories, if you can. Some authors you might want to check out are Shaun David Hutchinson, Mackenzi Lee (The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue), Christina Lauren (Autoboyography) and Adam Silvera.