An ode to queer high-school romance
The ‘doodling your names together in a love heart in your maths book’ kind of love is not exclusive to heterosexual teens.
Here’s the thing. I am a complete sucker for the cliché American coming-of-age high school film. I love that shit. Sometimes, nothing else will satisfy my visual needs. Give me some of that Hilary Duff early noughties Cinderella Story goodness, or a big healthy dose of Amanda Bynes and her Seven Dorks. I’m always here for a completely unironic High School Musical movie marathon. Even though the 2002 hits are obviously the most classic, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before had me in absolute bits.
People love teen romance films. They’re easy to watch, they’re sweet, and they don’t require a lot of brain power. And also, they are damn relatable! As a constantly nostalgic and emotional lady, I love reminiscing on teenage crushes and the naivety of my very first relationship. I’ve got to say, I’m not overly keen on redoing my first kiss when I was 16, which was with a boy whilst we were playing Call of Duty Zombies together, but it’s funny to see similar scenarios re-enacted on screen. When I was at school, I wasn’t particularly popular. I was bullied regularly because of my ginger hair, and because I didn’t talk as much as everyone else. So I love watching the slightly awkward pre-pubescent protagonist finally realise that she doesn’t need the popular girls’ approval to be a cool gal herself, and that her one true love was the nerdy best friend all along, rather than the hottest jock on the football team (whose name is probably Brad or Chad).
We can all relate to the nerves felt when seeing your first crush in the school playground, and the excitement when their name pops up when they log in on MSN. That’s why those movies do so well! But the thing is, when we think back to the lovable naivety of these firsts, not all of us picture an awkward kiss between a boy and a girl on the school playground. Yes! Believe it or not, girls have spent nights writing in their diary when they were 13 about the pretty girl at school who they can’t stop thinking about. Boys have experienced the electricity and the rush from holding hands with another boy for the first time. The ‘doodling your names together in a love heart in your maths book’ kind of love is not exclusive to heterosexual teens. So why can’t we see more diverse romances in these high school films?
I don’t know if many people know this absolute hot-off-the-press scandal, but the only reason Ryan Evans was written in to have a romance with Kelsi Nielson in High School Musical 3: Senior Year was because parents wrote to Disney complaining that he was too ‘camp’. They were worried he might ‘influence’ their children in BAD, HOMOSEXUAL ways. If Ryan Evans influenced any 10-year-old High School Musical fan in a negative way, it would be from his awful fashion sense. Ryan, no offence, but obviously Sharpay is going to be getting all of the lead roles in the drama department when you’re there wearing trilby hats and argyle print knitted vests.
It’s important to consider that High School Musical was in 2006 and things have hopefully progressed a lot since then. However, even now in 2018, high school films that have an LGBTQ+ relationship at the core of its storyline… really not a whole lot there. There’s Love Simon, which was completely cliché, just the way we like it, and admittedly did make me sob a little bit. That’s one. Then there’s the Netflix original Alex Strangelove, which despite revolving around a teenage boy in high school coming to terms with his sexuality, was a god-awful film. Not only is Alex genuinely one of the most unlikeable characters ever written in a teen film, it’s rife with awful stereotypes about bisexual people and old-school conservatism around the subject of homosexual intimacy (exhibit A: there are many uncomfortably explicit heterosexual sex scenes but literally one kiss between the two boys). And obviously you’ve got Brittany and Santana, the lovable lesbian cheerleaders of Glee, but all I can say in regards to them is I hate Glee so I’m not counting it.
The only time I have seen a high school romance portrayed accurately between two people of the same sex has been the lovable Netflix original series ‘Everything Sucks’. The series revolves around Kate, who is 13 and secretly a lesbian. She is made fun of by popular gal and drama student Emaline, but it turns out this bullying is fuelled by a secret crush. I LOVE IT. It’s like, take any of your cliché American high school films, with the high-maintenance bitchy popular girl bullying the nerdy new girl about her weird second-hand clothes… and then just make them fancy eachother. ‘Everything Sucks’ has it all. It’s cliché, it’s gay and it’s fantastic. It’s full of your cliché pre-teen moments, like awkward almost-kisses by the lockers, drinking alcohol for the first time, and playing 7 Minutes in Heaven and Spin the Bottle. WHY is there not more of this? (Can I also just mention that this show also got cancelled after one season… the one time lesbian teen romance has been portrayed well and Netflix fucking CANCELS.)
I’ve had crushes, and I’ve felt the rush of being 13 and going on my first ever date to the cinema and having a cute boy put his arm around me. I’ve felt the smugness and excitement of having my first real boyfriend and being able to hold his hand and parade him around in public, and gush about him to my friends at school.
But I’ve also been 16, starting a new college, and developing a crush on a girl for the first time ever, secretly admiring her when she walks into the classroom in a different dress every day. I’ve experienced the shyness and the frustration of being too afraid to make the first move. When I remember this girl and our brief ‘romance’, I picture it exactly as the coming-of-age film I’d like to see on the big screen. There’s one night that stands out to me. Imagine this: two friends having a girly sleepover, both with a secret crush on each other. She wears lots of pretty makeup and fake eyelashes, and she spends half an hour putting makeup on me. We talk about One Direction and gossip. We share the same bed but are so nervous to try anything that we end up just holding hands all night and stroking each other’s backs. It’s completely naïve and very lovely. And it’s the exact same feeling portrayed by the boy and girl in the high-school film, sharing a sofa together at the prom after-party, wanting so badly to kiss, but awkward pre-pubescent nerves inevitably blocking the way.
I love cheesy coming-of-age romance films. But I’m also bored of them. Through poor representation of queer individuals in these storylines, a whole beautiful and naïve breed of teenage romance is being ignored. Give us more lesbian high school storylines! Two cute boys on the basketball team falling in love with eachother – yes please! Even better – bisexual cheerleaders, dumping their jock boyfriends and dating eachother! (any comic artists who would like to work with me to create any of these storylines then plz step right up, I am not kidding.) I’m starting a revolution - BRING THE QUEERS TO HIGH SCHOOL. It’s real, it happens, it exists, and I’m tired of seeing the same hetero cis-gender high school storyline play out over and over.