Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Spoiler alert: Nobody dies in the end

Illustration by Claire Smith

“History, huh? Bet we could make some,” (Mcquiston, 2019). 

I spent last week reading my friend’s favorite novel: “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston. The new-age queer bible by a non-binary author has captured the hearts of readers such as my friend and I, as it demands LGBTQ+ representation with happy endings.  

There is a heterosexual precedent amidst movies, shows, and best-selling novels. BBC News reported in 2022, LGBTQ+ representation in television was at an all time high, but still only occupied 11.9 percent of the market. Even so, most gay stories we have are just trauma-centric queer narratives, not happy ones. There’s an absence of found families, personal catharsis, and love ever-lasting, replaced instead with an appetite for sad gay people. It’s also worth mentioning how almost all commercially successful queer stories are centered around cis gay white men, redacting people of color, women, the bisexual spectrum, and trans folks from the conversation.   

Hollywood’s infamous Hays Code, which censored numerous topics in cinema from 1934 to 1968, prohibited depictions of homosexuality in a positive light. This era of cinema popularized  the “bury your gays” trope, initiating the pattern of killing off queer characters across all forms of storytelling. In the 21st century, queer representation is often reduced to historical dramas, ending in either murder or suicide. “Brokeback Mountain,” a notable example, gained praise since its 2005 release for showing the dangers queer people have historically faced in rural America. 

While it is important for queer struggles and the devastating impacts of homophobia to be represented in stories, there is a point where it reinforces the narrative that queer people can’t be happy. Non-queer allies walk away with the message that the community is only composed of shared trauma, while queer people might internalize the message that a “happy ending” is impossible because of their sexuality.  

Even when they don’t end with death, queer stories seem to regularly fall down the path of melancholy endings, such as Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name,” or maintain a sorrowful, isolating tone throughout the plot, like Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” or Todd Haynes’ “Carol.”

When reading “Red, White & Royal Blue,” I was mesmerized by McQuiston’s humor and lightheartedness throughout the novel. The movie adaptation, starring Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry and Taylor Zakhar Perez as FSOTUS Alex, is a rom-com, and while darker themes of homophobia and being outed are present, the enemies-to-lovers storyline never spindles off into grief.  

Another issue with a majority of LGBTQ+ representation is how queer characters are always misunderstood, deprived of any support system who can empathize with their experience. 

There is modern representation that deviates from this, like the web series turned Netflix original “Heartstopper,” and the early 2000s rom-com “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Both stories are composed of a gay-ass ensemble, and are a nod to queer audiences that they aren’t alone. However, these examples seem to be the exceptions, and simply aren’t enough to compose an entire “gay movies with happy endings” section on a streaming service.  

At a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under fire in the United States, it’s more important than ever that queer youth are exposed to found family media. As a bisexual woman, my identity is often erased in heteronormative environments. The found family trope reminds me that no matter what Fox News rambles on about or which slurs I overhear in the hallway, I am truly never alone. 

It’s crucial that the future storytellers expand the boundaries of representation. Alex and Henry bet that they could make history, existing as openly queer political figures. It’s now up to writers and visionaries to make history, turning LGBTQ+ portrayals into stories that make people proud of their identities.

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