How Love, Victor Accurately Portrays The American LGBTQ Experience

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This article contains spoilers for Love, Victor season 2.

When it was announced that the iconic 2018 rom-com Love, Simon would receive a spinoff TV series, many worried it wouldn’t be able to find its own unique portrayal of sexual orientation awakening. In the hands of thoughtful showrunners Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger and the endearing lead performance from Michael Cimino, Love, Victor is able to cast a wide net of LGBTQ perspectives for the audience to learn and connect to. 

That’s why Hulu’s teen romance series has developed a niche, but rabid fanbase in the past year. As an audience, getting to follow along with Victor Salazar (the aforementioned Cimino) on his journey has been an honest and raw reflection of so many viewers’ experiences with their own sexuality. With the second season having premiered on June 11, excitement has been building to see where the title character goes now that he has a boyfriend and has come out of the closet to his family. 

No piece of media can ever be an all-encompassing overview of one group’s experience, but this show has really turned into a unique survey of the gay landscape, from sexual questioning, to sexual awakening, self-acceptance, and finally learning to live in a world where others don’t respond well to you being your true self. 

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There are many stereotypes in media about what it means to be gay, and too often they depict a white, upper-middle class character with family and friends who have no qualms about queerness. The happy-go-lucky approach does not show outsiders just how tumultuous and heartbreaking it often is to grapple with being non-straight. Love, Victor engages the viewer and invites them to learn about a wide variety of LGBTQ struggles. Victor is Latino, lower-middle class, Catholic, and dealing with the upsides and downsides of being a gay man who skews more masculine than feminine. 

Victor has internalized homophobia throughout the first season, taking awhile to figure out that it is indeed okay to like men, no matter what his conservative Latinx parents have taught him in the past. When he reveals his sexuality to his mom and dad in the second season, the audience is treated to the juxtaposition of the parents’ differing reactions. Victor’s father has an easy time putting his love for his son ahead of his ingrained value system; Victor’s mother has a much harder time grappling with whether to put her religion or her son first, but the payoff in that journey is something to behold (and will make you cry). This decision from the writers gives the show a way to relate to the widest array of watchers in the target audience, and shows that love can trump bigotry if you have a decent heart and adore your family. 

Arguably the most tasteful analysis the show pulls off is its depiction of the limbo you are placed in as a gay person, particularly a gay man, where you are stuck between two different worlds based off of your gender expressions. Victor is traditionally masculine, one of the stars of his high school basketball team, yet his teammates feel uncomfortable with him in the locker room. For those who think this type of homophobia is an outdated trope, take a peek at any of the comments on social media at the beginning of Pride celebrations when any male sports teams lend their support to the equality movement. To a sizable portion of the population, being gay is still synonamous with being less masculine, and Victor feels the pain of his being outcasted from the guys he hoops with in a very raw way. 

He then quits the team in the third episode of the second season, only to be poked fun of for being a “former, straight-acting jock” by his boyfriend’s gay friends. In one of the most revelatory lines in the whole series, Victor asks his teammate Andrew (played by Mason Gooding), an eventual ally, what is the perfect amount of gay to satisfy everyone? Too gay to play sports and not gay enough to hang out with more traditionally queer folk, where exactly is he supposed to turn to find his true family? This question is the most daring one that Love, Victor asks of its audience. The show expects you to examine your own opinions on gender norms and expressions regardless of sexual orientation, and teaches everyone that there is no one way to structure your identity. Victor as a character is a canvas for a myriad of interests and personalities, demonstrating the diversity of the Western LGBTQ+ experience. 

This variety is also dissected in what is likely to be the most controversial storyline of the latter half of season 2, when new character Rahim (played by Anthony Keyvan), a closeted classmate of Victor’s, reaches out for some support. As Victor’s relationship with Benji (played by George Sear) starts to go awry, Rahim becomes a confidant, a close friend, and possibly something much more than that. The love triangle that develops as the finale closes will irk many viewers, but that might be in line with the writers’ intentions.

Benji represents many of the privileges that exist in pop culture with gay men: white, rich, and possessing socially liberal parents, he doesn’t fully understand many of the hardships in Victor’s life. On the other hand, Rahim is an Iranian Muslim, with enough flamboyance to match well with much of Victor’s traditional machismo. They are kindred spirits in many ways, and all of their different gayness meshes in a way that is aptly described by Rahim as “magical”. Comparing and contrasting a mixed race relationship (white person with a racial-minority person) with one where both parties are non-white gives the audience a lot to chew on. All of the intricacies of race, gender expression, and sexuality intertwine when Victor and Rahim are together, forcing the narrative to dig deeper and making the show something truly special.

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The sheer amount of side characters and the short runtime (each episode clocks in at around 30 minutes each) leaves some stories feeling a little rushed, which would be one of the only flaws in the show’s exploration of teenage sexuality. With the time that is given, you don’t always get the full picture on the peripheral of the main plot, but relationships like Victor and his best friend, Felix, and the bond that he shares with his ex-girlfriend, Mia, are also valuable to the portrayal of a gay man’s inner circle.

Victor and Felix (played by Anthony Turpel) are a beacon of hope that a gay man and straight man can remain as tight after the coming out process as they were before. There is no sexual tension and absolutely no insecurities from Felix that Victor may come on to him; the latter issue is one of the preeminent reasons so many queer people have for holding off on being themselves, as they don’t want their friends to view them any differently than before (I, for instance, had an aunt who dropped one of her longest friendships when she found out the woman was a lesbian). They talk about their sex lives, go to each other for relationship advice, and just have a whole lot of fun; they’re bros (or bone brothers, according to Felix). Victor and Felix do not represent the majority of gay/straight friends, rather they portray the idyllic potential of this scenario in a world that will hopefully become fully comfortable with it some day soon.

As the first season came to a close, Mia (played by Rachel Hilson) is heartbroken after Victor cheats on her in the process of figuring out his sexuality and the showing of her forgiveness in the second season is one of the highlights of the series. Gay men keeping their friendships with ex-girlfriends after coming out is a common stereotype, but it’s rarely shown with such tenderness as in this series. The Victor/Mia bond demonstrates the ways platonic love can be so powerful it can confuse those engaged in it. This makes figuring out one’s sexuality even more confusing for many in the LGBTQ community, and the interpretation of this trope is very warm as seen in these two characters.

When making a TV show that represents a group of people who have been traditionally discriminated against, it is not enough for the characters to simply exist; these folks need to be a reflection of the society that they are fictionalizing. Unfortunately, depictions of the LGBTQ community on screen have long been restricted to one-dimensional sidekicks (the Gay Best Friend trope, examined perfectly here by The Take)  and cheap stereotypes (Carol on Friends was used to insult Ross’s masculinity, insinuating that he turned her lesbian because he wasn’t man enough for her). 

In Love, Victor, the core discussion around how masculinity, conservative social norms, and the gay experience can merge into one lifestyle is extremely compelling for a myriad of reasons, not the least being that parents of children who look, act, and behave just like Victor can see how normal all of this is. Being gay is so much more than who you are attracted too; sexuality relates to every sector of a person’s life and how they are perceived by the society around them. No other show on TV right now can claim to be as aware of all of these topics, all while making you laugh, cry, and think. Victor says in the second episode of season 2 that he hopes to inspire someone else to be themselves one day; he’s surely already done that tenfold. 

All 10 episodes of Love, Victor season 2 are available to stream on Hulu now.

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