Here’s the thing: Gay love is not easy. There’s no TV meet-cute where your hands accidentally touch as you reach for the same bag of kale in the grocery store. There’s Grindr, and Tinder, and an endless cycle of feeling bad about yourself because it feels like everyone is hotter than you and you’re never going to find that perfect movie romance. Maybe this is what straight people go through all the time. Honestly, it must suck to have so much idealized romance shoved in your face. That’s exactly what it felt like to watch Amazon’s “Red, White & Royal Blue” (2023) as a gay man.
The movie follows first son Alex Claremont-Diaz as he navigates a budding, complicated relationship with Prince Henry of England. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is cute. The actors are hot, the storyline is endearing and the movie leaves the viewer with a heartwarming, picture-perfect ending. The problem is that it’s about as unrealistic as media comes.
Obviously the movie’s realism is discounted by the fact that it centers around the president’s son somehow falling in love with a British prince. But on a much more basic level, it’s unrealistic because these two men meet in person. Further, the way that they turn their disagreements into a friendship and that friendship into a relationship would be virtually impossible in the real world. The two men spend weeks engaging in blatant flirting despite the fact that neither of them are fully comfortable in their sexualities. Eventually, Henry works up enough courage to kiss Alex. While this certainly fits the format of a cheesy rom-com, the kiss is problematic. In our world, it can be dangerous for queer men to act on their romantic feelings without knowing exactly how the other person feels about them. And while we certainly shouldn’t encourage queer men to live in fear, we also shouldn’t glorify situations that may place them in danger.
So how do we do it? How do we tell romantic stories of queer men without showing the cold, hard, unglorified, soul crushing truth of what gay dating is actually like? I argue that the answer to that question lies in compromise.
A story like “Red, White & Royal Blue” is touching and inspiring, but it loses meaning because of its distance from reality. The men in the film are too perfect, too straight, to actually be relatable. They are too perfect and normal to possibly be queer men. In my view, an essential part of being queer is embracing your irregularities, embracing the fact that in the eyes of society, we are not totally normal. In order for Alex and Henry’s story to be successful, they need to show that. Show the men engaging with queer culture, show the men breaking gender norms, show the struggles with commitment that are inherent to so many queer relationships. I’m not suggesting that gay men have to fit a stereotype, but rather that in order to tell our stories accurately, we must embrace our imperfections.