A new pop culture television series entitled “Love, Victor” seeks to present a new narrative of LGBTQ youth in U.S. culture. But one reviewer asserts that as the show wrestles with the convergence Latinx culture, Catholicism, and sexuality, that it falls short of exploring these complex nuances with the richness they deserve.
Stephen Adubato’s review in America assesses this new show that focuses on a gay Latino teenager, Victor, as he discerns his sexual identity while navigating his cultural background, Catholic faith, and the challenges of high school. Having just moved from Georgia to Texas, the show also introduces viewers to the issue of immigration perspective from a lower-middle class background.
Adubato acknowledges how “Love, Victor” is a historical trailblazer within the television presentation of LGBTQ characters:
“‘Love, Victor’ boldly attempts to shatter stereotypes and represent the diversity of personality types and experiences within the L.G.B.T.Q. community. The show’s move beyond the confines of Simon’s white, secular suburban setting into a lower-middle class, Latino Catholic one makes for an intriguing change of pace. Despite thin production and shallow character development, ‘Love, Victor’ raises important questions about how same-sex desire is construed across socioeconomic, religious and ethnic divides.”
(Bondings 2.0 previously reported on the unique challenges Latinx LGBTQ Catholics face in their search for acceptance and inclusion as they confront the intersection of faith, culture, and sexuality.)
The series is a spin-off of the 2018 critically acclaimed movie “Love, Simon,” the first major U.S. film production to focus on gay youth romance.
Victor attends the same high school as Simon, who became a gay icon for courageously coming out to his friends and peers while kissing his secret admirer (now boyfriend in the show) on top of a ferris wheel. Victor befriends Simon through Instagram, and Simon offers Victor compassion, advice, and guidance as he moves forward in his journey of self-discovery.
Adubato’s critique of “Love, Victor” is two-fold: a myopic portrayal of Latinx culture and Catholicism, and a veneration of American individualism that trumps familial tradition.
The author takes issue with the producer’s melting pot presentation of Latinx Catholic identity as one coherent (but obscurely defined) ethnic population that is overtly intolerant towards LGBTQ persons:
“Unfortunately, the show allows little space for the complexity of Latino identity and Catholicism to emerge and develop. In reality, being Latino consists of more than being homophobic, eating tres leches cake and hanging up piñatas. And, for that matter, “Latino culture” consists of a wide array of racial, religious and national identities. Victor’s ambiguous nationality (he has a Puerto Rican flag in his room, his grandparents are from Colombia, and his birthday party is Mexican themed) hints at the producer’s lack of appreciation for the distinctness of Caribbean, Central American and South American cultures.”
Adubato also criticizes the series’ oversimplification of coming out, noting that individualism and autonomy reign supreme for white, upper-middle class LGBTQ children (like Simon) who are not forced to confront the complex interplay of faith, family, and culture, as do their Latinx counterparts.
As Adubato argues:
“Surely it’s possible that most gay young people growing up in a secular bourgeois family have it easier. Who can blame Victor for being envious? But what the show fails to acknowledge is that beyond the generally homophobic attitudes of many Latino Catholic working class families, there is a lot more at stake for them than there is for someone growing up in Simon’s environment. Victor’s family revolves around the values of family, faith and culture in a way that Simon’s family does not. The self-sufficient, expressivist and individualistic ethic of white suburbia understandably raises concerns for those whose culture places more emphasis on mutual dependence and tradition.”
Adubato criticizes the show’s message that Victor must cast away his Latinx, immigrant, and Catholic identities to truly embrace his sexual identity and become a member of the LGBTQ community:
“Victor’s journey toward finding himself seems to proceed according to a criterion that largely dismisses the roles of family, faith and culture. This gives the show a culturally elitist overtone. The season finishes off leaving us waiting to see if Victor’s family will finally come around and ‘evolve’ enough to shed their antiquated values.”
Nevertheless, Adubato reserves some optimism for the series, especially as a potential pioneer for the Latinx Catholic LGBTQ narrative and their families:
“Hopefully the show can provide impetus for some much needed dialogue among Latino families. How can they accept their gay children while still affirming their cultural and religious values? Perhaps there is a way for one to embark on a journey of self-discovery that does not exalt self-expression over inherited cultural and ethical values. And perhaps producers will dare to imagine narratives of same-sex intimacy beyond the standard individualist coming-out, happily-ever-after story that fits so cozily into secular white bourgeois environments, but not so much into religious, working class immigrant families.”
Having viewed the series myself, I think the show underscores the interplay of faith, Latinx culture, and the changing mores of sexuality in our contemporary world.
In Season 1, Episode 5, Victor’s grandfather and his father ask the young man’s two gay friends, a couple, to refrain from kissing publicly after witnessing this display of affection in Victor’s home. Victor’s grandfather is concerned that Victor’s impressionable younger brother will mimic such behavior.
Right before Victor informs his friends of the request, he has a change of heart and confronts his family assertively, but kindly:
Victor: “I’m sorry Papi, I really wanted today to go smoothly, but those are my friends. I’m not going to tell them not to be who they are if that bothers you. That’s your problem, not theirs, and not mine.”
Grandmother: “This is how you teach your son to speak to his abuelo?”
Mother (Isabel): “Yeah, it is. I raised him to be true to himself and to stand up for the people that he cares about.”
Shortly thereafter, Victor’s grandmother reflects that “this is not the world we grew up in…it seems like everything that matters to us is disappearing,” lamenting how her grandchildren were not taught to speak Spanish.
This comment is preceded by Victor’s grandfather’s puzzlement to “boys kissing boys, instead of girls.”
The scene ends with a beautiful moment of reconciliation among the entire family, where Victor’s father also gently stands up to his parents and defends the way in which Victor’s mother, his wife, has raised their children to be respectful of other people’s differences, and to be good, kind people.
It is not a perfect harmonious scene by any means. There is no immediate follow up discussion about the grandparents’ homophobic attitudes, and the viewer can certainly feel the tension and angst growing inside Victor.
But the scene does illustrate how Victor is navigating these cultural and familial nuances with sensitivity and courage. Therein lies a powerful first step towards harmonizing Latinx cultural heritage and religious background with sexual identity: a heartfelt conversation rooted in dignity, respect, and compassion.
–Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, August 15, 2020