Coming out is hard. Even coming out to yourself is hard, which is part of why so many people don’t end up coming into their queerness until they’re fully grown adults. Hi, it’s me, I’m so many people.
I didn’t come out until I was 26 years old. In some ways I feel that I lucked out: I avoided lots of scary experiences, sycg as coming out to my parents at a time when I was dependent on them, or having to be the Gay One at school.
But I also missed out on what it might’ve been like to be young, out, and free: to crush openly on my classmates, to share my first kiss with a girl, or to experiment with queer fashion at a respectable age.
Enter queer rom-coms, specifically teen queer rom-coms. Seeing young queer romance in books, film, and TV gives me the opportunity to vicariously live the experiences I never had. Watching a teen hesitantly hold hands with her “best friend” for the first time is a window into the life I could have lived, if only I’d realized how gay I was sooner. For the people who maybe did have a queer childhood but a traumatic one, these stories could also offer a mirrored image of a better world—one where queer kids get to have happy endings. We get the big kiss. We’re cheered on by our loved ones and peers. We get the girl.
Queer representation is still a rarity in every genre, especially for women of color, and rom-coms are no exception. But representation is, thankfully, on the rise at the moment. Compared with my own youth, when lesbian stories were rare enough that it didn’t even occur to me to seek them out (or that I might be gay), we’re on a totally different frontier now.
So with that in mind, here are six of my favorite queer rom-coms.
In this adorable romance, a high school senior’s plans go awry when her long-term girlfriend (and best friend) breaks up with her. But then! Love triangle alert: Another might-be-queer cutie enters the picture, and all bets are off. This book is light, funny, and full of the perfect amount of ~queer tension~.
“Girl Crushed” by Katie Heaney
This book is a rare treasure: a queer Black-girl romance written by a queer Black woman. Its protagonist, Liz Lighty, is a bit of a fish out of water in her small Indiana town. But everything changes when Liz decides to run for prom queen—and then falls in love with one of her competitors.
“You Should See Me in a Crown” by Leah Johnson
Created by Chinese-American lesbian director Alice Wu, this rom-com is a young adult twist on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac tale that features a queer Chinese-American protagonist, her Latinx love interest, and an unlikely new guy friend. Unlike most rom-coms, this one is truly about the power of friendship. Still, there’s plenty of romance along the way. It’s surprising, sweet, and laugh-out-loud funny.
This Netflix holiday movie is like a Love, Actually for the modern age, featuring a bunch of intersecting storylines of young high school students, two of whom are young queer girls—one out, one closeted. Let It Snow handles this dynamic perfectly. Instead of tragic and cliched, it’s cheerful and pitch-perfect.
This series, which is about a boy with autism and his family, gets super queer at the end of season two and then even queerer in season three. Somehow that extra-slow burn is totally satisfying to watch. There’s hesitant hand-holding, there’s almost-kissing, and there’s so much tension. Wow. Slight spoiler: One of the actors recently came out as nonbinary IRL.
This high school series includes a ton of queer characters who are complex, multifaceted, and diverse: They’re Black, white, closeted, out, gay, pansexual, smart, funny, fashionable…. Where so many stories shy away from both queer and young adult sexuality, this show is actually, refreshingly, honest about sex. There’s a queer girl romance that heats up in season two and, as with Atypical, the wait is worth it.
Kim Wong-Shing is a New Orleans–based writer and editor with bylines in Bitch Media, Autostraddle, Bustle, and more. Visit her website at kimwongshing.com.
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