why stans are so protective of call me by your name and love, simon

As stans battle it out on social media, we ask: is this genuine beef, or all a bit of fun? Let the gay-mes begin.

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04 April 2018, 12:58am

This sudden spike in queerness on screen is a great thing, isn’t it? After decades of having their stories told from the sidelines, the lives of young LGBTQ+ figures are starting to crack the mainstream. Call Me By Your Name is winning awards (and hearts) left, right and centre, while the latest entry in queer American cinema, Love, Simon, seems like the popcorn love story gay teens have been crying out for for years.

They’re designed to bring people together; to break down barriers and cause a wider, more accepting conversation. But the messages circling online right now suggest something more hostile is brewing: a stan war has broken out, and fans of each film are directing low-blows to the other on Reddit and Twitter.

While holding a star close to your heart isn’t unheard of -- we all have idols, and often we have to defend their talents when others fail to “get it” -- there’s something bizarre about the niche outcry of communities gathering to stan for two films. What ties them together is the impact they've had on young queer people struggling to come to terms with their identity. So why are these two films generating the kind of stan fights that used to be reserved for Madonna and Gaga?

It all comes down to the perspective each film presents. While Call Me By Your Name is a modest, languid story about a young man making sense of his sexual identity by having a fleeting summer romance with an older man, Love, Simon brings us closer to reality, chronicling the life of a gay American high schooler on his path to coming out, and all the conflict and confusion that stems from it. As two pivotal pieces of coming-of-age gay cinema, there’s an expectation for young queer kids to identify with at least one one of them. Finding themselves in either Elio or Oliver’s shoes, they consider their stories sacred.

Of course, the way these fans rationalise their arguments -- often through gloriously petty tweets rather than constructive, long-form criticism -- is fascinating. To get a more coherent understanding of each side’s standom, we figured we should ask them directly.

“Young LGBT people tend to look up to mainstream media to find comfort and reassurance in representation,” a Love, Simon stan, Lilly from Oregon, told us through Twitter DMs. “After I saw [it], I was comforted by seeing a gay teenager accept himself. I saw myself in so many of the main character's situations because they actually happened to me! It didn't feel like I had to [disregard] any aspect of my experience to relate to it, like I had been doing with Call Me By Your Name.

On the other hand, Phoenix from Ohio worships at the altar of Luca Guadagnino’s masterpiece. “People will always flock to whatever is easily understood,” she says, chatting via the Call Me By Your Name Reddit page, when we ask her why stans are resonating with Love, Simon’s simplicity. “We should celebrate that gay films are part of the mainstream, but we should also appreciate the work of filmmakers telling queer stories the way they want [like Guadagnino does].”

These back-and-forths might be somewhat meaningless to anybody who hasn’t engaged in queer or internet culture before, but they’re indicative of a growing movement that sees fans rush to defend queer art, in an effort to make their preferred film be seen by straight audiences as the most authentic. But this act of free and fervent online fan promo isn’t new: queer people have been doing this with pop musicians for years.

Whether it’s Gaga v Madonna, Zara Larsson being hailed a Nigerian woman of colour in the face of a Selena stan, or Valentina’s fans lashing out against the entire competing cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race, there’s this strange sense of hostility that can be so potent it borders on delusion -- like these are friends we’re defending rather than celebrities. You could call it ‘stanimosity’, die-hard fans pitting their favourite artists against each other.

Why is it that this kind of confrontation is almost exclusively rooted in the queer community? Why are they the group who feel the need to fight tooth and nail for their personal favourites, be it Gaga or Love, Simon? Perhaps it stems from spending a life exposed to art created for mass, heteronormative audiences. Now they’ve found something that touches them, they desperately desire to fight for its success.

The debate around whether Call Me By Your Name is “better” than Love, Simon, or vice versa, is one that won’t come to a quiet resolution; there’s nothing but stan power -- a pretty intangible currency -- that could ever fully solve it. So why don't we spend less time dissecting and criticising queer art in the context of its peers, and more time celebrating the fact that it exists in the first place? If ostracised members of the LGBTQ+ community have more than one film to admire, or more than one artist to identify with, then that gives everybody the opportunity to feel seen on screen. At the heart of queer stan hysteria, perhaps that’s the most precious and logical thing we’ve got.

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.