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Content warning: homophobia
**This article contains spoilers for both the “Red, White & Royal Blue” novel (2019) and its movie adaptation (2023).**
“I am the First Son of the United States, and I’m bisexual. History will remember us.”
Casey McQuiston’s debut romance novel “Red, White & Royal Blue” has recently been adapted into an Amazon Prime movie, bringing the love story between the American First Son and the Prince of England to the big screen. The film is a winding tale of controversy and copulation, but ends happily with Alex Claremont-Diaz (played by Taylor Zakhar Perez) and Henry Windsor (played by Nicholas Galitzine) stepping into Alex’s childhood home to start the next chapter of their lives together.
But how does this bestselling fiction compare to the brutal reality of being queer in politics?
“Alex and Henry’s relationship is met with little political resistance,” op-ed writer Lena Wilson criticized in a POLITICO review of the movie, later adding that “its political worldview has gone beyond head-in-the-clouds and rocketed straight up into space.”
Between coming out of the closet and stepping onto the podium, there is little question that being a queer political figure requires an extraordinary amount of courage. Even in countries as progressive in queer rights as the United States and Great Britain, LGBTQ+ representation remains slim. In 2023, only 13 of 535 current members of Congress are gay, lesbian, or bisexual (none are transgender), and only 63 of 650 current members of the British Parliament identify as LGBTQ+.
McQuiston themselves admits their book is primarily based on wishful thinking — in fact, their acknowledgements section states it was a passion project following their disappointment in the results of the 2016 presidential election. They describe the “Red, White & Royal Blue” universe as “not a perfect world — one still believably fucked up, just a little better, a little more optimistic.”
While the story dives right into the playful rivals-to-lovers romance between Henry and Alex, the political ramifications of their relationship only surface after their amorous emails are leaked to the press, outing the couple to the entire world. After the scandal breaks, Alex visits a distraught Henry’s home in London in what is the climax of the movie.
“I’m the only one willing to fight for us,” Alex says, his hair still damp from the rain pouring outside the townhouse. “Because it costs you nothing!” An exasperated Henry shouts back.
In the midst of this argument, a critical contrast becomes clear.
Alex’s bisexuality is an open secret: He’s dated boys in high school, he openly speaks on LGBTQ+ rights, and the movie adaptation’s villain is a male journalist who unfortunately happens to be his ex. We’re even blessed with a wholesome coming out scene between Alex and his mom, President Claremont, in which she undoubtedly accepts him.
Henry doesn’t have that privilege. He’s lived life under a microscope, his every move monitored by the crown to ensure he maintains the royal image. He doesn’t receive much personal support either: His older brother Phillip is a staunch traditionalist disgusted by Henry’s homosexuality, and the Royal Family’s first order of business once the emails are leaked is to deny it all to preserve their reputation.
“I have centuries of history bearing down on my shoulders,” Henry continues in this vulnerable scene. “My life is the crown and yours is politics, and I will not trade one prison for another.”
While this comparison serves as a dramatic illustration of the distinction between the two characters’ circumstances, it also predicts how the real-life crown could handle such a deviation from tradition.
“I think in terms of [public relations], we are not ready for that,” historian Robert Jarman told Openly regarding the possibility of a queer monarch. William Hanson, a royal etiquette advisor who was consulted for the production of the film adaptation of “Red, White & Royal Blue,” told Hello Magazine that “there really is no precedent” for the title a gay royal would take. “And the royal household, in any country, relies on precedent.”
This isn’t to say Great Britain hasn’t had any experience with queer aristocrats or politicians — Lord Ivar Mountbatten married his husband in September 2018, marking the country’s first same-sex royal wedding. Prince William, who is first in line to the British throne, has also stated that he “would fully support” his children if they were gay.
So while it does seem that a gay prince wouldn’t receive the warmest response from the British crown, recent changes in monarchical attitude leave some hope for queer royals. Nevertheless, it seems Henry has his priorities in order: In the bonus epilogue written after the events of the novel, he abdicates from the throne in favor of married life with Alex.
There’s still something to be said about how Alex seems to get off mostly scot-free from the entire scandal. The conflict surrounding the leaked emails seems to revolve around the crown’s qualms with having a queer heir, but both the novel and movie lack a detailed depiction of what reactions a bisexual First Son would elicit.
America is not free of queerphobia — in fact, state legislatures have advanced a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the last few years, among the most notable being the “Don’t Say Gay” bill enacted in Florida and the push for drag show restrictions in Tennessee.
Even queer politicians in high positions have not escaped accostment on the basis of their identity. Earlier this year, former Vice President Mike Pence made an unashamedly homophobic remark towards Pete Buttigieg, the Biden-appointed U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
So when Alex gives a passionate White House speech on “the freedom to come out on your own terms” after the scandal breaks, it isn’t a rebuttal against homophobic slander, nor does it address any semblance of real-life discrimination occurring in the United States. It does, however, serve a different purpose: conveying a profound message condemning forced outing and an unabashed declaration of his love for Henry.
“There’s another truth that’s much simpler: I fell in love with a person who happens to be a man, and… he has captured my heart and made my life immeasurably better.”
After all its anguish, the movie gets a fairytale ending: near the end of the novel, in spite of global exposure and royal backlash, Alex and Henry walk onto the castle balcony to greet a sea of supporters waving pride flags and cheering their names. While the crown may not have their back, hundreds of thousands of queer people do.
McQuiston may not have gotten political or monarchical technicalities exactly right, but they do nail one aspect of being queer: the unwavering support of the LGBTQ+ community, and the feeling of freedom that comes with showing your true self to the world.
“I think a lot of politicians that were outed, in ugly or even quite soft ways, felt so unburdened by the secret afterwards that the weight had lifted from their shoulders,” Andrew Reynolds, author of “The Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World,” told the queer-focused consulting firm Out Leadership in a 2021 interview. “They actually became much better politicians… because they suddenly could be authentic and they felt like they were no longer constantly hiding.”
Being queer shouldn’t be a blemish on your reputation. It should be a sign of confidence, strength, and compassion — qualities that are not lost on an ideal political candidate.
As debatably fictitious as McQuiston’s rendition of the experience of a queer politician or royal may be, their work serves an important purpose in the fight for queer representation in both media and politics. It gives us a happy ending to work towards: one we can attain by working to eliminate the many barriers still affecting queer people and politicians today.
While most of us aren’t the child of a president or the heir to a throne, we’re still changemakers all the same. By accepting McQuiston’s novel for both its lessons and escapism, we gain a better understanding of why our world isn’t quite like the optimistic setting it portrays — and what we can do to get there.
Author: Marc Cabilangan (He/Him)
Copy Editors: Niki S (She/Her), Emma Blakely (They/She/He)