Welcome to the 25th installment of our 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike – the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
Note: This article will contain spoilers.
On June 17, Hulu introduced Victor Salazar (played by Michael Cimino), the main protagonist in their new original series Love, Victor. Victor is a high school student who’s been plucked from his cozy life in Texas to a new one in Georgia. Though he’s able to adjust fairly quickly to his new life, there’s still one thing he struggles to accept: he’s gay.
Victor acknowledges feeling different at the beginning of the first episode, and he messages Simon about it. Throughout the series, he’s constantly questioning whether he’s actually gay. He has a girlfriend, Mia, he enjoys spending time with, but he also has a major crush on Benji, a fellow student and Victor’s co-worker. For most of the season, Victor acknowledges his feelings for Mia, but he begins to question them as his feelings for Benji grow, suggesting what he feels for Mia may be more platonic than romantic. He struggles to accept it, primarily because his relationship with Mia is (all things considered) going great, and he doesn’t want to hurt her. However, he can’t deny them any longer when, in episode 7, he kisses Benji (who’s still in a relationship at the time), who pushes him away, causing to Victor to panic and run off.
The way Victor’s family views and reacts to gayness – as it pertains specifically to boys and men – is revealed early in the series, and doesn’t help Victor’s questioning in any way. He tells Simon about how where he grew up, it’s easier to pretend you’re not different, even if you are. The sentiment also includes intersectionality present through Victor’s parents and grandparents. In several scenes, Armando makes quips about how he hopes Adrian doesn’t “turn out that way” and making other comments that continue to discourage Victor (nothing particularly nasty, but they definitely don’t indicate Armando is prepared to accept one of his sons being gay). Victor’s grandfather is even more “traditional” in his views, bothered when he sees Benji and Derek kiss. Though it’s never explicitly mentioned, it’s apparent that Victor grew up in a family that believes gayness does not equal masculinity, and therefore it would be shameful to be gay.
The first time Victor is able to find true relief and acceptance about his sexuality is during his visit to New York in episode 8. He originally goes to meet Simon, but Bram takes Victor under his wing, as Simon is out of town. He meets their roommates (Justin, Ivy, and Kim), all of whom are in the queer community and are quick to welcome him to their home. One particularly touching part of the episode is when Justin is getting ready for a drag show they’re going to later. Victor asks why gay people like to wear drag. Justin shares a photo of himself wearing dull clothing, looking uncomfortable and unhappy. He tells Victor that was putting on a character, but now he’s just being him. Victor is finally able to share a similar feeling, though his voice is heavy. Justin brings him into a hug everyone else joins, providing shelter and comfort for Victor. Later, at Messy Boots where the show is, Victor is overwhelmed and happy being in a space where everyone is like him. But then Ivy accidentally reveals they know about the messages, and Victor leaves. Simon shows up and he tells Victor he shared the messages because his friends could understand parts of Victor’s experience that Simon can’t, and they’re all in his corner. Victor ends the night back in the bar with everyone. He’s pulled on stage by Katya (the drag queen) during the show. She asks Victor about his night, and he says it’s the best night of his life.
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By the last episode, Victor is a little more comfortable being gay. He came out to Felix in episode 9, who responded by wrapping Victor in a hug and saying he’s happy Victor told him. The others find out accidentally and not in the way Victor hopes. Andrew overhears Victor and Benji talking in the bathroom about the night in Willacoochee, and Victor begins to panic, begging him not to say anything (especially to Mia, who still doesn’t know). At the end of the night, though, Benji and Derek are officially broken up, and Victor can finally kiss Benji the way he wants. Mia goes outside searching for Victor and finds them kissing, Victor unknowingly coming out to her, too.
The most impactful (at least for me) of Victor’s coming out is in the last few minutes of season one. Victor and Pilar are home, Victor planning to share his news. Before he can, their parents drop a bombshell on the kids: they’re separating. Victor gets frustrated and changes his mind about telling his parents, not wanting to add to their stress, and walks away. At almost the literal last second, he stops and turns and says two very simple, very powerful words: “I’m gay.” And at last, Victor can finally breathe.
Love, Victor is an important show for many reasons, but Victor’s journey of questioning and acceptance is the most prominent. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community often have their identities criticized if they don’t fit into a certain box or invalidated completely by others. Victor’s story is one that brings validation, especially as a character who is questioning and trying to figure out who he likes. On some level he knows he’s not straight; he just needs to fill in the blanks. His relationship with Mia reinforces the idea that you can be with someone who doesn’t “fit” into your sexuality but still be able to learn from the experience and discover it wasn’t for you. And Victor certainly learns, even though it still hurts him and, eventually, Mia. Victor also brings in specific cultural factors, as he’s also Latinx, providing a more complex and necessary viewpoint.
Michael Cimino does an excellent job bringing Victor to life and creating a relatable character. He clearly displays Victor’s swirl of emotions about his sexuality. He’s charming, funny, and sweet, making it incredibly easy to fall for Victor. But most importantly (and because I really cannot emphasize this enough) he’s validating, for Latinx teens (and maybe some adults) who are questioning and/or struggling with their sexual identity. He’s validating to any teens or adults who may be questioning and/or struggling. Victor Salazar is an important character, and he will continue to bring comfort and hope to those who need it the most.
Read our recaps of Love, Victor here, and stay tuned for a series review! Make sure to also check back every day for more Pride spotlights.