The Power of Sex and Love to Dismantle Facades 

Throughout the novel, Henry and Alex's false public facades gradually break down as they fall in love. In the beginning of the novel, both Alex and Henry go on dates or perform intimate encounters purely for the story that will end up in the press. Alex and Nora fake a sexual encounter for the press, though they are no longer together, and Henry dances with June for the photo op. Both young men are concerned with their appearance in the media and spend a lot of time and energy worrying about and cultivating their public personae. They also, to some extent, believe in and are fooled by each other’s image in the press. For example, Alex believes that Henry's public facade, which has been created by the monarchy in order to uphold a particular vision of his family’s legacy, aligns with his true self. In part, Henry’s image in the media drives Alex to despise him. 

Once they begin their romantic relationship, these facades begin to crumble. McQuiston describes sexual acts between them as Alex “taking [Henry] apart,” as Alex feeling “boneless and wrecked,” and of Alex “destroying” Henry’s face with his mouth. This language emphasizes that Alex and Henry’s passion breaks something down in each of them, obliterating the barriers they've constructed. Henry begins to rebel against his family’s expectations of him and eventually breaks free of them almost entirely, coming out publicly and focusing on philanthropy. After he and Henry kiss the first time, Alex goes through a soul-searching journey to confront the fact that he has, on some level, repressed his bisexuality for years. As Alex falls for Henry, he begins to question his single-minded focus on becoming the youngest Congressman ever elected. Both his presumed heterosexuality and his hyper-ambitious drive are informed by how he wants to be perceived by others. In falling for Henry, the power of other people’s perceptions fades, and Alex becomes more connected to what he truly wants for his life.  

History's Ability to Both Inspire and Repress 

History plays a powerful role in Alex and Henry’s world and is the source of both repressive expectations and secret inspiration for the couple. During some of the most pivotal moments of their relationship, they invoke history as a way to understand their potential, their duty, and their fears. For example, when Alex chases Henry to London, Henry says their relationship can’t work because of his legacy, his family's traditionalism, and his birthright. He then places his heavy signet ring on the mantle, a gesture intended to symbolically free him from the historical expectations that sit on his shoulders as an heir to the throne. Henry is also tormented by his country’s history of genocide, so much so that he attempts to give up his inheritance because it is "blood money." In these ways, Henry struggles to free himself from a stifling history, the legacy of which makes constant demands on him in his present life.  

The fact that history is almost always present for the couple inspires moments of humor and rebellion. For example, history is literally looking down on Alex and Henry when they kiss in the Red Room in front of a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, which causes Alex to nearly break into “deranged laughter.” This suggests that there’s something strange, powerful, and ironic in engaging in sex acts in a room haunted by history. Alex also thinks about the fact that they have sex for the first time in a room that’s almost as old as the country itself, and he amuses himself with thoughts of how the Founding Fathers would view his romance, indicating that he feels the judgment of history, but he also is amused by their rebellion against it.  

Henry and Alex’s romance is also imbued with a deepening knowledge of LGBTQ+ history, and they begin to understand the ways that they have good company in their rebellion against heterosexual traditions. As Henry especially struggles to free himself from his family’s history, they both take comfort in the expressions of love and hope from LGBTQ+ icons of the past. Because of this, Alex begins to understand how he and Henry could make history, leading to him musing, “History, huh?” in one of his letters to Henry. This becomes a rallying cry for a more inclusive future.  

The Power of Humor in Telling Difficult Truths 

During moments of tension throughout the novel, the characters often turn to humor, which allows them to delve more deeply into difficult territory. Humor plays a role in Alex coming out to both his parents, allowing them to navigate a situation that is both personally vulnerable and globally significant with tenderness. Ellen makes a PowerPoint with embarrassing, hilarious titles, like “Exploring Your Sexuality: Healthy, But Does It Have to Be with the Prince of England?” and “Federal Funding, Travel Expenses, Booty Calls, and You.” Ellen handles the nearly impossible situation of talking to her son about his sexuality in the context of international relations and possible legal ramifications, while maintaining a connection with him and letting him know she supports him. She’s able to accomplish this by using humor to soften the blow of the more serious aspects of his romantic entanglement. When Alex realizes his dad knows that he and Henry are together, Oscar uses a joke to ease the tension, calling himself the patron saint of gender-neutral bathrooms. This successfully opens up a deeper conversation and allows Alex to tease his dad back when the conversation gets more emotional than he’s ready for.

Similarly, in the tense moment when Zahra is about to discover Henry and Alex together at the Democratic National Convention hotel, Alex makes a joke about the irony of Henry hiding in the closet, and he and Zahra both joke throughout the entire encounter, though it’s clear Zahra is also furious at his indiscretion. They’re able to come to an agreement about the next steps, Zahra communicates her disappointment, and they remain connected through jokes that are both funny and express the seriousness of the situation. Humor is part of the lifeblood of the Claremont-Diaz clan and plays a significant role in how they express their love during difficult times.