You Was Never My Age, None of Ya!

Originally published at Medium on 18 March 2017.

Call Me By Your Name and the teens we wish we’d been

Luca Guadagnino’s adaptation of André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me By Your Name premiered at Sundance earlier this year to strong reviews. Ask anyone who knows me and they’d say that “a lush romance set in Lombardy [that] recalls the best of Merchant-Ivory” (the comparisons to Maurice are already flowing), plus a score by Sufjan Stevens, would be right up my alley, and yet I was nervous to take on this “romance between a seventeen-year-old boy and a summer guest.” Though the film won’t reach theatres until the fall, the first footage publicly released depicts a scene straight from the book: Oliver (Armie Hammer) rubs the boy Elio’s (Timothée Chalamet) shoulder and Elio shies away. This tension stems from their mutual attraction — each thinks the other isn’t interested — but the scene itself also recalled to me the discomfort of a man’s unwanted touch. 

While I hemmed and hawed, Sundance attendees called the film “fucking extraordinary” and “one of the most powerful love stories to grace the screens of cinema,” described it as ”beautiful visually, emotionally, and my god, sexually” and made much of one scene in particular: “Today I watched… Timothée Chalamet fuck a peach. Sundance is gonna be alright.” For the life of me, I could not figure out what it would mean to “fuck a peach.” Did they mean… literally? Or was I too dense to decipher the innuendo? (They meant literally.) Not to mention that the film and the book had blurred in my mind: it’s no good judging one by the other. What to make of it all? I bought the novel. I intended to find out.

Though I occasionally reference Guadagnino’s film below, because I’ve not seen it, my main focus will be Aciman’s novel and with it, the sexualization of children and teens in popular English-language fiction.

Awakening

Call is our narrator Elio’s retrospective on an emotionally and sexually intense six weeks spent with a visiting grad student, the twenty-four-year-old Oliver. The inside cover speaks of “a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest,” a “romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration,” “total intimacy,” and a “heartrending elegy to human passion.” When it was published, The New York Times called it “exceptionally beautiful” and a “Proustian meditation on time and desire, a love letter.” The novel, Stacey D’Erasmo wrote at the time, was “hot.” Michael Upchurch, writing for The Seattle Times, called it a“great love story,” one in which,“intellectually, [Oliver and Elio] are close to a perfect match.” The BBC more recently reported that the film “will make you swoon.” It is a romance, a “coming-of-age,” an “intellectually precocious” teenager’s “sexual awakening.

Yet these words are also signals of abuse: coming-of-age, precocious, intellectual, awakening. Writes D’Erasmo, “Elio is smart, nervous, naïve, but also bold; Oliver is handsome, seductive and breezily American.” He is “already well on his way into the adult world,” says Upchurch. That is, the child is smart and bold, mature for his age; he know what he wants; he’s asking for it… D’Erasmo is captivated by “the lost city of love between the two men” (my emphasis) and pleased that Aciman “never wheels in repressive social forces to crush the lovers,” implying that any force that would separate them — that would, say, protect the child — would be repressive. Out of touch. Not hip. Not with it.(1)

But Call was sweeping, you see, so romantic. Right? I won’t be sarcastic or coy, and I won’t lie: I was swept up in it. I wiped my eyes, felt a clenching in my chest, recognized those feelings. The experience reminded me of Katie Kapurch’s speculation, without derision, that the generic features of melodrama — the emotional excess, the passion — framed girls’ responses to the mid-2000s Twilight phenomenon by providing a“mode of communication” through which readers both processed and shared their feelings. Though I doubt many adults would be willing to view their own responses to so-called literary fiction through a similar lens, this remains a helpful way to consider our “feels” and to then explore what lies beneath those emotions.

Here, become Elio. You’re in a hotel in Rome of course, Roma/amor and etc., and everybody loves Rome, loves in Rome, dreams of Rome — Audrey Hepburn did, Halsey did, take your pick — and you love Oliver and he’s going away in a few days. You drink everything you can get your hands on, it’s euphoric, you might as well be an adult. You’re in Rome with your parents’ blessing and you’re with Oliver and you love him. You wander the streets together — still in Rome, can you believe it? — and you’re drunk off your head, so much that you later can’t remember who you meet, and Oliver kisses you up against a wall. Up against a wall. Didn’t you read that in a book somewhere, see it in a film? Isn’t that what people do? He has you up against a wall, and you love him. Everyone tells you this is romance, this is what it means to grow up. You think of the Basilica of San Clemente,“built on the ruins of subsequent restorations… [with] no first anything, nor last anything,” as an analog for memory and for yourself.(2) And yet there are such things as firsts after all: before you and Oliver had sex for the first time, he wrote a reply to your note that had earlier begged him for a resolution. It read, “Grow up. I’ll see you at midnight.”

Teens in the wild

Here is what I want you to do. First, find a photograph of yourself at seventeen, a candid or a school picture. Lay it on your desk. Next, find a photograph of yourself at twenty-four and do the same. Imagine being twenty-four and being attracted, really attracted, intellectually, emotionally, romantically, sexually, to a teenager, a high school student. It’s not that I don’t think such relationships occur, but that such unbalanced power is rocky ground where love will not grow. “Erotic attention,” writes bell hooks, “often serves as the catalyst for an intimate connection between two people, but it is not a sign of love.” Indeed hooks prefers M. Scott Peck’s definition of “love” as,

“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

She adds, “since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually.” What then is the “human passion” to which Call is “a heartrending elegy”? What is controllable and what is not? Who gets to be human? Is Elio’s human passion, his humanity, secondary to Oliver’s? If Oliver loved Elio, really, could he not show that love by leaving him alone?

Here are a few things done by teenagers I have known personally, myself included:

  • At the behest of their mom, wear a helmet onstage in the school drama production, lest they injure themselves, age 14;
  • Talk about basically nothing except The Lord of the Rings, become known as The Lord of the Rings Girl, age 13;
  • Pack for lunch a bag of potato chips and head of broccoli, age 16;
  • Drive around in a rattletrap painted like the General Lee, age 17;
  • Drink antifreeze, age 17;
  • Carry, everywhere, a Hello Kitty purse and a clipboard with a picture of Michael Shanks glued to the inside, age 14;
  • Wear, constantly, over-the-ear headphones not plugged into anything, age 16;
  • Convince the music teacher to write a concert-band arrangement of “Iris,” age 16;
  • Wait at the bus stop long after the last bus, hitting each other in the shoulders and spinning in circles (a game known as “punchy-go-round”), age 15;
  • Wear the same Reitman’s dress as the math teacher, age 16;
  • Suggest using an empty salt-and-vinegar-potato-chip bag in lieu of a disinfectant wipe, age 14; and
  • Pack, for a weekend-long camping trip, no food other than hot dogs and mustard, age 17.

We weren’t living sexless lives, to be sure, but are these the suave sophisticates riffing on Liszt, musing on Heraclitus, and banging visiting grad students like their lives depend on it? No.

In our case, of course, we never met grad students. Our passions were more parochial: fawning admiration of the annual Jostens school-picture guy, last year’s graduates returned to upgrade, and substitute teachers just a few inscrutable years out of reach. (One teacher of mine had met their spouse in another school some years before: they had been the teacher.) Yet teachers, if they are good ones, hide their private lives carefully, put a wall between themselves and their students. (Good lord, I thought, hearing years later what went on in the staff room while I was reading The Chrysalids and learning algebra, was all of that really happening at the same time?) It is an embrace of fantasy to act as though we live in the blue lagoon, where everything is natural and nothing hurts and we should all just do what feels good and follow our hearts. Aciman says in an interview, “The peach scene — where did this come from? I have no idea.” Does he really? No idea? It sprung from his head fully-formed like Athena? Elio stands next to Oliver’s bed and feels “like a child left alone for the first time with his homeroom teacher.” Romance! But if, say, the Jostens-school-picture guy or the substitute teacher had spirited me away from my parents or had sex with me in my childhood bedroom, would it have been romantic because I was precocious and intelligent and yearned for “total intimacy,” all of which I would have felt, then, to be true? 

Who is famous for saying, “the heart wants what it wants. There’s no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love and that’s that”? Woody Allen.

Obsession 

This blog received the bulk of its (admittedly few) search-engine referrals in the last year from people using Google to search for incest, bestiality, and rape pornography based on various young adult (YA) series I had written about in the past. (No doubt Luminous Petals came as a surprise!) Human brains are weird, as are humans’ sexual preferences, and the idea of exposing an individual’s Google history, or dragging fandom and fan fiction, is distasteful, and moreover not terribly helpful. It lingers on the surface in lieu of digging for the root — the single instead of the system. For what sexual preferences are not, in the end, is innate. It is not enough for Aciman to shrug and say he can’t imagine where that peach scene came from, just as we must consider how the authors of these YA novels set the stage for these searches with their own work. Their material, often bizarrely explicit, was created expressly for children’s consumption, from torture porn in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series, the “pleasure” his woman characters find in “agony,” his teenage hero’s arousal at the sight of a woman’s tortured body, and the hopelessness he bakes into the lives of disabled girls who would be better “stillborn [than] unable to make a suitable match,” to “mind rape” in Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments, where one teen girl returns to the boy who tried to kill her in a jealous rage and another begs a boy to drink her blood while he ruts against her wounded body. Why?

This is a surface sampling of the vast YA market, in which there are of course many gems. (What are you still doing here? Go read Kristin Cashore!)  When it comes to troubling texts, though, I could easily name a string of others: Stephenie Meyer’s eroticization of pain; Lauren Kate’s reform-school bad girls and Nina Malkin’s ghost-possessed, sex-pollinated teens; Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s hatred of “slutty” girls, voiced through a teenage boy; Jon Skovron’s disgust, yet preoccupation, with “noxious,” “dirty” girls magically coerced into breaking their own limbs and sandpapering their own faces; and at the so-called “literary” end of the spectrum, an elderly man’s “pillow book,” written in a girl’s voice (Aidan Chambers’s This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn), and the romanticized rape of children in Laura Whitcomb’s A Certain Slant of Light, made an ALA Book Pick in 2006. (Kirkus Reviews criticized Slant, but ignored the misogyny and rape apologism in favour of mocking the “young women [who] will be drawn to this book, and will probably finish it.” She wanted it…) Why?

Why? The question that came to me again and again as I read Call Me By Your Name was this: why do adults write with such single-minded fixation on the sexual habits and behaviours of teenagers, whether YA or no, and when they do, why do others, we, not challenge it? Do we want to be hip, to show we understand the Plight of Today’s Youth? Do we wish not to be seen as prudes by our adult peers, or perish forbid, tread a toe on free speech? (I mean, let’s not take things too far! Censorship! Should Judy Blume have been prevented from publishing Forever?) (Be realistic: Forever and vampires who batter and fuck senseless their teenage wives barely belong in the same sentence, much less on the same bookshelf.)

I think the answer is twofold: that many adults want first to signal their virtues as admirable, non-judgemental liberals and/or free-speech advocates (and often thereby justify or conceal their crueller behaviours and bad habits); and second to remember their own teenage years as something other than what they were, something smoother, slicker, sexier and more beautiful. Something cooler than what we were.

Writing for School Librarian, Peter Hollindale said of Aidan Chambers’s Pillow Book, “the torment, joy and intensity of sexual learning can rarely have been caught so vividly.” An adult man, Hollindale uses his role as a critic to justify his relish of a girl’s “torment” and sexuality, itself captured by, you guessed it, an adult man. Cordelia, like Elio, has an affair with an older man, a relationship Chambers’s novel describes as “sexy daughter with sexy dad, the naughty tug of incest, that taboo desire many women feel and most repress,” while Cordelia’s partner later says to their child, “I was your daddy of course, you flirted and were coy with me.” Reviewer Dinah Joy lets it by, going so far as to apologize for potentially offending Chambers: “Once I’d got over my initial queasiness at the idea of a seventy-year-old-man writing about sex in the voice of a sixteen-year-old girl (sorry: ageism and sexism in one line) I couldn’t… put [it] down.” As with D’Erasmo’s “repressive social forces,” Joy suggests that any “queasiness” on the part of readers must be “got over.” At least Karen Coats, writing for the Bulletin of the Centre for Children’s Books, recognizes the all-too-adult attitude problem: “readers who don’t get the wonder of these things are likely to be dismissed as naff chavs and they’ll know it.” Same shit, different day: you chicks are uptight.

You don’t want to be naff, do you? I say, Oliver doesn’t love Elio. Someone else says, stop judging me, you frigid prude, you Victorian moralist, you bigoted dummy. But back to bell hooks: “[t]he widespread assumption that ethical behaviour takes the fun out of life is false. In actuality, living ethically ensures that relationships in our lives, including encounters with strangers, nurture our spiritual growth.” There are many people, certainly, who at seventeen were or are having sex as often as Aciman’s Elio. Alright. Are there any, though, who are so simultaneously stereotypically virginal — the fear, the pain, the shame — and unthinkingly expert, trysting in the window of a fancy hotel, or is Elio a shallow construction? Is there a difference, really, between stories like these and porn, with its fantastical and unrealistic portrayals of sex, except that we call the former literature?  What would happen if we stopped understanding this story as a romance?

Hate-reading (and hate-responding) is another kind of obsession. Some of my older writing revels in eviscerating books I had felt were badly written. I thought it worthwhile to tease out sexist tropes and language, to expose and discuss them, and I still do — but at what price? What is the difference between criticism and trashing? And too, when stories overcome conventional limitations — WASPishness or heterosexism, for instance, as Call does  — when and how should criticism account for any shortcomings in those stories? Yet one might also reframe this question: why should those excluded by literary conventions be expected to make do with subpar art? This is not a new quandary. Susanna J. Sturgis captured this very conflict 38 years ago, discussing “trashing” versus “criticism” in lesbian writing:

“When I came out in the mid-1970’s, the incidence of trashing in the earlier Women’s Liberation Movement had generated a reaction, an ethic that named “judgmental” a negative (patriarchal, male, heterosexist, academic, WASP, elitist, left-brain, etc., etc.) attribute…. Our collective striving to be “nonjudgmental” may have eased the impulse to trash, but it also seems to have encouraged a tendency to uncritical (public) acceptance of every female endeavor, especially those that declare themselves feminist. Writers and artists should be the first to recognize the uselessness and the potential liabilities of such an attitude (in theory at least; a lot of us struggle with the fear that the first discouraging word is going to reduce someone to tears)…. Maybe the “if it’s lesbian , it’s got to be good” credo has started its own backlash. Maybe some critics believe that they have to use scathing sarcasm and/or ridicule to prove that their work isn’t mush and puffery. Maybe it’s just that writing unbridled polemics can be more fun than laboring to say hard things in a gentle way” (my emphasis).

I don’t want to “trash” Call, and I’d rather write something at least a little bit useful than something that failed to stretch beyond “unbridled polemic.” After all, the book has resonated with many and while I must keep reminding myself not to conflate the book and the film, I expect the film will too, as it has for Michael Arbeiter at The Nerdist and Jordan Hoffman at The Guardian. 

I mean, the story certainly resonated with me: it seems I can’t stop thinking about it. But I also want to think about Call as part of a larger pattern, and about how we treat children in our stories. Readers, of course, do not need to “be” a character to relate to them — that’s one of the reasons we see storytelling as a kind of magic — but I do believe that in our relations to characters there is a difference between being a child and remembering being a child. And as Ursula Le Guin says,“If one believes that words are acts, as I do, then one must hold writers responsible for what their words do.”  I’ve been tracking the sexualization of children in popular fiction for years now. I want to talk about it.

Romance is dead

Perhaps I am just a prude after all. I don’t take offence at the word (from the French for “a good man and true” I’ve learned, and made derogatory only as it came to be associated with women). Elio’s thoughts, his uncertainty, his self-reproach at his virginity, his passion, the love he poured out in his admiration of Oliver’s refusal to conceal his Star of David necklace, Oliver’s (seemingly) effortless friendliness and confidence, Oliver’s grace — all these made me want to weep, not with anger but because they were moving, gripping, recognizable. I hate myself sometimes too, buddy. On the other hand, I found Aciman’s sex scenes unpleasant, both in context and in the writing itself (anal sex without lube? seriously?). Even Guadagnino described these as “extremely ridiculous.”

At the heart of this muddle is a false dichotomy that says the heart is pure, but the body is not. The novel is frank when it comes to the body, its characters eating peaches sticky with cold semen and watching each other defecate, but it is not honest. I will explain with an example meant to jar: compare Call to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, although we commonly understand the former as something for serious adults and the latter as something for stupid little girls. Twilight buries the body and its pains (blacking out during sex, having your child bite its way out of your womb, etc.) under the “feels” of its surface romance. Call, with its insistence on“human passion,” does the same. Guadagnino “sought to keep the sexual situations tame because he envisioned the film as being of the ‘idyll’ genre — ‘and I don’t see many organs in an idyll.’” Yet organs there are, no matter how you might like to pretend otherwise. Fucking a peach, remember? Aciman has Elio describes the peach as a “rape victim.” (Guadagnino calls this the “raped fruit” scene.) Masturbating with a fruit is one thing, but from where springs the notion to conceptualize the act as assault? I suppose Aciman would tell us he couldn’t say.

And yet a “lush romance” remains appealing. I type all this and still I think, well, maybe, maybe the movie will be different, maybe I just didn’t get the book… Why?

I know why. Because romance is fucking with me again. Because I’m strung between melodrama and grit, between, dare I say, idyll and organ. Because I want a vision of something beautiful, and hope against hope that something will happen, something will change, something will give, and it will be romantic, after all. I want to prove I can handle it… Prove to whom? To myself? To strangers in a dark theatre trying as hard as I am to play it cool? Look, this book came out ten years ago, when I was seventeen. I’m a decade behind the times, and in a way, I wish I’d read it then, the same year I lay in bed in my dorm room, even more ignorant than I am now and with terrible hair, wishing that the person I loved, who was older than me, would somehow, magically turn up at my door. That’s what I remembered when I read Call Me By Your Name, when Elio lay in his bed willing Oliver to step inside. Now it’s ten years later and good god, what the fuck happened? Why didn’t I go to those parties in high school, in university? Why was I a coward? Why did I take my slippers and my knitting to a house party full of poets who smoked French cigarettes? Why did I sit there like Mary in Pride and Prejudice? (Thank god I really can’t play the piano.) Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I have an incredible love affair when I was seventeen? I remember how it felt, when I was young, and I wish it could have been different. Why couldn’t it be romantic, after all?

This is Aciman’s trick, but not his exclusively: everybody’s doing it.The teens of our books are too often not teens, but vessels for adults’ sexual and emotional gratification, something to memorialize through or to act on or to punish for adults’ faults, or else adults as they wish they themselves had been: suave, sophisticated, skilled, loved — and not only loved but adored. Their bodies, their minds, their words, their shit and their semen, all adored as Elio adores Oliver. But that’s not a lover or a partner — that’s a votary. That’s taking everything you feel, everything you hate about yourself, and making a child carry it. Why, except that Aciman wished it, is Elio seventeen and Oliver twenty-four? Would their relationship, the passion, the eroticism, the tropes of romance, be less relevant or less incendiary for a person later in life? Could a person not have a sexual awakening at thirty? All else being equal, why did Elio have to be a child? 

Just say no

So I could continue to dwell on how boring I was at parties, enjoying those special twinges of shame that come as one is stepping into a crosswalk, washing their hair, or otherwise minding their own business when suddenly struck by the Ghost of Dorkness Past.

Or…

I could forget about the parties I didn’t go to and we could all stop buying into this notion that life only gets worse as you get older. Maybe what adults need is to just fucking say NO. No, I don’t need to pretend to be cool. No, I’ll be naff if that’s what it takes. No, we are sick of this pretentious posturing. No, shut up, we don’t care. No, take your literary fiction and shove it. No, fuck your NAMBLA and your Lolita and your power-trips. No, we will not be cowed. We will protect each other. We will try to love, really love, each other. After agonizing over this essay for weeks, I stumbled across Matthew Galloway’s review of Call at The Gay Recluse, where in a few short paragraphs he captured everything I’d been groping toward:

We’re not here to tell you that Aciman can’t write, because obviously he can, and at times he does so with passion and beauty. More than once he captures a spirit of genuine anguish that can arise from hidden and unrequited love; and at times we were moved by the plight of a 17-year-old who is intellectually gifted but unable to express the one thing he truly wants…. For those readers who like their fiction to reflect some deeper truth about the human condition, this book ultimately disappoints and must ultimately be regarded as only slightly more serious than your average after-school special”

Recognizing our emotions, seeing our feelings on paper, has its own significant value, but an understanding of those feelings does not automatically follow. 

Because here’s how it is: Is it romantic, to be penetrated and hurt in the youth of your experience (or ever), as Elio is? To come away from sex sobbing and ashamed and in pain, as Elio does? Is that intimacy? Is that love? Oliver gives Elio marijuana, then anally rapes him. Read the book: that’s what happens. It doesn’t matter if Oliver is sad, if Oliver means well, if Oliver wants him, if Oliver regrets it, if Oliver’s father is a homophobe, if Elio is “of age”: that’s what happens. It is not a negative reflection on you or your experiences, if you were moved or touched or aroused, if the story spoke to you. We got played. Romance may one day mean love, but it doesn’t yet. Romance itself must be rethought. Romance itself must die — and be remade.

To return to where we began: in E.M. Forster’s Maurice(3), the lonely and miserable Maurice finds himself drawn to an adolescent boy. There are parallels to Aciman’s novel, whether intentional or no: Maurice is older, Oliver’s age, and the boy, Dickie, younger; one is turned out of his bedroom for the other; they meet in the hall at midnight. Dickie “would not kick up a row, but he had rather not” go along… But nothing happens. That night “bursts Maurice’s life to pieces,” but he stops himself from hurting another with less power than himself:

“When the fellow had gone he faced the truth. His feeling for Dickie required a very primitive name. He would have sentimentalized it once and called it adoration, but the habit of honesty had grown strong. What a stoat he had been! Poor little Dickie!”

Later he reproaches himself again: he catches his own reflection and thinks, “Was it conceivable that last Sunday he had nearly assaulted a boy?” Forster knew.(4)

We hear that Call is about “total intimacy” — intimacy here conflated with frankness of the body — yet Elio knows very little about Oliver: doesn’t know where he lives or in what conditions, what his parents or friends are like, where he spends his time when he’s not at Elio’s parents’ house or where he’s worked before (it comes as a surprise to learn near the end of the novel that Oliver spends most of his nights out alone on the beach and that he was a bartender at Columbia). What we have instead is total submission, powerlessness disguised as power: Elio, a child who still uses the word “tummy,” who keeps Oliver’s shirt as a talisman and calls it“Billowy,” and who refers to sex as “it,” turns his body over to an older man, literally, and twenty years later is still that child, alone and wishing for Oliver to come to him, to act on him, to act for him, to honour everything he surrendered: “If you remember everything… call me by your name.” One again, Galloway is more succinct: “Although the prose is rich, deeper insights about the human condition are kept to a strict minimum.”

And so perhaps Call Me By Your Name is only a romance in the way that Romeo and Juliet is a romance — that is, not one, but instead a story that we have largely misunderstood in favour of interpreting our own biases as universal truths, justifying the way those with power treat those without, children in particular; and moreover, a story of what is done to us, the way that children’s trust of adults, their love for them, is betrayed by adults’ selfishness and the lies of romance, and how when that cycle continues unchallenged we look at children and see a mirror, nothing but ourselves, white light and not a prism. Again I ask: what would happen if we stopped understanding this story as a romance? Would it remain powerful but cease to be aspirational? When we interpret our biases as truths, we allow ourselves to look only at a novel’s strengths and away from its weaknesses. We allow ourselves to close our eyes.

Notes

“You was never my age, none of ya!” is taken from West Side Story: Action says, “When you was my age? When my old man was my age, when my brother was my age… You was never my age, none of ya! And the sooner you creeps get hip to that, the sooner you’ll dig us!” The gif at the top was made by Tumblr user matthew-daddario.

(1) Writing this put me in mind of Russell T. Davies’s Queer As Folk, in which the 15-year-old Nathan is caught between a homophobic father, furious with the man who raped his son, and the man in question, Nathan’s abusive lover. Writing on the show’s 15th-anniversary, Tom Crowe says of the relationship between Nathan and Stuart: it “was, and is important to see QAF’s brutal and uncompromising presentation of statutory rape — during a time where we [gay men in the United Kingdom] were fighting for a right potentially undermined by the storyline — as vital to our own understanding. QAF didn’t care about the way that heterosexual politicians viewed the dangerous behaviour — the show never condoned the rape. Nathan’s less than desirable experiences were representative of the very full on and often scary baptism into the scene that young gay men often face.” This plotline has been contested since the episode aired in 1999; I appreciate that unlike D’Erasmo’s vision of “two men” or Upchurch’s “two golden boys,” Crowe recognizes “pederasty” when he sees it.

(2) Through the character of a poet, Aciman describes what he calls “the San Clemente Syndrome,” suggesting  that the confusion surrounding an unnamed Thai person’s gender, that the poet cannot concretely discern this, is an analog for memory and for ourselves, like the basilica “built on the ruins of subsequent restorations… [with] no first anything, nor last anything.” I was disconcerted by the seeming use of a stereotyped gender-non-conforming person, denied a name, as a device (“all of Thailand, it turns out, was flirting with me,” the poet says) and found the scene troubling. 

(3) This blog, Luminous Petals, takes its title from Forster’s novel: “Maurice opened his hand. Luminous petals appeared in it. ‘You care for me a little bit, I do think,’ he admitted, ‘but I can’t hang all my life on a little bit.’”

(4) Maurice ultimately finds lasting happiness with a groundskeeper, Alec Scudder, a relationship Forster based on that between Edward Carpenter and George Merrill. Merril, 22 years Carpenter’s junior, met Carpenter on a train. They were together for 38 years, until Carpenter’s death.

Sources

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