You like that title? It’s catchy. Robust, yet staggeringly spare. But every pretentious turn of phrase I could think of for this post just sort of… didn’t fit.
I’m 38 years old. I’ve been married for 8 years to a man I’ve been in love with–and together with–for almost 18 years.
I came out of the closet just after my nineteenth birthday. This year, I will celebrate the point in my life where I have been out longer than I was in.
I have a good life. A great one, even. I have heavy stories, and heartaches, and places where people let me down or the world in which I lived was not yet ready for the person I needed to be. But those are old, small scars. My life today is pretty great because of the people in it, the places in which it rests, and the way my brain has grown to be wired.
So what am I writing about today? Why thaw out this subject for another turn around the dance floor? (Especially when it was addressed so fully in some other places: HERE, HERE, and HERE to name a few.)
Art. Art is everything. Entertainment is art. Art is entertainment. Art is transformation. Art is history made manifest and the future made malleable. Art is the collective obligation of humanity in an era where we have eschewed every such obligation for the flimsiest excuses of division.
So, a week ago I saw the movie Call Me by Your Name as part of our annual pilgrimage to see every Oscar-Nominated Best Picture contender. It struck me squarely in the heart with its gripping, nuanced portrayal of passion and confusion and shame and joy and reality and all of the things that make a movie worthy of an Oscar. It was also a big, gay romance–the likes of which I had never seen before on the screen.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t seen gay people on the screen. Or that I haven’t seen moving, powerful love between persons of the same sex in cinema. But it IS to say that this story, told in this way, by these people (including my new ridiculous infatuation, Armie Hammer), showed me something new.
As has been said in many an interview about the movie, it is a love story without punishment. There is no antagonist save for time–arch-villain to us all. There is no hate thrown in the teeth of the homosexuals, no danger of being cast out, no nigh-biblical plague swept down from the needles of history to eradicate the brave lovers.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine a story that is simply allowed to be about love, without the danger of losing everything for that love, without the risk of sickness or destitution or being beaten to death by angry homophobes on a windswept Wyoming night or any of it?
I imagine that you can, indeed, imagine it. Especially if you aren’t gay. The movies have given you those stories a hundred times. Hallmark Channel gives you eighty of them every Christmas season. Sometimes, love is the story instead of the reward… and we laud those stories for their focus on emotion or depth or charm instead of on contrivances of plot.
But I am pretty sure I had never seen one about my people before that day. Not one designed to be seen by everyone–this was an art house film, don’t get me wrong, but it was meant for YOU. For anyone. To speak to something bigger than the niche that so many by-the-gays, for-the-gays films, destined to live only on DVD and streaming sites, never on silver screens, are allowed.
It shook me. It was all I could think about for days. It is still all I can think about, if I stop moving and just let the quiet seep up around me.
So, of course, I bought the book. And the audiobook (where my dear Armie read the book to me in a voice that is, quite honestly, frighteningly delightful). The book captured my heart and my brain in entirely new ways and left me sobbing on the bed for a while after its last delicate words were set free.
You can never get the feeling of reading a book for the first time back. It’s one of life’s great artistic shames, I think.
But I remained aflame with this indistinct, nebulous energy that I don’t recall ever feeling before. Unfocused, it just bounced around inside of me, challenging me to something, to say and do and be something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Filling my heart to full, breaking it plainly in two, then stitching it back together with sinewy thread of a purpose not yet defined.
So… that was going on.
Then last night, while we were waiting to be seated for Chicago at the Civic Center (a marvelous performance, by the way), I happened to notice that there was a sneak preview screening tonight of the movie Love, Simon. Based on a book I have not read, I had been intrigued by the movie based on the pedigree of the cast and crew (long story short, IMDB the movie and you’ll see that its been built by a laundry list of people who cross over into all of my nerdy happy places).
It could have been–and in its way, was–simple teen-flick fare. But it was something else, too.
It was a movie about coming out, not as a sidebar or a twist, but as the point. It was a movie about what it means to be in that unenviable, unique place in the world, in today’s world, so different from my own experiences and yet so very much the same. It was about friendships and family and the inconceivable duality of self that you will, flat out, never understand unless this is your world.
I don’t say stuff like that very often. I’m being bold today. It’ll pass, perhaps.
I loved this movie as well. It was simple and honest and played fairly with its audience and its subject matter. It set aside tired tropes of violence and sickness and desolation and instead asked its characters to pay in safer, but no less terrifying, currency. Fear. Risk. Doubt. Harsh words instead of harsh blows.
Family that seeks first to understand, not first to judge. Acceptance that doesn’t have to be earned, but is instead freely given.
Do you know when the last time I saw that story on the big screen was? The simple, accessible, down-to-Earth, Big-Studio-Machine-Produced story of a gay young person coming to grips with their authentic self in a world that may not have understood them but did not intrinsically and instinctively hate them?
Never, never, never.
I am 38 years old. I watch a LOT of movies.
Why is my answer never? Why have these two movies given me something that I have never had before in my art? In my entertainment? In my world?
In the world my nieces and nephews will inherit?
Do you know what that’s like?
Just think about that.
As I drove home from the movie, as I sipped my tea and thought about what to say on this big, endless white screen… I realized what the energy in me, what this full and bursting feeling of co-mingled love and hurt in my heart, wants.
More art that shows the next person in line that their story is good and true and right, because it is their story. That what is good and true and right has not been passed down in silent arbitration from Puritan tyranny, but is instead simply the product of a world reflective of the infinite diversity of its component parts.
I write stories. Sometimes, I think… enough, Jeremy. Does every damn one of your stories need a big, gay character?
A hundred times, a thousand times, for all of time, yes.
Nobody else has to wait 38 years.
Not on my watch.
And not on yours.
Make the art you needed when you were small and alone.
I’ll be over here, doing the same.
NOTE: To put my money where my mouth is, and to put my art where my heart is, I just made my first novel, Spiralchain: Gatemaker, which very much features a gay protagonist, free on Kindle on Amazon from Sunday, March 11th (2018) through Thursday, March 15th (2018). Enjoy, world.