on call me by your name: queer art gives you permission to feel


If you've spoken to me recently, you know that I've probably been raving about this film called Call Me By Your Name, a queer film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 but didn't make it to the US until the end of the year. It's a film with artful cinematography and stellar acting (that was ROBBED at the Golden Globes...), but perhaps its most powerful element is that it allows you, and even pushes you to feel some of the dark things that you would usually want to suppress.

The premise of the film is that Jewish American-Italian Elio spends every summer (as well as Hanukkah and Christmas) at a villa his mother inherited somewhere in Northern Italy where his father is a professor. Each summer, his father takes in a new grad student to live with the family and help with research, but in the summer of 1983 when the film is set, Elio happens to fall in love with Oliver, the grad student for that summer. Their romance is a complicated one to begin with, including subtle and not so subtle references to the less accepting times, but it also carries with it in the implicit weight that Oliver will have to leave at the end of the summer. 

call me by your name poster

The film is masterful and stunningly emotional all on its own, but I think its gravity increases especially for many of us queer Christians. Perhaps not all have had such an experience, but I think many queer Christians can relate to a sensation telling them they aren't allowed to feel certain things. Sometimes this is as strong as internalized homophobia, but sometimes it just comes in the form of unknowingly (or knowingly) gaslighting yourself, telling yourself that your emotions aren't valid due to your queerness.

Over the course of 2017 and now into 2018, I've discovered that with each piece of good queer media, I've also unlocked another piece of myself that was perhaps still buried. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, these pieces of queer media have created spiritual and emotional spaces to finally let out a deep breath that had been probably held for years, to just be, and Call Me By Your Name was one of those films. 


Throughout Call Me By Your Name, you watch as Elio and Oliver fall in love with each other, navigating the tenuous waters of a queer relationship that still exist today, and you step into the rush of euphoria alongside them. You watch them open up to each other, reveling in the heady romance they build over the course of the summer they have together, idyllically sheltered in a world relatively devoid of homophobia or anyone or anything that would tell them their relationship is anything short of magic. Their story and tender ways of relating to each other as the film progresses capture the complex flurry of experiences and emotions at the beginning stages of a relationship, particularly a queer relationship, something we don't often see a lot of in an Oscar nominated film. 

But I think the most impactful emotions contained within the film are those of grief and loss when the two are forced to part ways at the end of the summer. Throughout the film, you see the emotional tension build up as the audience is reminded that by the very nature and circumstances of the relationship it cannot last forever. And you know that intellectually, but then you sit front row as Elio comes undone following Oliver's departure, and something in your own soul shatters. You feel it. I felt it. And I found that peering into the heaviness of Elio's agony was profoundly healing.


As queer Christians, we often explicitly hear that we aren't allowed to love like everyone else or that we aren't allowed to experience the same joy as our straight counterparts, and what gets erased then is the implicit voices that tell us we're likewise not allowed to feel sadness and heartbreak. But queer art gives us permission to feel.

It validates the significance of that person you held dear. It tells you it's okay to be completely decimated when that love is lost or that relationship, whether real or hoped for, ends. And it whispers that it's okay to be wrecked and cry your eyes out as a queer person, because that person, that love, that relationship meant something to you, and that for whatever span of time it lasted, it was good.

Queer art gives you permission to feel, and it gives you permission to feel that your loves, your relationships, and your other experiences are good and meaningful and worthy of respect, something that still so often gets lost, especially within the context of the church for queer people.

And I think that's the idea behind representation entirely. It allows you to see yourself and your experiences as genuine and real and worthy of respect, whether that means intellectual respect or emotional respect, and I think that's something so many queer/LGBTQ Christians are still missing. So, go see the film. And let it either help heal you, open your eyes, or otherwise change you for the better. 

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