Written by Jeff Rose
With the recent success from the movie Call Me by Your Name, the book by Andre Aciman has surged in popularity. However, the film and book has been critiqued for several reasons, most notably the seven-year age gap of the two main characters and the fact it’s not breaking new ground in LGBTQ+ storytelling. The film/novel features a romantic relationship between Elio, a seventeen-year-old teenager, and Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student in Italy.
The age gap is a moral gray area. In Italy, where the story of the novel is primarily set, the age of consent is fourteen. In America, where the story later takes place in the novel (but not at all in the movie), several states have their age of consent as young as sixteen or as late as eighteen. Several people have called this movie pedophilic, which I disagree with since Elio is a teenager, not a prepubescent child. However, this age gap still strikes a chord in me. I personally know or have heard of gay men who dated older men from when they were sixteen, seventeen, or even eighteen. Often, these relationships were not healthy and affected them significantly in the years following their breakups.
Since this story was written by a straight man, I wonder how a gay/bisexual author would’ve written Elio and Oliver; I feel they would have been able to portray the unhealthy power dynamics created by the age gap and the shame and self-conscious issues that come up for the younger person after the breakup. Since the book later skips forward fifteen or twenty years, the age gap can be arguably not significant, but most of Elio’s and Oliver’s character interactions, which begin when Elio was seventeen, are problematic. The movie doesn’t even skip forward as the book does.
For some people, I know that their relationships or truths may be represented in this media, but it doesn’t break any new ground in LGBTQ+ stories. We’ve seen white men who aren’t sure of their sexuality or can be perceived as (or are) bisexual before in Gore Vidal’s The City and The Pillar, in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, and countless others. We want new representation; we want to see more gays/bisexuals of color, of different gender identities, of disabled queer people, and so on. This story takes up space when there’s already so little room for diverse LGBTQ+ stories.
There are lots of gay/bisexual stories that are worthy of a read or a watch, and which broke new ground for queer representation. This includes the film Moonlight by Barry Jenkins, the book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, or the film adaption Love, Simon, or the play Angels in America by Tony Kushner. These are just some of the few gay stories that feature POC, diverse casts, and those with disabilities. Let’s support those deserving of our time to show media creators what we want to see.