1. Today, the second day of December, was cold but clear. The park, as usual, welcomed me. 2. As I ran, I was distracted by the thought of the many horrible things that had recently come to pass. There was the tax bill, obviously, but also the annual onslaught of Christmas car commercials. I'm not sure I've ever been alive when the gap between reality and commercials has been wider. It's especially jarring on Twitter, where the irate screams of the betrayed are interrupted by cheerful and pseudo-ironic ads for crackers. Advertisers don't want to acknowledge that the world is falling apart, because it's bad for business. 3. I thought about the film adaptation of Call Me By Your Name, a novel published ten years ago. The story is about a teenage boy who falls in love with an older man, a grad student spending the summer at the family's house on the Italian coast. Eventually they hook up before the grad student returns to the United States and promptly settles into a heterosexual life with a wife and children. In the book, which I wrote about here not long after it was published, the boy is still pining after this older man twenty years later, though it's unclear whether he's "out" or not, or if he's gay in any sense of the word beyond his interest in this older man. I haven't seen the movie, but my understanding is that this passage of time is much diminished, although the older man still goes back to the United States, leaving the boy heartbroken. 4. Given how much I disliked the book, seeing the film garner so much acclaim has been a minor nightmare. At the same time, however, it's given me a chance -- or another chance -- to dissect my feelings. (I hope it's more than jealousy.) There are some obvious points of contention, including the fact that the writer is not gay -- and has never had gay sex -- and has said in interviews that he doesn't believe in such labels. Which strikes me as a nice ideal if you ignore the last thousand years of civilization, or even the last fifty, when such labels are often a matter of life and death. To me, it's no different than if a white guy -- after writing a book where two black characters fall in love -- said something like, "well, to me, race doesn't matter because everyone is capable of love." In the same way that race always matters in our country, the same can (and should) be said about sexuality; to pretend otherwise is either stupid, naive, or disingenuous. It transforms a work of art into the equivalent of a Twitter ad for pizza. 'Who doesn't like pizza?'5. And yet it is this 'universal quality' of teen love that has been receiving so much critical acclaim in the film version, specifically the sensitive way the director has captured this longing (which echoes the praise given to the underlying book). To me, this kind of 'universal' treatment at the hands of two gay characters (played by straight actors) panders to a straight audience that has never understood what it's like to be gay and -- frankly -- doesn't want to think about it. It would make them uncomfortable. Instead, what they see allows them to relate to this story and think to themselves, "Oh wow -- this is so sweet -- I remember being in love as a teenager, too. Isn't it great that gay people are just like us." There are other elements of the story that exacerbate this unfortunate tendency to gloss over important differences. Because the story is set in pre-AIDS Italy -- and, moreover, in an aristocratic enclave -- it means that the audience doesn't have to reflect on any of the political or cultural implications of being gay: discrimination, beatings, jail, disease (and institutional ambivalence to said disease), and so on -- or all of the terrible abuse for which straight society shares a largely unacknowledged culpability -- are conveniently ignored in this story. By assuaging this guilt, it makes straight people feel better about themselves, when history demonstrates that they should feel nothing but remorse. 6. It also allows a straight audience to ignore an equally important albeit more radical proposition, namely that being gay is better than not being gay. This is not a judgment against being straight but a recognition that most of us who are gay eventually (let's hope) arrive at a point where we recognize that we wouldn't want to change, even if such a thing were possible. We understand that, for us, being gay not only makes us fundamentally different, but also makes us better. It's a reflection of our 'true selves' and, as such, not something we should have to apologize for, 'tone down,' or otherwise make accommodations to straight people for the discomfort our existence brings to them. (Note in this regard that the film is apparently very light in terms of depicting gay sex.) 7. The story also panders to those gays who, as a result of being marginalized for so long, are overjoyed with a crumb of validation that allows them to believe that they, too, are human beings. They see stories like this and say, "You see? Straight people were wrong about us -- we're just like them." Which is true in a most reductive sense, but not as true as I think many people like to believe. 8. There are political ramifications to this embrace of sanitized storytelling. At a time when the rights of gays -- like those of all minorities -- are being attacked by a very powerful political entity, it's critical that progressive society understands and embraces us for who we actually are, not who they want us to be. 9. Just as we need a radical political response to prevent our country from returning to a plutocracy, we need radical art that recognizes and values our differences.