I recently saw the excellent stays-with-you movie “Call Me By Your Name.” In this film, Elio, a seventeen year-old Italian Jew, falls hard for his father’s research assistant, twenty-four year-old confident doctoral student, Oliver, from the United States.
Elio lives with his family during the languid summer at a villa in Crema ( Northern Italy). His father is an Antiquities Professor, his mother is a translator, and he is a Musician and a scholar himself.
Although Elio has had sex with an adoring French girl in Crema, it is Oliver he is obsessed with. Oliver and Elio have only six weeks together, and during most of that time, they dance around their attraction to one another until they finally consummate the relationship, but they tell no one about their romance that incorporates identity, love, friendship, and good chemistry. They are discovering themselves. It is 1983, before Gay Pride, AIDS.
At his parents’ suggestion, Elio and Oliver spend three giddy days in Rome before Oliver returns to the states and Elio to his home where he first met Oliver.
Heartbroken after leaving Oliver, his first love, Elio, listless, plops down on the couch at home. His father was well aware of the relationship between Elio and Oliver as Oliver relays in a phone call to the family at Chanukkah. “Your father started treating me like a son-in-law.” The mother knew better as well.
“Don’t Cauterize the Pain!”
In a magnificent soliloquy, Professor Perlman, Elio’s father, acknowledges Elio’s pain. He doesn’t ask Elio to confirm that he had a relationship with Oliver, but he does let Elio know that what he had with Oliver was rare and special. Perlman encourages Elio not to shut himself after this experience.
Talking about his own love lost, Perlman tells him: “I may have come close, but I never had what you had. Something always held me back or stood in the way. How you live your life is your business.
But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live. One is the mock-up, the other the finished version and then there are all those versions in between.
But there’s only one and before you know it, your heart is worn out and as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow. I don’t envy the pain. But I envy you the pain. “ Or in Tennyson’s words, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
You know from Elio’s father’s words, that his son’s life is his business and as a parent, will always be there to listen to him and support him.
What Perlman has done is what every LGBTQ child wishes their parents would do: validate their emotions, not question their sexual orientation, and draw parallels of their own life experiences so the child can relate to another’s past.
Oliver, in a later phone call to tell the Perlman family he is getting married to a girl in the Spring, confides in Elio that he’s lucky to have such an understanding father and that his own father would have him “carted away to an institution” if he found out about his gay romance.
Although Elio is not coming out to his father, Perlman’s approach is wise. Says co-author of When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know (Sterling, 2016), Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D. “the best way you can help your child not to feel rejected is by remaining involved in the details of his or her life and by not avoiding topics that may make you feel uncomfortable. Avoidance of certain areas send a tacit message that you may not be accepting of these things.”