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Where I Prattle on About How Good “Call Me By Your Name” Is

I want to live in Call Me By Your Name. I want to get a travel visa and just spend a year in it.

It’s been over ten years since Brokeback Mountain and since then the world has changed. Ten years ago I don’t think we were ready for a movie like Call Me By Your Name. Brokeback Mountain was a breakthrough of society, with name actors funded with Hollywood dollars playing gay in a gay romance. Ultimately Brokeback Mountain was a tragedy, with the character’s sexuality crushing them under society’s weight. Call Me By Your Name, by comparison, is romance to the point of fantasy.

Timothee Chalamet plays the audience surrogate, a very intelligent sexually awakening teenager spending the summer with his professor parents somewhere in Italy. Armie Hammer – remember the Winkelvoss twins in The Social Network? Yeah, that guy – plays Your Dream First Love, a graduate student who spends the summer with them. The film could easily fall into problematic territory, especially because while playing a student in his twenties Hammer and his gorgeous greek god body is in his thirties, but it navigates through with warmth and heart. The film has a magically slow pace paired of an Italian summer filled with music, books, apricot juice, swimming in rivers, love, sex, and goofy dancing to 80’s music.

Is this what romance films feel like to straight people? Do you come out wishing dream lover Armie Hammer had helped you understand yourself while touching your soul during your adolescence? I’ve never seen a film that spoke to my experiences while being about fictional characters before. There have been gay rom-coms and gay coming out stories, but Call Me By Your Name is a gay love story.

So… How’s it Going?

Hello Blog. It’s been a while. Like over half of the Obama administration while.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

B and I were not able to make the long distance work, and we ultimately – and ultimately amicably – broke up. After some things that did not work out, that maybe someday I can write about, I met A. After two years together, A had to move for work five hours away. Despite the fact that I don’t have a good history with long distance relationships, I want this one to work out.

Things seemed to be heading on the right path since I last posted on this blog. Gay marriage went from something no one wanted to the law of the land! The economy climbed out of deep recession by adding millions of jobs! We can now ask our speakers to play that funky music, and half the time they get it right! Sadly, last year Biff became president and it has been chaos ever since.

For the past four years, my work has been off the hook, but in a creative way that engaged me. What started as “overwhelming creative endeavor” has evolved into “nine to five job”, and my required dedication has gone from 180% down to about 70% over that time. What I have missed is a vehicle to post thoughts that were my own, and not owned by my employer.

Three years ago I suffered a concussion while, of all things, on vacation trying to relax from my job. I’m very lucky that it could have been much worse, I didn’t come out unscathed. The combination of head injury, age, and possibly (probably) alcohol has dulled my memory and put a fog over old events. Looking over what I wrote down over the years now has new meaning, as I now realize I may not always be able to remember where my mind was throughout my life.

So, here I go again on my own. I have a few ideas I want to write down, half baked though they may be, and more I want to explore. I’m hoping to give my brain a little bit of mental exercise outside of work, and try to share myself with my audience of two. Let’s see what happens.

The Oak Lawn Tales – The Ice Storm

All coated in ice

All Coated In Ice

In February of 2003, a crippling ice storm hit the Dallas/Fort Worth area. To be fair, any winter storm in Dallas is crippling. Dallas residents assume that because they have 4 wheel drive they can drive at full speed on ice, which leads to many SUV’s sliding through intersections. This storm, however, was particularly fierce. I suspected things would be bad Monday night as I was pelted by what felt like sharp “Dippin’ Dots” while walking to the gas station to get more toilet paper, something one should have on hand during a snowpocalypse. By morning, the storm had laid a layer of ice across all of the roads in the city. I could see rows of trucks held at a stand still on the I-35 overpass from my bedroom window. It wasn’t traffic; they simply weren’t moving due to the ice. From the bridge over Harry Hines Boulevard, I watched cars attempt to drive up the hill to the tollway, only to slide back down. I was stuck at home.

I had plans leave Thursday to visit my sister and her husband in California. The two of them had met while they attended Mayo medical school, though I suspect a secret Mayo society had identified them as genetically compatible to breed future Mayo doctors. The two were so perfect together – both athletic multi-talented overachievers – that it defied reason that they could have actually found each other except via some form of evil eugenics plot that was part of a “The Da Vinci Code” conspiracy. Let’s face it; these things don’t just happen.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

They had gotten married the year before, and moved out to San Francisco. My sister had an ROTC scholarship, and her first assignment was in the Bay area, and he worked at a different hospital as an anesthesiologist. They had an apartment with two cats in the Richmond area. I love the Bay area and having someone to visit was a good excuse, but I also had ulterior motives: I was out to my close friends, but I was as of yet not out to anyone in my family. I was going to change that by telling my sister.

I was stuck in my apartment Tuesday and Wednesday. Things looked fairly grim for leaving Thursday, but by some miracle the roads had melted enough so Thursday morning I was able to make my way to DFW airport for my morning flight. San Francisco was night and day to the frozen wasteland I had just left. My sister and her husband proved to be adept hosts, though to be fair, they’re so much for a visitor to do and see that one could be entertained for days (my sister to this day lords over me that she was the first person to get me drunk, which isn’t hard when you’re a non-drinker taken to Napa valley). In my imagination San Francisco is where gays go to heaven – they move into town houses, decorate them impeccably, and wake up every morning getting fresh orange juice and a scone at the corner bakery and spend every evening at a wine bar with their dead gay friends. The best part is that because they’re dead, they don’t have to pay San Francisco’s exorbitant rent.

The second to last day I was there I decided was time. I was laying on the air mattress set up in their apartment office while my sister worked on a presentation for work. Her husband was watching the  America’s cup race in the living room. I had come out to my close friends, but it was never easy. The hardest part is getting out the word “gay.” It actually is easier to spit out “in the closet” than “gay”, because the G-word is so powerful and loaded. It’s like saying Voldemort’s name; that can get you killed.

“I have to tell you something.”

“Sure,” she said, completely focused on her presentation.

“I want to tell you that… that I am gay.” My memory is fuzzy here, but I’m fairly sure I got the G-word out. That caught her off guard.

“What? Oh my god… this is huge… oh my god… this is huge…”

I think that pattern repeated a few more times. This was not going well, I thought. Much of the reason that I told her first was that her best friend from the military was gay, so I asked about him. “He broke up with his boyfriend,” she replied. As you can tell, the support was overwhelming. She pointed out, as I already knew, that our mother was not going to take the news well. She explained how her sister in law had recently come out to her mother in law, and it caused quite a scene. “Also, there are a lot of diseases out there, so you should use protection.”

And that was that.

The next morning was notable more for what didn’t happen; specifically any mention of what had been revealed the night before. In fact, it would be four years before the topic would ever be broached again, and then only in an awkward talk where she told me that she realized she “reacted badly” and “it was my choice to be gay.”  Other than that we have never discussed anything about my gay life.

Some people say that the hardest words to say in the English language are “I love you”, but I know that pales in comparison to “I forgive you.” There are two people in my life I have never been able to say those words to, and my sister is one. I was numb for the two weeks that followed that trip, frozen like the cars on I-35. In my mind, I was finally going to crack into coming out to my family, which would eventually lead to their love and acceptance. Instead, I learned that I was even more alone than I ever thought. This was the first person I had come out to that rejected me, and I had no idea how to handle it, and no one to look to for support. I had no idea where to turn to. My friends were 500 miles north of me, and I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could talk about the pain I was going through. After spinning in emotional circles, there was only one conclusion I could draw.

I had to leave Dallas.

Things I’m Thankful For – 2010 Edition

I’ve always thought that Christmas and Thanksgiving should be consolidated into a single holiday, where we can eat Turkey, open presents, give thanks, and straight people and lesbians can watch football, but now I realize that New Years makes Thanksgiving redundant. Truly we should give thanks for what we have on New Years Eve. What better time do we have to be thankful for the year brought us and party for what our future holds?

2010 is not a year I would choose to repeat; while it had victories like B finding a full time position and my own personal promotion at Widgets Inc it also had consequences with B moving to Texas and having to supervise the destruction of my department only a month after being moved up. Coming up with a list of what I’m happy about is harder than most years, but I’ll admit I have a few items.

  1. I lived through another year and didn’t kill anyone.
  2. I have friends who care about me (and took me to see Lady Gaga!).
  3. B has found a job that makes him happy.
  4. I work with a great team of individuals on a daily basis.
  5. After thousands of dollars in insulation, new windows, and other home investments, my house is warm in winter.
  6. I realized this year that staying in the closet is helping no one.
  7. I came out to my Dad, and have come closer to my family for the first time in years.
  8. I have discovered pod coffee, or as I see it, coffee of the future!!!

At work we’re wrapping up on annual reviews, which involves the painful process of coming up with goals for next year. Now, I really hate new year’s resolutions because they usually involve making a life changing decisions because of an arbitrary date – I’m looking at you “I’m going to start going to the gym”, which always lasts only two weeks – but I’m a fan of annual goals, which have an end date and can be reviewed the next Thanks-New Year (Confused? You should be).

Here are my 2011 goals:

  1. I want to make at least two new animations.
  2. I’m going to fix the retaining wall and my porch.
  3. I’m going to wrap up “The Oak Lawn Tales”

So, that’s all I can think of, but one doesn’t need lots of things to focus on when it comes to goals.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Never Been Kissed

Like what seems like a majority of gay America, I’m a big fan of “Glee”, which is one of the three shows I’ll Hulu during the week. I’m also a huge fan of “The Onion AV Club”, which for those not in the know is the Onion’s non-satirical pop culture site, and I always read Todd VanDerWerff’s TV Club reviews after I catch episodes. VanDerWerff gives a show as fluffy as “Glee” a full critical analysis, even creating “The Three Glee’s” theory, where the show is actually three different shows depending on which of the three creators is writing the episode.

(If you haven’t seen this week’s episode, there are spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned)

In last week’s episode, “Never Been Kissed”, Kurt (the gay one) faces a bully and meets his dream guy. The overwhelming consensus from my (mostly gay) friends was that this episode was a series high. VanDerWerff on the other hand hated the episode.

There are two kinds of bad television episodes. There are episodes that are just so colossally miscalculated that they become utterly, completely terrible, irredeemable in almost every way. Those episodes are like the last episode of Glee, “The Rocky Horror Glee Show,” which was, yes, terrible, but was also something I could conceivably see myself watching again at some point. Its awfulness went around the bend to become something sort of entertaining in how thoroughly it missed the point. But there are also episodes that try for something but keep undercutting themselves, ending up misconceived messes. These episodes are usually boring, and that’s what tonight’s Glee, “Never Been Kissed” was.

I personally enjoyed the episode, and have watched it multiple times, but in thinking about the episode I developed a theory about the disconnection between VanDerWerff’s opinion and my own: I think he was watching an after school special and I was watching a gay fantasy.

Let’s start with Kurt’s new crush, Blaine. Played by Darrin Criss, he is the confident, square jawed, all American homo Kurt aspires to be. He also sings a mean Katy Perry. The reviewer calls the prep school Blaine attends a “tolerance-Narnia”, and makes Blaine out to be a manic-pixie dream boy, saying he “less a character than some sort of gay genie, who always knows exactly what will work best in every situation.”

For what it was, the character of Blaine rang somewhat true to me because I’ve met people like him. In most gay organizations I’ve been a member of, there’s always been a Blaine; that charismatic person who exudes leadership and everyone adores. I’ve usually had puppy crushes on them, only to be eventually disappointed by the shocking revelation that they’re human, and make mistakes just like everyone else, or – most depressingly – that they have a boyfriend already. The reality is that for anyone who is coming to terms with their sexuality, meeting someone who is comfortable with themselves is like seeing a lighthouse beacon ahead; it gives you something to look forward to. Not all of them are as dreamy as Blaine in real life, but that’s the gay fantasy for you.

Throughout the episode Kurt is being bullied by “stock guy in letter jacket.” Letter jackets are the Stormtrooper uniforms of Glee; anyone in a letter jacket will at some point taunt our main characters. In an admittedly not-shocking twist, Letter Jacket bully is actually gay. From the review:

This episode honestly had a chance to deal with a serious issue in a forthright way, using one of the most interesting characters on TV right now to confront that issue, and it completely biffed the landing. Telling gay kids—or even just kids who are made fun of for being gay when they’re really just outside the school’s norm—that their bullies are being mean because they harbor secret homosexual desires may be true in some cases, but in almost all, it’s not.

With regard to the bully, the episode had two choices: He bullies Kurt because he has a reason or he bullies Kurt for no reason at all. My high school bully had abusive parents and ended up a meth-head, but I’m not sure that tonally fits in the “sing our cares away” world of Glee. Letter Jacket bully could have had no reason, but dramatically that makes really painful television – no one wants to see our hero up against an impossible task that has an inevitable conclusion. So, they took a path that gives a reason that gives the bullies back history in one dramatic scene, and introduces a new gay character. It was more fantasy than honesty, and it came off to me like the classic Sam and Diane scene on Cheers.

Would I say they biffed the landing? Maybe, maybe not. I think it offers the opportunity to introduce an even more interesting character. The deeper you are in the closet, the harder the path out is, and lemme tell ya, those guys have to work some serious issues to work out along the way. Once again, Glee may be too “sing your cares away” to take on something that heavy, but I can hope.

In the end, I think the reviewer wanted to see an honest take on what bullying is and the toll it takes, but instead got the You-Go-Boyfriend version. I found parts of it more honest than the reviewer did, because I connected with experiences from my own life. It didn’t single-handedly end LGBT bullying, but that’s asking a bit too much from a television show.

The Oak Lawn Tales – The Dangers Of Trading Up

This is the tale of two men, Jon and Joe, and the dangers of trading up.

I met Jon chatting online one night on gay.com. He was an analyst for a major retail corporation who was recently out of college, a snappy dresser, and worked far too many hours, but we had found time to go out once or twice. Around this time I started talking online with Joe. Joe was originally from Savannah, Georgia, and missed his home. He worked as a teacher at an inner city school in Fort Worth.

I hadn’t met Joe yet, but we had wonderful conversations online. I had gone out with Jon, but I didn’t know how I felt about him. For starters, while he wasn’t flaming, he was quite a bit more gay than I was. He frequently used Madonna and disco references in casual conversation which I never got. He was cute, though not Lajos cute, which is quite unfair because Lajos was off-scale pretty. From my perspective, I was dating Jon, but I wanted to date Joe, but I wasn’t going to be someone who would date two guys at the same time, so I broke it off with Jon.

This is a comment from present tense me: stupid, stupid, stupid. Let’s review all the mistakes I made here, shall we?

First of all, if you’re going to break it off to get involved else, take the time to actually meet the second person. From our first meeting, it was obvious that Joe and I had absolutely no interest in each other. We remained friends for a long time, and we became each other’s wingman at clubs, but we didn’t want to date each other.

Second, I was holding Jon up to a golden gay standard that up to that point I had never met, and in reality didn’t exist. Who was I looking for back then? If you let your brain between your legs make all your decisions, you’re just going to end up hurt most of your life. Hungarian computer programmer/fitness instructors do come by, but you can’t think that is the only person for you, especially when you can’t talk to them without your heart racing.

My biggest mistake here was failing to recognize how special Jon was. Jon was the rarest breed of gay in that he was not crazy. He lacked issues to an almost impossible degree. Jon may have been the most dateable guy I ever met my entire time in Dallas, and he was a gentleman to boot. He didn’t pressure me physically, which is amazing for anyone who is under 25.

So I threw away the guy who was nothing but nice to me for someone who I wasn’t interested in. The worst part is that I can’t say that the other guy was crazy, because in this story, I was the guy with issues and hang-ups.

The Oak Lawn Tales – Kickboxing

Lajos and I continued to meet for dinner and other occasions, but we were in no way “dating.” In some ways, the concept of dating Lajos was like the concept of dating Owen Wilson; they were both fantasies to me. Lajos was the guy at the party everyone wanted to take home with them, and I was quite content with the fact that he was even socializing with me. To ruin my happiness by trying to push for more was out of the question. Note that this didn’t mean that I wasn’t crazy about him, or that I would have done anything to spend more time with him.

In addition to being a very smart computer programmer, Lajos has been working to become a fitness instructor. Instructors need to take classes and pass certification to teach at gyms; they won’t just hire anyone who looks good in spandex (though Lajos passed that qualification with flying colors). My friend Manuel told me that Lajos got a job as a kickboxing instructor in a new gym that opened in downtown Dallas. At this time I was at a gym that was near work because I had a discount, and while it was a great facility with great equipment and a friendly staff it didn’t have a Hungarian kickboxing instructor who made me feel funny like when I climb the rope in gym class. It was time to join a new gym.

The new gym was built on top of a parking garage and with giant glass windows on all sides and was located in the heart of downtown. In the mornings you could watch the sunrise over the Dallas skyline. It was quite a bit more expensive than my prior gym, but it was about five minutes from my home. It was fancy and upscale, like many things in Dallas. At that time I was interested in building muscle over losing weight, so taking a kickboxing class really wasn’t something I was interested in, but I was interested in the instructor so I figured I’d give it a shot.

If you haven’t figured out that this story has a “crash course in wackiness” component associated with it, you have obviously not watched enough sit-coms. Lajos was very new as an instructor, and he didn’t understand that his class did not know the steps and that he was doing a terrible job teaching them. To make matters worse, his thick Hungarian accent, which is so adorable, also made it impossible to understand anything he told us. Most classes would begin with him rushing through the instruction, the class half mumbling that they couldn’t understand, the music would start, and… chaos. I’m not a coordinated guy, and my attempts to mimic the motions looked positively elderly (WiiFit would say my WiiFit age was 98). I came to these classes to spend time with Lajos, but I certainly was not impressing him with my lithe dance skill. Thankfully, no one else in the class was either. One evening, I was the only person who showed up to class. Lajos asked “What’s going on? They never have attendance problems in the morning class?” to me. “Oh, maybe there’s an event going on,” I responded; I wasn’t about to tell the truth.

I was never able to execute a kickboxing routine at anything more than a third grader level, which I find an insult to both my Hispanic and gay heritage. Lajos did improve as an instructor, and he expanded his repertoire of classes too. I’d like to think I was there when he first started, and helped support him during his early teaching years; that I also enjoyed watching him run kickboxing examples in his cute fitness gear is beside the point.

Normalized Hotness

America in general, and gays in particular, are very image driven; we’re drawn to hot people like moths to a flame. However, there is a small problem: hot people are crazy. You go out with them a few times, and while sure, the sex is great, they have so many hang ups like “taking two hours to get ready in the morning”, or “only eating what the crystal says they can”, or “wanting you to go to their Scientology meeting.” Being hot skews their world view from the very beginning where they were “teacher’s favorite” well into adulthood where they never had to pay for drinks.

The defense against the “Hot Trap” is to apply the Nick Velasquez Hotness Normalization(tm). The formula is simple:

Normalized Hotness = Hotness / Crazy

Nothing to it! No longer will you buy a drink to that hot guy at the bar who wants to tell you about new fitness plan! What’s even better is if someone is below 1.0 crazy, their hotness increases! Look how well it works!

Hotness Chart

Normalization Graph

The Nick Velasquez Hotness Normalization(tm). Never again will you suffer crazy for the sake of hot.

The Oak Lawn Tales – I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

I was already in Dallas on September 11th, 2001. We watched CNN in a conference room, went to the local sports bar for lunch because they had lots of televisions, and called our loved ones after work. It’s hard for me to say that everything changed after that day, because I’d only arrived in Dallas nine months prior. What I can say is that George W. Bush had been their former governor, and they believed everything his administration said whole-heartedly. I would say that I existed in a political abstract through college. My best friend Ruben definitely was a huge influence on my liberal philosophies, but I would say I could talk the talk the talk but not walk the walk. By the end of college I was a knee-jerk liberal; I knew the words, but I didn’t know what they meant. However, I couldn’t help being inundated by conservative philosophies in Dallas. My co-workers couldn’t wait for the invasion to begin, FOX and Friends played in my gym, and my co-workers wives were frightened of terrorists. Being in Dallas post September 11th in some ways helped cement my world view, mostly because I knew these people were crazy.

Teaching ESL was in some ways an escape. The library was on Cedar Springs Road near Oak Lawn, which was firmly in gay liberal territory. I would come on Wednesday s and Saturdays and converse with people from all over the world, or people who came here to make a better life. Because I spoke Spanish I could bring out some of the students who weren’t comfortable talking. It was an unlikely group of friends. One of the students was named Erik. He was a short, handsome student who had come over illegally from Mexico. He worked two jobs: one at the hotel near Cedar Springs and a second at a South American café around the corner from the hotel. His English was poor, but he tried hard and had a lot of opportunities to practice.

One Wednesday evening he stayed to talk past the time the library closed, and we kept talking on the stairway. Conversation had become more casual and he told me that he was gay, though In retrospect I’m not sure if he knew I was gay or if he had feelings for me and was trying to see how I felt, but I probably should have managed his expectations. Instead I had the misconception that somehow we could be friends even though he had feelings for me.

I began meeting him occasionally at the café he worked at on weekends, and going out with him outside of ESL. We’d go to the clubs, or hang out and talk. One night, he took me to a gay Tejano club in a more remote side of town. From the outside it looked like a warehouse, but on the inside there were gay Hispanic cowboys and Latina lesbians all out on the dance as Tejano music blared out at an ear piercing level. To me it was eye opening. I’d always thought of Hispanic culture as holding machismo over all other traits, and I thought of gay culture as being overly effeminate, but there I was on a dance floor of macho gay Hispanic cowboys dancing with their partners. It changed my image of what it meant to be gay.

However, I was playing with fire; Erik was in love with me, and I was trying to be friends. What makes me angry is that I did care about him, and I may have even loved him back, but I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship, especially one that spanned cultures and language. I let him get close to me, and then told him that I didn’t feel that way. I still remember walking away as he cried. Breaking someones heart takes a piece of your soul with it.

It Gets Better… If…

The following is from my friend Lucas, and I think the story he tells should be heard. Change doesn’t just come from people not hating us; it comes from us not hating ourselves and each other anymore.