When I write about sexually aggressive/precocious, heterosexual teenage girls, I typically get called a rape apologist who thinks adults should be able to rape toddlers, which is obviously and patently absurd to anyone with even a modicum of sense. When Milo Yiannopoulos speaks about sexually aggressive/precocious, homosexual teenage boys, he gets called a pedophile who thinks adults should be able to rape toddlers. This is also utterly and obviously absurd.
But when lefty Slate writers tackle sexually aggressive/precocious, heterosexual or homosexual teenage girls and boys, they are thoughtful commentators on the state of consent laws and sexuality in America, identifying the tendency to get preachy/screechy on the topic as “censorious and unnuanced”.
In trying to think through these issues in Call Me By Your Name, I called Joseph Fischel, a Yale scholar who has written on the messy politics of age and consent for Slate. He noted our society’s intense focus on age and sexuality is a relatively recent notion, not a long-settled one, and that while the law may have a legitimate need to be blunt and rigid, our art does not. In my view, it’s reasonable to be disturbed by the unconventional relationship in Call Me By Your Name, but it’s not reasonable to say the movie endorses pedophilia, or really any kind of power-based abuse, just because it depicts that relationship [emp. mine]. If we go down that censorious and unnuanced path with our art, very little will survive the trip.
What is it about this topic we are trying to discuss? Is it as simple as everyone who disagrees with me is Hitler and rapes children? Or is there something more? What is each side trying to persuade the other of? What is the actual subject under discussion?
I think it’s power, especially the power dynamic in intimate relationships. And to be really specific, it’s that the weaker partner (usually a woman) tends to desire a stronger partner (usually a man). Women typically want to be overpowered (consensually) by their lovers. We are okay discussing this in the context of left-wing, gay relationships and not okay discussing it in the context of traditional, conventional relationships, either gay or straight.
When I was 15, he was 26. When I was 18, he was 29. He’s a teacher. To outsiders, perhaps that seemed like too great an age gap, and too great a power gap. Who gets to decide, and what are the implications of that? If this relationship started today, how many of our peers would be screaming statutory rape and pedophilia and abuse and all manner of ferocious and completely untrue garbage?
If the relationship ended peacefully, what does that mean? If the relationship ended tumultuously, what does that mean? If the relationship ended in marriage, what does that mean? If we are happy, what does it matter that others are not?
These aren’t easy questions. I’m not pretending they are. What I want to know is what is the question?
What are we discussing when we talk about age gaps and power gaps and sexual dynamics?
Lots of love,