touch /təCH/, n., v.

The other night, before Candle Boy embarked on a two-week trip to London and Paris (without me), I’d asked him for some extra cuddle time, to stock up for the time he’d be gone.

For some, like Candle Boy and myself, this makes sense. For others, their instinctive response would be to glance at their nonexistent watch, mumbling, “Oh, look at the time, I’ve got to go.” Not everyone’s love languages are the same, so I’m grateful Candle Boy and I share at least one of our top two, because it makes moments like this much easier to have.

As we cuddled, he commented, “Touch really is one of your love languages.” It was likely meant as an off-hand remark or observation, but the words and the sentiment they evoked stuck with me long after he was gallivanting through London (in search of a Harry Styles to bring back for me, as all good boyfriends ought to do).

People’s words stick with me often. I’m able to recall exact quotes for several days after the fact—long enough to debate the merit of writing it down to save for future memories. This time, it wasn’t just the words and the moment I wanted to save, but also the emotion that had come along for the ride: a warm, rich feeling that blossomed in my heart and rose through my fingertips so acutely, I can still feel now, precisely what I felt the first time I heard those words.

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Photo by Courtney Cheng

This feeling lingered and ended up serving as the emotional backdrop upon which I read Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman. Ever since the film released in late 2017, I’d been pressed by various folks in my life, all of whom are in the LGBT+ community, to watch the film or read the book—or both. Each one of them told me, in their own ways, that this story was such a beautiful, realistic rendering of their experience of attraction and love, and life in general. I diligently placed the book on hold at the library, and at long last, my turn arrived. Soon enough, I too fell in love with the story.

I don’t believe my response came about simply because I also identify with the LGBT+ community. Aciman does explicitly write about sex and/or the bodies envisioned within these sexual thoughts. However, the way he describes attraction is breathtaking; the way he captures human emotion, from love to loss, is exquisite; and all of it is so precisely on point, you can’t help but feel something with the characters as you read.

I don’t say this with the intent of erasing the LGBT+ experience, nor to interpret Call Me By Your Name devoid of the overt context from which it comes: the development of a youthful relationship between two young men as they age.

I say this—that the emotions within this novel can touch readers regardless of their sexual orientation—because I believe Aciman’s words render so accurately our human emotions. Sometimes, his sentences stretch on for a third of the page. You read and read and read, following the flow of his words with ease, because you know and feel what he’s trying to express, and though you feel breathless because there lacks a period to allow you to catch your reading breath, you also forget to look for the period because you, too, want to chase that feeling of breathless excitement of being in love with someone, because you know just how wonderful it makes you feel.

Or are “being” and “having” thoroughly inaccurate verbs in the twisted skein of desire, where having someone’s body to touch and being that someone we’re longing to touch are one and the same, just opposite banks on a river that passes from us to them, back to us and over to them again in this perpetual circuit where the chambers of the heart, like the trapdoors of desire, and the wormholes of time, and the false-bottomed drawer we call identity share a beguiling logic according to which the shortest distance between real life and the life unlived, between who we are and what we want, is a twisted staircase…

Then there are the moments when Aciman writes succinctly, but turns to metaphors to capture the intensity of pain and loss.

Like every experience that marks us for a lifetime, I found myself turned inside out, drawn and quartered.

In this book, there exists at least one small pocket of joy and shared experience for all readers who have loved and lost.

As humans, we all go through universal experiences: love, heartbreak, jealousy, rejection. As humans, we also have in our natures, the desire to disassociate ourselves from those who are different from us. After all, it’s easier to be with those who are similar.

But allowing ourselves to explore, to be vulnerable, and to connect with others—whether they share half your DNA or not a single demographic, socioeconomic, nor interest overlap with you—has become ever more important in the current landscape of our world.

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Photo by Courtney Cheng

When I was about halfway through Call Me By Your Name, I also began watching Queer Eye on Netflix. I soon found myself further welcomed into this warm snuggle of emotion. The premise of the show is that five fantastically gay men are invited to makeover a straight guy who lives, thus far, in the Bible Belt. They give him style tips, fix up his house, teach him better health habits, and do their best to boost his self confidence so he can improve his life.

At the end of one of the episodes, one of the five men concludes with this line, “A common thread that holds all humans together is that, we just want to be loved.”

It is a line that I 100%, whole-heartedly stand behind, and sadly, a message that I most often hear within the LBGT+ community, so, not everyone hears or registers it as well as it could be, should be, or ought to be. But for anyone out there who is listening, or reading—this post is for you.

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