Have you ever had a rogue onion ring in your fries order? If you like onion rings, this is your chance to party. But if you absentmindedly bite into it and think it will be a bunch of potato, the gooey sweetness might make you throw up.
This is how I felt when, in the middle of Lifetime’s healthy new Christmas movie, I encountered a strap-on joke.
Depending on the lifespan, Under the Christmas tree is her âfirst lesbian vacation romance,â performed by, I’m not kidding, a woman named Lisa Rose Snow. (The channel aired its very first LGBTQ Christmas movie, Christmas setup, last year, amid a slew of supposedly groundbreaking queer holiday movies.) In the true spirit of romantic Christmas comedies, Under the Christmas tree is chaste: hearts are warmed, but nothing gets really scorching between Alma (Elise Bauman, almost overshadowed by her bangs) and Charlie (Tattiawna Jones), who meet cute in Camden, Maine, just before Christmas.
Before I get to the strap-on situation and the auto-flagellum spiral she sent me into, I should explain the premise of the movie. Alma is preparing to take over his family’s struggling small business, a Christmas gift shop, when Charlie, a government employee, comes to town looking for the perfect Christmas tree for the Governor of Maine. She finds one on Alma’s homestead, but Alma has a sentimental attachment to the tree and does not want to cut it down. Nonetheless, the two women continue to flirt over treats at the local pastry shop (withâ¦ Ricki Lakeâ¦ playing the intrusive master baker). It is obvious from the start that they Like-like each other, and unlike so many other Christmas comedies, there is no central deception to solve. The stakes of Under the Christmas tree are so low – will Alma make Charlie’s job easier or not by giving him the tree? – that one of Alma’s chickens could step over them.
I didn’t even mind that lack of conflict so much as it can be nice to watch the occasional blood pressure lowering movie. But for the first half of Under the Christmas tree, the lack of sex in the sexual orientation of women was a real disappointment. Cheesy jokes take the place of chemistry, and Jones’ million dollar smile works overtime to conjure the appearance of sparks – until the middle of the film, as Alma straps Charlie to safety gear before to get on a lifting platform to inspect a tree, it happens:
CHARLIE: I like a good harness to start the day off right.
ALMA: [cinches Charlieâs harness] Tighter ?
CHARLIE: Yeah. As tight as it gets.
And that’s when I completely disappeared into the crevice between the cushions of my sofa, never to be heard again.
Why, while the lack of representation of the strap-on in lesbian pop culture has long been a point of great confusion and annoyance for me, has this reference to the harness caused me actual physical pain? Why did I feel like I had just run into my grandparents confusedly rummaging through the box under my bedside table? These are the questions I have considered since watching Under the Christmas tree, while I struggled to iron the expression lines on my face. At first I identified my reaction as a symptom of internalized homophobia: I might have been embarrassed by the reference to queer sex because I was socialized to see it as shameful, especially in quite a space. healthy like this movie. I’ve been queer for over 15 years, shouldn’t I have overcome this impulse? What is wrong with me?
But after thinking about it a little more – too much thought, you might say, for a Lifetime movie – I came to believe that something else was happening. Something that doesn’t reflect badly on society or on me as a person, but on the larger economy of vacation entertainment. That something is: bad, wrong writing.
Charlie’s line makes no sense as it is written. I’ve replayed the swap a few times, at great cost to my brain, and I’m sure she’s saying “I like a good harness to start the day.” I like a good harness to start your daytime? Eh? This is the kind of thing a hopelessly awkward person would say when they want to imply that they know about it and have had sex, and want their crush to associate it with sex, but can’t find it. a smart or natural way to bring it into conversation. It’s a goofy move into a lesbian mating dance that Charlie never would have done, self-confident and effortlessly charming.
The exchange isn’t just out of character for Charlie, it doesn’t belong in the movie. Despite its vaguely euphemistic title, there is nothing sexual about Under the Christmas tree. Alma lives with her parents, so they play an important (and seemingly welcome) role in their daughter’s budding relationship, giving her the youthful glow of a puppy’s love. When the always fatherly Enrico Colantoni, as Alma’s father, raises a toast “to the lesbians!” He preemptively calms any thrill of desire we might have detected. Who could feel the warmth of the pull with Veronica Mars’ father walking into the next room? When the two women finally share a first kiss, Charlie cuts it short as she has an abrupt revelation about Alma’s chickens. They never start kissing again. The whole relationship is played out as a parent-friendly, almost childish business.
So when the strap-on pun comes along, with a joke on sealing that I can’t even bring myself to unbox, it’s a shocking change in tone. A cutesy movie about building gingerbread houses and stopping at first base suddenly acknowledged the existence of sex toys. You can just to feel Enrico Colantoni and Ricki Lake look on approvingly, and it calms the mood.
Under the Christmas tree was scripted by Michael J. Murray, a guy who knows heartwarming Christmas movies. He wrote nearly a dozen of them, and this one fits perfectly into the established mold of the genre. What it requires is a snowy town with a quaint thoroughfare, a subplot about a setting of a big city leaving work to open a small business, and at least one protagonist whose year-round personality is Christmas. . It doesn’t require any fancy storyboarding or character development. If that was the case, Lifetime wouldn’t have been able to release 30 new holiday movies this season. As the network promotes Under the Christmas tree as a minor lesbian stage, it was undoubtedly produced as quickly and inexpensively as the rest.
I want to enjoy what I believe Murray and Lifetime were trying to do with harness moment: recognize that if love is love and all that, gay relationships aren’t just like straight relationships. Queer courtship offers a whole world of delicious peculiarities; I would be happy to see their superficial inclusion in fictional narratives. But I’m now convinced that by asking for more post-coming-out queer love stories in mainstream culture and complaining about the lack of a strap-on in on-screen lesbian sex, I triggered a sort of “Monkey’s Paw” scenario, and my wishes come true in all the wrong ways. The protagonists are out there and weird, but so much so that their loving parents have shown up to kill the mood. Queer love is so common, it’s out of date. The strap-on is there, but without the sex. Under the Christmas tree is a delicious addition to the chaste holiday rom-com canon. It is also a warning. Be careful when you want pop culture representation. You might just get it.