this one nearly destroyed me.

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Have you ever gotten a rogue onion ring in your order of fries? If you want onion rings, it’s trigger for celebration. But in the event you absentmindedly chunk into it and assume it’s going to be a strip of potato, the slimy sweetness would possibly make you gag.

That’s how I felt when, halfway via Lifetime’s healthful new Christmas film, I encountered a joke about strap-ons.

According to Lifetime, Under the Christmas Tree is its “first lesbian vacation romance,” directed by, I child you not, a lady named Lisa Rose Snow. (The channel aired its first-ever LGBTQ Christmas film, The Christmas Setup, final 12 months, amid a slew of putatively groundbreaking queer vacation movies.) In the true spirit of Christmas rom-coms, Under the Christmas Tree is chaste: Hearts are warmed, however nothing ever will get actually steamy between Alma (Elise Bauman, nearly upstaged by her bangs) and Charlie (Tattiawna Jones), who meet cute in Camden, Maine, simply earlier than Christmas.

Before we get to the strap-on state of affairs and the self-flagellating spiral it despatched me into, I ought to clarify the premise of the movie. Alma is getting ready to take over her household’s struggling small enterprise, a Christmas reward store, when Charlie, a state worker, involves city in the hunt for the right Christmas tree for the governor of Maine. She finds one on Alma’s household property, however Alma has a sentimental attachment to the tree and doesn’t need to reduce it down. Nevertheless, the 2 girls proceed to flirt over treats on the native patisserie (with … Ricki Lake … enjoying the meddling grasp baker). It’s apparent from the beginning that they like-like one another, and in contrast to so many different Christmas comedies, there is no such thing as a central deception to be resolved. The stakes in Under the Christmas Tree are so low—will or gained’t Alma make Charlie’s job simpler by giving her the tree?—that one of Alma’s chickens may step over them.

I didn’t even thoughts this lack of battle a lot, as a result of it may be good to look at the occasional movie that lowers the ol’ blood strain. But for the primary half of Under the Christmas Tree, the dearth of intercourse within the girls’s sexual orientation felt like an actual bummer. Corny banter stands in for chemistry, and Jones’ million-dollar smile works additional time to conjure the looks of sparks—till, halfway via the movie, as Alma buckles Charlie into some security gear earlier than they step onto a cherry picker to examine a tree, this occurs:

CHARLIE: I like a superb harness to start out your day.

ALMA: [cinches Charlie’s harness] Tighter?

CHARLIE: Yes. As tight as you may get it.

And it was at that second that I totally disappeared into the crevice between my sofa cushions, by no means to be heard from once more.

Why, when the dearth of strap-on illustration in lesbian popular culture has lengthy been a degree of nice bewilderment and annoyance for me, did this harness reference trigger me precise bodily ache? Why did I really feel like I’d simply walked in on my grandparents confusedly rifling via the field below my nightstand? These are the questions I’ve contemplated within the days since my viewing of Under the Christmas Tree, as I’ve struggled to iron the cringe strains off my face. At first, I recognized my response as a symptom of internalized homophobia: Maybe I used to be embarrassed by the reference to queer intercourse as a result of I’ve been socialized to see it as shameful, particularly in a completely healthful house like this film. I’ve been queer for greater than 15 years—shouldn’t I’ve outgrown that impulse? What was mistaken with me?

But after giving it just a little extra thought—an excessive amount of thought, one would possibly argue, for a Lifetime film—I got here to imagine that there was one thing else happening. Something that doesn’t mirror poorly on society or on me as an individual, however on the broader financial system of vacation leisure. That one thing is: unhealthy, unhealthy writing.

Charlie’s line is unnecessary as written. I’ve replayed the alternate a number of instances, at nice expense to my mind, and I’m optimistic that she says “I like a superb harness to start out your day.” I like a superb harness to start out your day? Huh? It’s the form of factor a hopelessly awkward particular person would say once they need to insinuate that they learn about and have had intercourse, and need their crush to affiliate them with intercourse, however can’t give you a intelligent or pure solution to deliver it up in dialog. It’s a careless transfer in a lesbian mating dance that the confident and effortlessly charming Charlie by no means would have made.

The alternate isn’t simply out of character for Charlie—it’s misplaced within the film. Despite its vaguely euphemistic-sounding title, there may be nothing sexual about Under the Christmas Tree. Alma lives along with her mother and father, so that they play a distinguished (and seemingly welcome) position of their daughter’s burgeoning relationship, giving it the juvenile sheen of pet love. When the ever-paternal Enrico Colantoni, as Alma’s father, makes a toast “to the lesbians!,” he preemptively quiets any frisson of want we would have detected. Who may really feel the warmth of attraction with Veronica Mars’ dad puttering round within the subsequent room? When the 2 girls lastly share a primary kiss, Charlie cuts it brief as a result of she has an abrupt revelation about Alma’s chickens. They by no means resume making out. The entire relationship is performed as a parent-friendly, virtually childlike endeavor.

So when the strap-on wordplay comes alongside, together with a joke about tightness that I can’t even deliver myself to unpack, it’s a jarring shift in tone. A cutesy movie about constructing gingerbread homes and stopping at first base has out of the blue acknowledged the existence of intercourse toys. You can simply really feel Enrico Colantoni and Ricki Lake wanting on approvingly, and it curdles the temper.

Under the Christmas Tree was scripted by Michael J. Murray, a man who is aware of heartwarming Christmas films. He’s written nearly a dozen of them, and this one suits fairly neatly into the established mildew of the style. What that requires is a snowy city with a quaint thoroughfare, a subplot a couple of big-city government who leaves her job to open a small enterprise, and a minimum of one protagonist whose year-round persona is Christmas. It doesn’t require refined screenwriting or character improvement. If it did, Lifetime wouldn’t have been capable of launch 30 new vacation films this season. So whereas the community is selling Under the Christmas Tree as a minor lesbian milestone, it was little question produced as swiftly and cheaply because the others.

I need to respect what I imagine Murray and Lifetime had been making an attempt to do with the harness second: acknowledge that whereas love is love and all that, homosexual relationships usually are not similar to straight ones. Queer courtship affords a whole world of pleasant particularities; I needs to be blissful to see their perfunctory inclusion in fictional narratives. But I’m now satisfied that, by asking for extra post-coming-out queer love tales in mainstream tradition and complaining concerning the absence of strap-ons from onscreen lesbian intercourse, I’ve set into movement a form of “Monkey’s Paw” situation, and my needs are coming true in all of the mistaken methods. The protagonists are out and queer, however a lot in order that their loving mother and father have proven as much as kill the vibe. Queer love is so mainstream, it’s corny. The strap-on is there, however with out the intercourse. Under the Christmas Tree is a pleasant addition to the chaste vacation rom-com canon. It’s additionally a cautionary story. Be cautious if you want for pop-culture illustration. You simply would possibly get it.

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