Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Gay origin stories


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If there is one topic in LGBT films where there would seem nothing left to say it would be coming out. Yet due to his skill, ingenuity, and courage, 20something filmmaker Alden Peters has reinvigorated this tired topic, making it a celebration of LGBT personhood in his new documentary Coming Out, just released on DVD by Wolfe Video.

Peters, a graduate of the NYU School of Arts, wanted to create a film that he would have wanted to have seen before he came out. Peters observed that every coming out story was told in hindsight and almost never showed what happened after coming out. Despite characterizing himself as shy and quiet, he decided to film his coming out to his family and friends on camera, capturing their reactions instantaneously and then a year later. He complements his own story with crowd-sourced videos from LGBT youth around the world. His family had recorded home movies from his birth, so his unfolding as a gay person from childhood to adulthood could be documented. Several talking heads provide some practical social science.

Peters was inspired to make his movie after the Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge in 2010, his roommate having filmed him having sex with a man then posted it online. Peters decides it's time to reveal his sexuality to his family and friends. He observes that people long out "forget that in that moment of coming out of the closet, there is nothing more terrifying." He focuses not just on the pivotal coming out to yourself moment, then coming out to others, but seeks to capture all the uncertain times when you are investigating anonymously online for answers. Journalist Zack Stafford of The Guardian opines that most youth today use the Internet to explore their identities, to play-practice their sexuality before trying it out in real life. Developmental psychologist Ritch Savin-Williams from Cornell tells Peters there are no universal stages of coming out because it's different for everyone. Some eight-year-olds know they are gay, while some 25-year-olds have no idea. Peters' film is a stark reminder that with all the progress made in LGBT rights and acceptance, coming out can still be an ordeal for many young people depending on where they live, their cultural and religious background.

Only Peters' younger sister initially expresses slight reservations, though she becomes incredibly supportive. Many suspected he was gay, but a few others, like his older brother, were clueless. Ironically his friends and family had fewer issues with his coming out than he did. Peters spent years trying to act straight and explain away his gayness. An early family memory of mocking an effeminate man added to his sense that being gay was abnormal. Peters' most traumatic moment is coming out publicly on Facebook ("You're not official until you're Facebook official") when he changes his personal relationship status from interested in woman to interested in men. He concludes that coming out is a personal process. You have to make your own decisions about when is the right time and circumstances. His final step is to settle on an out identity and lifestyle. He attends Seattle's Pride festivities and visits gay clubs, seeing gay people that are different from him. Ultimately he will be gay in his own way.

This riveting film is an ideal resource for anyone struggling with their sexuality, or for families/allies wanting to know more about the gay experience. This movie is perfect for high school human sexuality courses (a two-part high school version is a bonus feature) as it is accessible and fast-paced for a young audience, with its intimate, even awkward moments, such as Peters' mother asking whether anal sex hurts. Almost everyone in Peters' life feels closer to him now that he has revealed the truth about himself. "Pride starts here and starts now. When people come together they realize it is bigger than me or you. I feel more positive about things than I did a year ago." Such testimony so candidly conveyed makes Coming Out a charming standout among this year's LGBT independent films.

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