Moment of Truth: You May Remember Coming out, but How Much Do You Think about the Moment You Realized You Were Gay? A New HBO Documentary Lets Real People Tell Their Stories of When They Knew

By Buchanan, Kyle | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), June 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

Moment of Truth: You May Remember Coming out, but How Much Do You Think about the Moment You Realized You Were Gay? A New HBO Documentary Lets Real People Tell Their Stories of When They Knew


Buchanan, Kyle, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


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EVEN THOUGH HE SPENT nearly two years adapting it from Robert Trachtenberg's book, Randy Barbato still can't quite believe he's made the heartwarming documentary When I Knew, airing on Cinemax June 25. "I have to tell you, it's a weird thing, because it is a very warm and fuzzy film for us to make," admits the director, who's produced scandalous films like Party Monster and Inside Deep Throat with his World of Wonder partner, Fenton Bailey (who also directed). "This, in our body of directorial work, is much more personal."

So personal, in fact, that Barbato and Bailey did something they'd never done before: appear in their own documentary. As in the book, dozens of gays and lesbians recount the moment they first became aware of their homosexuality, and the directing duo are the first raconteurs to appear in front of the camera. "We've never put ourselves in a film--we'd never even considered it," laughs Barbato. Nearby, Bailey shakes his head and moans. "It's so much easier to be behind the camera," he says.

Their stories, like many in the film, are emotional recollections of a period that predates coming out but packs perhaps even more emotional wallop. As gay viewers watch participant Bobby Johns talk about the "funny feeling" he got from watching The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams or listen to Kate Getty sing the Goo Goo Dolls song that crystallized the teenage crush she had on her best friend, they'll surely recall some of their own "when I knew" moments--as well as the conflicted feelings that ensued.

"What's powerful about these 'when I knew' stories is that a young person not only might be coming to a realization that they're different but also knows that they have to hide that difference," says John Hoffman, vice president of HBO Documentary Films. (HBO and Cinemax are part of the same corporate family.) "That's a very powerful and somewhat sad thing. That very moment sets some people down the road to a life of emotional struggle and gives other people enormous strength in the ability to internalize and manage that conundrum."

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Barbato agrees, suggesting that even people who've successfully navigated that transition may still be grappling with issues from their "when I knew" period. "So much of contemporary gay and lesbian culture is about assimilating--being 'straight-acting'--and I think there are a lot of people who've hidden a lot of themselves from that moment on," he says. …

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