Film review: Out Late documents coming-out experiences of boomers and war babies

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By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Movie Critic

Coming out seems to be the topic of many films. Out Late (2008) is the first of two documentaries I recently viewed.

It tells the story of gay, lesbian and transgender people who came out late in life. Most of them were older than 60, one as old as 79. To younger readers this may sound extraordinary. But for boomers and war babies, coming out when they were young was a far riskier proposition. Being gay was illegal in most states. One could also be arrested for sodomy if caught having sex with  partners of the same sex. Until 1972, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and your family could have you committed indefinitely on the word of a single doctor. Social ostracism was the least of your worries. People attached to their lives and partners were reluctant to give them up. Some waited until the deaths of their spouses before moving forward with public revelation.

Elaine, now 81, came out at 78. She is now a big hit at lesbian bars and clubs (old people are so cute!). She was married for most of her life to the same man.

Walter was an MD and came out at 60. He met his partner at a crochet class.

Ken was married 47 years and came out upon his wife’s death.

Cathy. Why was she included at all? Yes, she came out at 57, but she’d been living with her partner in a lesbian relationship for 24 years. This was a small farming community and she says everyone knew prior to her marriage. This was not a baptism, but a confirmation.

Finally, there is Leanna. Leanna is transgender and the only one to suffer consequences. She was expelled from the Pentecostal church Calvary Chapel, which had been a focal point of her life. She alienated her family. She was left old and alone, though happy with her choice.

The film came came across as advocating that one should come out of the closet regardless of where you are in life. I suppose this is a good message, but it neglected the risks a person takes. It’s very white and middle class; they had little to lose.

Out Late in the hands of another filmmaker may have been a good story. Here it comes across like an hour-long episode of Queen for a Day. The characters themselves have stories to tell, but there is too much extraneous detail. The film drags on. Were it 15 minutes shorter, this would have been an interesting film.

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