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Program Overview and Questions for Discussion

True Life: I’m Coming Out
Running Time

Act 1: 18:30
Act 2: 9:54
Act 3: 10:15
Act 4: 5:37
TRT: 44:16

Act 1: Joel, 19-year-old Filipino Male, Los Angeles

The scene opens with Joel walking on the beach talking about what a typical teen he has been and the appearance he has conveyed of being just like everyone else. “I wasn’t really different than anybody else,” he comments, “or so they thought, except for that one tiny little bit of information, and that’s…I’m gay.” Joel tells us that he comes from a strict, Catholic, Filipino home where there are clear expectations for him, which include heterosexual marriage. We take a tour of his bedroom, where he shows us the rainbow flag he has tacked to the wall at the back of his closet—a metaphor for the concealment of his sexual identity from his family. Joel tells us that being in the closet caused a roller coaster of emotions for him that at one time compelled him to seek a girlfriend just to refute rumors that he was gay. “It’s acting,” says Joel, “it’s acting 24-7 of your life.”

Joel comes out first to his father, who Joel says is his hero and someone he can trust a lot. At a picnic bench in the park, Joel confides, “My problem is I’m not like everyone else…I’m not like other guys…I’ve tried really hard…to be the son that you wanted me to be…this problem of mine, I tried to fight it so that I could make you guys happy…”
Joel’s father replies, “I don’t define what I want my son to be, I want my son to grow into what he wants to be…I want them to grow up happily…It’s up to you whatever you are…As far as what you are I have noticed that a long time ago…I want you to see for yourself what you are…it didn’t change my love for you…whatever you are, act normally…be what you are…”

The scene concludes with Joel observing, “he’s going to love me either way and I’m satisfied with the results.”

Questions for Discussion

  1. Joel comments, “I wasn’t really different than anybody else…except for that one tiny little bit of information, and that’s…I’m gay.” In what ways do you think being LGBT makes someone “different”? Are such differences positive? Negative? Neither?
  2. Joel indicates that heterosexual marriage is one of the expectations that his family has for him. How do familial expectations and pressure impact LGBT people? How do you think LGBT and all people should balance family expectations with individual needs?
  3. Joel says that being secretly gay was like “acting 24-7.” What is the “closet”? How did hiding his identity impact Joel?
  4. How does the reaction of Joel’s father make him feel? What responsibility do you think friends and family members have when a loved one comes out to them?
  5. Joel’s sister says she wanted him to “grow up to be a man.” What does it mean in our society to be “a man”? How do you feel about such gender roles/expectations? Does being gay make someone less of a man?
  6. Joel’s mother says that he is gay because of “the absence of a father” and that it is contagious. Do you agree with her? Is being LGBT a psychological problem that you can “catch” or a healthy part of some people’s identity?

Act 2: Dora, 17-year-old Latina Female, Midland, Texas

As the act opens, we are sitting with Dora at a high school football game and she tells us that this scene is “not her thing.” As the cameras pan around the town, we see oil wells and confederate flags. Dora tells us how she was harassed for displaying a sticker opposing the confederacy. Midland is not a town about questioning anything, she tells us. “Being gay in this town means you’re a sinner.”

In the safety of her bedroom, where she likes to paint, Dora tells us, “I guess it was in the 8th grade I first realized I was gay and it just started to scare me really badly…and I hated myself because I knew that everyone else would hate me if they knew who I was…and you think you’re going to go through life alone and have no friends and no one to talk to…and you’re going to be the one people wash their hands when they touch you.”

“The biggest thing about telling my parents,” remarks Dora, “would have to be just how they’ll look at me afterwards and…if they’ll still treat me the same…or just knowing that every time they look at me it’s there in their mind because for a while every time I looked in the mirror that’s all I saw. If I had a choice I would definitely be straight because who wants to go through all that trauma and pain… I don’t know any sane person who wants that in life.”

On the morning that Dora has chosen to come out to her father, she is sick to her stomach with fear. As she sits with her dad, she is unable to broach the topic and her father laughs nervously and hints at what the “problem” is: “Is it about your personal stuff…your preferences?”
“I couldn’t say I was gay,” Dora tells us, “because I don’t know if I am as comfortable as I thought I was with that at this point.” Eventually her father confides that he knows she is a lesbian and that her mother knows as well. “Mom is scared, but she is not going to try to judge you,” he assures, though he also admits that her initial reaction was that Dora would go to hell. For the most part, Dora’s father expresses his love and support, though he conveys much concern for her safety in a community that is very closed-minded. “This experience with him will give me the courage to actually say the words with my mother,” says Dora. “I thought I’d feel like someone else, but I still feel like myself and that’s good.”

We learn that, off camera, Dora’s father is depressed and doesn’t want to talk or “pretend he is happy.” Dora also indicates that he doesn’t want his youngest daughter to be around Dora. “I don’t really feel like going home” Dora tells us sadly, “cause I don’t want to see how they treat me or how they’re sad because of me and I don’t feel like I have a place right now.” Later in the video we learn that Dora reconciles with her father the next day. Her mother, however, has more difficult time after confronting Dora and getting confirmation that the rumors about her being gay are true.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Dora describes her town as intolerant. How would you describe your own community? Are LGBT people accepted and welcome? How do you feel about this?
  2. Dora says that her greatest fears were to “have no friends” and “be the one people wash their hands when they touch you.” What feelings or ideas motivate some to treat LGBT people this way? Would you have any problems being friends with an LGBT person? Why or why not?
  3. Dora says that, if given the choice, she would be straight to avoid the pain and trauma. Do you think it is preferable to be straight in our society? In what ways might LGBT people benefit from their identities (despite societal prejudices)?
  4. Dora’s father expresses that his greatest fear is Dora’s safety. In what ways is safety an issue for LGBT people who are “out” or those people perceived to be LGBT? What can we all do make our communities safer places for LGBT people?

Act 3: Jayce, 26-year-old White Male, Utah

As we meet Jayce, he tells us about his upbringing in the Mormon Church in Montana, and chokes up about the traditional “family seal” that has been broken by his homosexuality. “We never really discussed homosexuality in the church, but you knew that it was the sin next to murder, that there is nothing you could do worse rather than kill somebody.”

“When I was probably in third grade and on,” Jayce tells us, “I was definitely perceived by the other boys as different and I was called sissy, fairy, mama’s boy, faggot…I think I always knew I was different…I don’t think I realized there was a label for it until my late teens.”

Jayce talks about how troubled he was after his first romantic encounter with another boy in college, and how he understood himself to have a sickness that needed to be cured. Scared and depressed, Jayce turned to Evergreen, where he received aversion therapy in order to become straight. In session after session, Jayce was hooked up to electrodes and repeatedly shocked as he looked at gay pornographic images that he was forced to purchase for his “therapy.”

“I would sit there and I would try to endure the electricity as long as I could,” recounts Jayce. “Every session the voltage would increase…I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody what was going on. I was supposed to lie at all costs. I couldn’t tell my bishop, my family, my best friend. I couldn’t tell anyone…It was forbidden, it was secret…and he told me that if I were to tell somebody it would affect my treatment, it would affect the outcome, it would inhibit me from becoming straight.”

Jayce tells us how he descended into depression and stopped going to classes. One day he bought a bottle of poison, mixed it with soda and drank it, wishing that he “could just leave.” Jayce tells how he survived his suicide attempt and finally stopped aversion therapy, an act that he thought was a failure at the time, but in retrospect sees as the moment that saved him.

Jayce tells us that coming out to his father was an unplanned event. His stepmother called unexpectedly one day and confronted him about being gay. “Do you realize that the choice you’re making will separate you from our family?,” she asked him. He would no longer be their “eternal child.” Soon after, Jayce’s father asked him to move out of the house. Later in the video, Jayce looks in the mirror at the electroshock therapy scars that dot his chest. He tells us that he hasn’t spoken to his family in two years and talks about his deep sadness at being excommunicated from the Mormon Church, a part of his life that he greatly misses.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Jayce tells us that, from a young age, he was perceived by other boys as “different” and called names like “faggot.” Why are some people perceived as “different”? Does this mean that they are gay? How are boys and girls “supposed” to look and act in your community? How do you feel about this?
  2. Jayce became so depressed that he entered aversion therapy to change himself. Do you think it is possible to change your sexual orientation? Should LGBT people try to change or is it the society around them that needs to change?
  3. The Church was an important part of Jayce’s life, a part that brought him both comfort and great pain. How do you feel about religious condemnations of homosexuality? What do you expect from your own faith community with regard to LGBT people?
  4. Like Jayce, many LGBT people have tried to hurt or kill themselves because they were afraid of being rejected by family, friends and society in general. What can we all do to create more hospitable environments in which LGBT people can come out safely and without fear?

Act 4: Matt, 20-year-old White Male, Collingswood, NJ

The scene opens in the home of Matt’s parents, who describe the drastic changes that they observed in their son when he went off to college, and how difficult, distant and nasty he became.

We meet Matt, who explains how being in the closet consumed him and impacted his relationship with his family. Matt recalls how he came to a breaking point and decided to write a coming out letter to his family. The letter is read alternating between Matt and his mother, who is tearful and emotional:

“I am bisexual or I don’t know what I want… I’m so depressed at times that I contemplate suicide as the only way out. I make myself physically and mentally sick over this every day…I miss the days I was ignorant to all of these feelings and I could relate to everyone, but you and I know I have always been different…it’s just now I am stating the difference. I’m not ready to tell the world, just you guys and hope you guys don’t hate me or judge me any differently. I just hope to clear up the hidden anger and clear up all the questions of what is wrong with Matt…I want nothing more than to hug you, mom, and have no anger or fear…”
Matt’s mother tells us how she was so upset by the letter that she threw up. She relates how sad she was at learning that he suffered in silence for so long. Matt talks about how depressed he was inside, though externally he appeared to be happy and popular. Matt describes how he “studied” other guys in high school so he could imitate their behavior and cover up his “gay qualities.”

Matt’s mother remarks of his suffering that he has come out on the other end better for it. She admits, however, “I’m not going to sit here and say that I don’t wish my son wasn’t straight. Of course I wish my son was straight…only because it would be easier for him. It has nothing to do with a preference. It would just be an easier life for Matthew if he was straight.”

The scene concludes with Matt reflecting, “When it consumes your whole life and you’re not being who you want to be anymore, that’s definitely the best time to come out…”

Questions for Discussion

  1. 1. How did hiding his sexual identity impact both Matt and his family? How can “coming out of the closet” strengthen the relationships among family members?
  2. How would you feel to learn that a friend or family member had been keeping their sexual identity a secret from you? How would you react when they came out to you?
  3. Matt describes how he “studied” other guys in high school so he could imitate their behavior and cover up his “gay qualities.” How do rigid gender expectations affect us all? What can we do to create communities in which we are all free to express ourselves authentically?
  4. Matt’s mother admits that she wishes he were straight because it would be easier. Do you agree with this? Even though she loves and accepts Matt, in what ways might her own prejudices be coloring her feelings?

Act 5: Joel, 19-year-old Filipino Male, Los Angeles

We return to Los Angeles where Joel is preparing to come out to his two sisters (each in separate locations). Though they hedge around the topic for some time, Joel is finally able to say the words that he is gay. One sister indicates that she already knew about Joel, while the other says the news comes as a surprise. Both communicate they still love Joel and will support him. One sister shares her concern that their mother will not take the news so well, but assures Joel that her feelings for him remain unchanged. “I guess it was always my fear that he was homosexual. I always wanted him to be—since he was the only boy—to grow up to be a man, but now that he said it…I’ve always told him that it’s best to be yourself and if that’s the way he is then you can always make the best out of it.”

Joel decides to come out to his mother over breakfast. The scene is tense and uncomfortable, as Joel hints at his news by discussing the emotional conversation that he had with his father recently. Joel’s mother does not make it easy for him to say what’s on his mind and Joel is unable to tell her that he is gay. Joel expresses to us that he is deeply disappointed that his mother was not able to open herself up and to demonstrate any understanding.

On another occasion, Joel finally manages to come out to his mother, who does not take the news well. She says that it is contagious, which causes the two to argue. “There was an absence of a father,” she says, “I talked to a psychologist…That’s one explanation.” Joel cries as he asks his mother what she expects him to do.

The segment ends with the following reflection from Joel: “That morning when my mom didn’t want me to say I’m gay…I don’t regret that…because that’s the truth. Why would I want to live in a perfect world that doesn’t exist. The truth is I really am just getting my feet wet right now…I am just barely walking out of that closet door and it’s an amazing feeling so far.”

Conclusion

The video ends with the following reflections:

Dora: “I hope to find freedom and to find myself really, to learn who I am without my family.”

Jayce: “It’s not a mental disorder, it’s not something evil…it’s just that we love differently and it’s not about sex, it’s not about sex at all. It’s about who I have romantic feelings for, who I fall in love with…and just because I love differently it doesn’t mean that I am any better or worse than anyone else, I’m just different.”

Joel: “The truth is…you’re going to have laughter and tears with it…you’re going to have sad moments and you’re going to have happy moments when you come out. If you want a rainbow, you need rain and sunshine.”

Coming Out

Coming Out is now more than ever a youth issue. Studies indicate that many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) young people are aware of their sexual orientation/gender identity by the time they are 13. Chances are that more than a few students at your middle or high school are wrestling right now with how and when to tell their friends and families they are LGB or T. Whether you are LGBT yourself or wondering how to react to a friend who has just come out to you, the following information can help you to manage your coming out experience openly and with sensitivity. For LGBT Students…

Should I come out?

There are many good reasons to come out. It can be a tremendous relief to be open about your identity and to stop investing lots of energy in keeping secrets and worrying about what might happen if others “find out.” Being honest can help to bridge that distance you may have been keeping from friends and family, and can result in closer and more meaningful relationships with loved ones. And when you’re not constantly worried about meeting others’ expectations, you can put all of your energy into being authentic—in how you dress, talk, spend your time, and date.
There are also reasons to wait to come out to others. If you are under 18 and/or financially dependent on others, you may not want to come out if there is a chance you will be kicked out of your home or left to fend for yourself. If you fear harassment, abuse, or loss of emotional support, this too may be reason to put off coming out until you are in a more secure position.

If you are unsure about whether or not to come out, take your time and think things through rather than acting impulsively. Read books or magazines by and for LGBT youth. Watch a video about LGBT issues, join an online community, or call an LGBT hotline. If there is a youth group or trusted adult to whom you can safely and confidentially turn, take advantage of this option. You may also want to keep a daily journal of your reflections, questions, thoughts and fears until you are clear as to the right path for you.

Who should I tell?

Coming out is a life-long process. There will always be new people and new situations in which you will have to decide whether or not to come out. Unfortunately there is no Magic Eight Ball to tell you “outlook good” or “very doubtful”—you will have to rely on your instincts instead. In general, you should come out first to people you really trust and who you expect will be supportive and respect confidentiality.

For many people, coming out to parents or other close family members can be an intense experience (in a positive or negative way). For this reason, you may want to consider “practicing” on others who you trust before talking to your family, or getting the advice of LGBT people who can share what it was like to come out to family members. Coming out to family can be a source of great support or great angst—your decision about which family member to come out to when is a very personal decision that you should consider thoughtfully.

If you are thinking about coming out to a teacher, guidance counselor, nurse or other “official,” you may want to check into your school’s confidentiality policy first—in some cases these professionals may be obligated to share your information with others. If you are considering coming out to friends, choose carefully—your best friends may not all be the best at keeping secrets. Whether it’s because they just can’t help spreading gossip or need support themselves in dealing with your news, not everyone is as discreet as we’d like them to be.

I’m ready! When and how should I come out?

There is no definitive roadmap for how and when to come out, but there is lots of advice from those who have come out before you. Because coming out can be quite an emotional experience, some recommend writing a carefully worded letter that captures just what you want to say and gives the recipient time to absorb the news before meeting with you in person. Most people, however, do their coming out face-to-face. If this is your preferred approach, it is best to do a little planning ahead.
It is usually easiest to come out privately to one person at a time (rather than to a group, say, at Thanksgiving dinner) and to avoid bringing a friend or lover to help you deliver the news. Choose a time and day when neither of you are tired or stressed, and when there is ample time to process and discuss things. Though it may help you to plan and rehearse exactly what you want to say in advance, try to avoid giving a speech and to make it more of a two-way conversation. Most importantly, don’t ever come out because others are pressuring you to do so, when you aren’t sober, out of anger, or as a weapon to hurt someone else. Coming out can be a wonderful experience, but only when you are comfortable with your own identity and ready to share yourself with others.
What kind of reaction should I expect?

Since coming out is first and foremost something that you are doing for yourself, don’t let worries about potential reactions steer you from your course (unless you fear for your safety or security). If possible, choose people to tell who you expect will give you the support and encouragement you desire. For most of us, there will be a time when we need to come out to someone who may be less than compassionate. Many people will say things out of shock or discomfort that they may not mean or realize is hurtful. It is important to remember how long it took you to come to terms with your own identity, and to be patient with others who may need time to come around. Some of those people may be distant or detached at first, so prepare yourself to deal with possible silence. Others may challenge you with difficult statements or questions, so you may want to think about how to respond to issues such as religion, your sexual activity and HIV/health status, and your willingness to get reparative therapy. Whatever comes up, take solace in the fact that most people will grow to be accepting over time and that it is not your responsibility to change the few who will never open their minds. For those who are willing to learn more, suggest books, websites, or local groups (such as PFLAG). This will not only help them to educate themselves, but will take the pressure off of you to have all of the answers. And while you’re at it, find some resources and support for yourself—coming out can be emotionally taxing and you don’t have to go it alone.

10 Tips for those on the receiving end…

  1. It takes a lot of courage for someone to come out to you—listen to all they have to say without interrupting, judging, tuning out or buying into stereotypes about LGBT people.
  2. Tell them how pleased you are that they trusted you enough to share something so personal and congratulate them on the bravery it took to be so honest.
  3. Let them know that you feel the same way about them as you always have and that nothing has changed (except that you can be even closer than before).
  4. Ask questions and show that you are interested in learning about their feelings and experiences. Be respectful and stay away from personal issues (sex, HIV, etc.) unless they let you know it’s okay.
  5. If you are feeling uncomfortable or upset, be honest. Let them know you may need some time to process everything, but acknowledge that it is your problem to work out and not their responsibility.
  6. Remember that you cannot and should not try to change them—you have an opportunity here to support, not to reform them.
  7. Ask what you can do to support them or what they need from you right now.
  8. Follow up. The coming out conversation should be the first of many. Continue to check in and ask questions over time.
  9. Be open to socializing with their new friends and in a variety of settings, both LGBT and straight. Let them know that they don’t have to compartmentalize their lives.
  10. Be an advocate. Read up on LGBT issues, wear an LGBT-friendly button or sticker, join a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) or other LGBT group, and confront homophobia in as many ways as you can.
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