Alden Peters is a typical young closeted gay man. He’s been coping with his sexuality — or more directly, hiding it — his entire life. Then, when Princeton student Tyler Clementi commits suicide after being outed, Peters realizes that could have easily been him. So he decides it’s time to tell the people in his life. And being a millennial with a camera, he decides to do it on film.
The 2015 documentary Coming Out, now available from Wolfe Video, tracks Peters’ process — first telling his older brother, then his friends, his mom and stepdad, and finally his dad and younger siblings … all with the camera rolling.
What’s distinctive about Coming Out is how ordinary and undistinctive it is. Peters hand-wrings about what kind of reaction he’ll get, especially from his parents. Will they be shocked? Hate him? Reject him? But first and foremost, they love him. And seeing that love manifest itself in the most prosaic of ways — “That’s cool, son,” a hug, even an awkward conversation with a younger brother who thinks doesn’t “act gay” — have played out for most of us in nearly identical ways across the years.
Of course, there are much worse stories of rejection, even violence. Not all coming out processes are as smooth and supportive. But the message is, and should be, that even the “bad” coming outs are ultimately positive experiences for the one coming out. Admitting who you are — not just to others, but to one’s self — is an important, even necessary step toward long-term happiness and acceptance. It’s one reason why gay people refer to each other as “family” — because even when our blood relatives aren’t there for us, there’s an entire chosen family anxious to step in. Even today, coming out can be difficult. But it’s also amazingly important — psychologically, emotionally, politically, socially.
Think about all that when you watch Coming Out, and remember that today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day, a date once each year that says, “Why not come out now? You’ll feel better about yourself.” But that’s not an excuse to wait until next year if you don’t today. There’s no wrong time to come out … whether one-on-one to your mom or on film for the whole world to see.