Coming out of the closet as a gay man is an undeniably difficult experience, so not everyone would want to immortalize that experience through the medium of film. Not so for documentarian Alden Peters, though, who did just that in his unique and deeply personal film, Coming Out, which will be available on video on demand and DVD on October 4, 2016. We had the chance to ask Mr. Peters a few questions about his film and how he has grown through his coming out process.
How did you come to be a documentarian? Throughout the film, your friends and family don’t seem all that surprised by the presence of a camera. Is that because you constantly film your life?
ALDEN PETERS: My parents were recording me and my siblings our whole lives. We have boxes and boxes of VHS tapes from childhood. Eventually I took an interest in the camera and started filming holidays, vacations, and anything we did as a family. Then my siblings, my friends, and me started making short films together. I ended up in film school at NYU, and took to documentary films. Film had always been part of my family and friends circle, so being filmed was totally normal.
Why record your coming out process? Did it just seem like the natural thing to do, or did you have another motive?
Before coming out, I watched videos of coming out stories online, trying to gain as much insight as possible. I started looking for a documentary that showed the coming out process in greater depth. I wanted to see everything occur on camera, in real time, over the span of years. But that documentary didn’t exist. I was in film school and about to come out, so I decided to film my own coming out and create that film I wanted to see. It turned out, though, that filming everything helped me to actually come out; because the cameras were rolling, it was now-or-never situation, and I actually did it. Otherwise, I probably would have come out in a group text message to make it easier for myself. Fortunately, by having face-to-face conversations when coming out and by continuing to have conversations over the next couple years, my family grew stronger.
Have your friends and family remained supportive since your initial filming? Were there any coming out experiences, good or bad, that didn’t make the final cut?
Everybody’s positive reaction you see in the film remains the same today. There were definitely negative reactions to me coming out, and to the film. Some people who were very close to me chose not to be part of the film, and some surprised me by being so uncomfortable with me coming out that we never spoke again. I supposed we could have included that in the film by mentioning the negative reactions, but we didn’t out of respect for their privacy. Ultimately, the scenes you see in the film are positive because those people wanted to be part of the project. Those that didn’t react well didn’t want to be involved.
In the film, you express concern that you do not identify with the LGBTQ community. Do you now perceive yourself as a member of the LGBTQ community? In your mind, what does being a member of that community even mean?
I absolutely do! So much of the angst of not fitting into the community was my own insecurity and not yet defining what my gayness meant to me. It took time finding a close group of friends and time to explore the community before finding my place in it.
One thing you do in the film is use crowdsourced videos of other gay youth telling their coming out stories. What was the inspiration for that? What purpose did you intend that to serve in the film?
Originally, we crowdsourced coming out stories from around the world for a final montage during the closing credits. We thought we’d end the film with a sort of “zooming out,” showing that every single person you see tell their coming out story went through their own nuanced, complex, years-long experience like you just watched in the film. As we got further along in our edit, we realized we can use the stories like a chorus throughout the whole film, asking questions and adding perspective throughout. They add more perspectives and representations, and they also support the main storyline and move the film along.
How do you think coming out experiences vary across different identities (i.e. gay/lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, etc.)? Do you think there are some consistent truths inherent in coming out experiences, or is everyone’s experience so unique that such a sweeping statement would be disingenuous?
It’s both of those things. Any sweeping statement is disingenuous. However, the one thing that all of us in the LGBTQ community share in relation to coming out is that the coming out process is a declaration that social “norms” aren’t accurate. For many of us it’s the first moment we question social systems and systems of oppression. All of us in the community are in a different intersection of privileges and disadvantages, so each of our coming out processes has its own specificity. For example: A gay, white, cisgender male like myself will have a very different experience than a transgender woman of color, like Janet Mock. You can certainly look at these larger social structures and make some general comparisons of the coming out experience; there’s a similarity in the emotional journey. But then when you start comparing individual stories, they’ll be drastically different.
So, what’s next for you? Do you have another film in the works?
The next project is a short fiction film called Femme. Carson, a 20-something gay New Yorker, begins a manic existential crisis after a Grindr hookup rejects him for being “too femme.” He ends up on stage at a drag performance publicly confronting his shame in front of a bar full of beautiful, yet vapid gays. The film is in pre-production, shooting next spring. Femme is one piece of a larger social campaign that facilitates conversations about intersectional issues that affect our community. More info will be available in the next couple months, but for now you can sign up to a mailing list here. S