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Today, of course, is National Coming Out Day. In honor of that, I thought we’d look back at the 2008 Cinemax special When I Knew.
Inspired by the book of the same name by Robert Trachtenburg, who served as a consultant on the film, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”) traveled the country to ask more than 150 people in five cities to talk about when they realized they were gay. These entertaining, insightful and moving interviews captured not only the “ah-ha!” moments, but also the moments when people first felt radically different from their friends and family.
Below, three coming out stories to help celebrate the day. (Be warned, though, you’re going to need a box of tissues for that first one. It’s a sad reminder that we still have a LOT of work left to do.)
Bailey and Barbato asked just one simple question: “When did you know?” When I Knew spotlights 16 of the interviewees – of different ages, sexes and lifestyles – who share their stories in a therapeutic and often liberating fashion. While the actual childhood experiences and initial emotions varied, many experienced similar feelings of isolation, confusion and fear that eventually led to recognition, acceptance, resolve and self-awareness.
The film opens with the filmmakers describing their own “when I knew” moments, and brings together the 16 subjects for an intimate group portrait. Though some of the stories are told with a sense of loss, most are proud affirmations of who these people are today, proving that recognizing and embracing one’s sexual orientation is essential to being true to oneself.
Notes co-director Barbato, ” ‘When I knew’ is the ‘ah-ha’ moment for gays and lesbians. It’s the moment that many of us realize we are different from our friends and family. Sadly, it can also be the moment we begin to hide and lie about ourselves. It can be a lonely time.”
As co-director Bailey explains, finding out you are gay is “the moment when you realize the world around you isn’t really designed for you…It’s very easy to forget when you knew. But I think it’s really important to remember.”
In January 2008, HBO Documentary Films presented the film with a corresponding panel at the Queer Lounge in Park City, Utah. All week, a video booth was available for anyone to share their “when I knew” stories.
HBO Documentary Films presents a CINEMAX Reel Life Event, WHEN I KNEW. Produced & directed by Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato; based on the book “When I Knew,” by Robert Trachtenberg; edited by Marc Cohen; music composed by David Benjamin Steinberg; director of photography, David Kempner; casting producer, Richard Courtney; associate producer, Sham Ibrahim; co-producer, Mona Card. For HBO Documentary Films: supervising producer, John Hoffman; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.