Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride, and "Word Is Out", A Fascinating 1978 Documentary

I asked myself today if I am a proud person.

Well, I thought, I have become more confident in my opinions and views on things.  I know that I have the ability to love, and be loved; and I have accepted my place in the world just enough to be motivated to make a better mark in it. 

Sure, I still have insecurities, and am naive about a lot of things, but I still know how to learn, and I suppose I am proud of my renewed effort to do just that, and to express myself in writing.

What of gay pride? 

I can't speak for all gay people, or even guess how every gay person defines "pride" for himself or herself.  Speaking personally, I don't define myself primarily as a gay person, nor do I consider being gay a major source of pride; but I am proud of how my life as a gay person has evolved.  I have accepted that my being gay is not "abnormal", and that I need not despair of being isolated or of never having a loving relationship.  I have a growing sense of comfort and contentment with that part of myself, thanks to the support I have received from so many.

There is some residual discomfort, due mainly to the reality that there are still numerous groups and individuals out there who are still vocal, even dangerous, in their distaste, and hate, of guys like me.  But mostly I have come to see that most of my fears are unfounded, and that most people view this part of me without undue drama. 

So I have become a little less self-conscious and less self-absorbed (even if not completely less so), and have relished my learning more about American gay culture and accomplishments.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies aired the 1978 documentary, "Word is Out".  Made on a shoestring, "Word is Out" is a filmed record of candid interviews with 26 gay men and women.  The TCM broadcast was the first time I had seen the film since our Dorm Staff showed it for RA Training at the University of Iowa lots of years ago. (Back then, we called it Sensitivity Training, not Diversity Training.)

Back then, the film was considered unique, controversial, ground-breaking.  The interviewees spoke candidly about growing up gay in the 1950's and '60's, the loneliness, the first stirrings of attraction, the family conflicts, the secrecy; of military service, of "curative" shock treatments, of exploring a world that remained for the most part underground, of coming to terms.  The Gay Liberation Movement that exploded out of the Stonewall riots (June 28, 1969) prompted a few to proclaim their identities, either militantly, or matter-of-factly, and they encountered challenges that would now seem unheard of, even blase.

Seeing the film today, it seemed almost quaint at first; but then it occurred to me how lots of gay people must still overcome the same problems: the rejection of family, friends, church and society; high suicide rates among gay youth; the lack of legal recognition for committed gay relationships; the threats of hate and violence that keep many from living genuine lives.  While our culture has become much more open in the last 40 years, it is discouraging that some fundamental issues have not been resolved

There is now a 30-year anniversary edition available for purchase through the movie's web site (see link near the top of this post).   In this edition, many of those originally interviewed react with the perspective of time, and describe their lives now since the time capsule of the 1977 film. (The original, filmed before the AIDS crisis, contained frank monologues about sexual behavior, and I wondered how many of these people had survived until today.  It appears that many are still around to tell their stories.)

This is a valuable record of a movement, and a group of people and their individual lives, with whom many gay people of a certain age will readily identify.  Whether you are straight or gay or anywhere in between, if you love people, you will be glad to have seen "Word is Out". 

To me, this mosaic of voices and faces, and the honest recounting of lives, is one of the best representations of the idea of gay pride that I have ever seen.              


  1. Thanks for this! I was wondering what happened to many of the interviewees.

  2. Tom,

    As I watched the Pride parade on TV with a lot of admiration for the participants and supporters, I thought about how wonderful it was that the gay lifestyle was finally becoming a more widely accepted part of society.

    Then I remembered that though clarity was finally reaching the minds of much of hetero society, there were still those right-wing conservatives and religious zealots that not only fought to deny gays their basic human rights, but further rallied crowds of narrow-minded morons to unprecedented levels of hate and violence.

    It's unfortunate that so many are still too ignorant and resistant to evolving beyond their primitive, fundamentalist attitudes, but as the old saying goes, "You can't fix stupid."

    Really great post, Tom! The video provides a fascinating retrospective of the original film. Very well done.