When asked to concoct a mental image of what happens when a queer or transgender person comes out of the closet, the picture tends to be somewhat harrowing: crying and gnashing of teeth, breaking of familial bonds, bold assertions of a brand new self. Sometimes this is the case, but sometimes it can also simply be…awkward. Or funny. Or even kind of ridiculous.
This is no better illustrated than in a part of Coming Out where director-and-subject Alden Peters reveals to his mother and stepfather that he is gay and has known this for years. They’re supportive, warm, and generally nonplussed. Then we focus in on his mother, who asks with incredible sincerity: “Does it….hurt? In the butt?”
There’s little drama in Peters’ chronicle of coming out to his friends and family; no one reacts with disgust or vitriol, and once he gets the ball rolling with his brother in the first scene each successive confession clearly becomes easier for him. The standout moments come from the push and pull between acceptance and disorientation, like when his little brother grinningly refuses to believe he’s telling the truth, or the aforementioned scene of his mother asking about anal sex. These rifts are not devastating, but they are tangible, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that he is capable of presenting them without sensationalism.
The politics of Coming Out are far from radical: Peters frequently notes that he feels little kinship with the wider gay community (although he is seen enjoying a pride parade with his boyfriend at the end of the movie), and there is little that will change the average viewer’s perspective on “the gay experience,” save for how unremarkable it can sometimes be. But I find this valuable: stripped of sturm und drang, Peters’ experience is human and relatable, and portrays subtle emotional challenges with a focus they frequently don’t receive. As a queer drama, Coming Out lacks the gravitas many may be expecting from this type of story; as a young man’s humble domestic journey from one stage of his life to the next, it makes a lovely little palette cleanser, and provides a welcome dimension for a familiarly unfamiliar rite of passage.
Coming Out is available now from Wolfe Video.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.