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Word is Out

Dir: Peter Adair, Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown, Rob Epstein, Lucy Massie Phenix, Veronica Selver

Rating 4.0 / 5.0

Milestone Pictures

135 Minutes

In the early 1980s, I was a homosexual, living in a conventional marriage of seven years with two small children, still suppressing any expression of the true nature had I known since childhood. But I couldn’t live my life as a secret forever and my “coming out” was an explosive and traumatic affair not only for myself but for my entire family. Word is Out offers an in-depth look at the lives and experiences involving similar and parallel themes of 26 gay and lesbian individuals in America in the mid 1970s. It is the first full length documentary focusing on this subject made by a crew of gay filmmakers and has been newly restored and released at the Anthology Film Archives.

The men and women interviewed here come from all walks of life, giving the viewer the perspectives of individuals from different ethnic, racial, educational and geographic backgrounds. Those interviewed ranged in age from 18 to 77 and included conservatives and liberals, professionals and students, military personnel and civilians. Some of these people were single, some were in previous conventional relationships and some of those were mothers or fathers, like myself.

The film-makers conduct these interviews intimately in the privacy of the homes, gardens or offices. There are scenes of those interviewed interacting with friend, lovers and children as they reflect upon their past, their hopes, their challenges and their quest for happiness, connection and acceptance not only from themselves and family but from society as a whole. Feelings of isolation repression, misunderstanding and victimization are a recurrent theme. None of these people had positive gay role models at that time to inspire them and none of them were given the permission on any level by society to be truly themselves.

Photos and footage from the past, including songs and performances, help support the themes and sentiments the subject’s express on being gay or lesbian in 1970s America. Among those interviewed include the poet Elsa Gidlow, civil rights leader Harry Hay and activist Sally Gearhart. The viewer is led by the filming crew to revisit each individual over the course of the film to learn how they coped with overwhelming challenges, how they gained self-acceptance and how they were able, in some instances, to finally embrace some level of self-esteem and to allow love to flow into their lives.

Although filmed in the ’70s, Word is Out is still very much alive with the ability to move and inspire. The honest and deep testimonies delivered here cannot help but touch any of us, especially those who struggle with the feelings of being an outsider, or feeling being part of any misunderstood minority. Still as relevant and moving today as when it came out in 1977, Word is Out, reflects the timeless dilemma many of us have faced regarding the freedom to give and receive love in accordance to the nature of who we truly are as individuals.

by Allyn Sterling
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