by MK Scott -
SGN Contributing Writer
DVD & WOLFE ON DEMAND
In his directorial debut, young NYC-based (and Seattle-bred) filmmaker Alden Peters documents his own coming-out experience, capturing everything on-camera as he plans and boldly captures his disclosures to friends, family, and society. Inspired by social media coming out videos by teens around the world, Coming Out places viewers directly inside the raw, intimate moments when Alden reveals his true identity to his family and friends, ranging from the painfully awkward to the hilariously honest. Peters even shows footage from his first Pride in Seattle from 2011 and his initial visits to Neighbours and R-Place.
Crowd sourced videos from LGBTQ youth from around the world complement the depth of Alden's own story, and he also interviews his own family, friends, and leading LGBT figures and experts, including Janet Mock, about the unique challenges of coming out in today's digital era.
So, my first question, why wasn't this in last year's (2015) Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now called Twist)?
Peters said that he entered in Newfest, Outfest, Frameline and more and instantly got the distribution deal.
I chatted more with Peters by phone.
MK SCOTT: Hi, Alden. I just saw your Fab Doc on coming out; tell us what made you document your whole coming out process?
ALDEN PETERS: The idea to start this project happened, you know, as I was planning on coming out and kind of figuring out what I was gonna do. So, I started watching coming out stories online. You know, just people on their computer to the camera showing what happened and then eventually started like trying to find some sort of documentary that maybe captured the whole process, in real time so you see these moments on camera instead of just discussed about afterwards and I didn't find that, it just didn't exist. So, I kind of had ... I was in film school at the time and I thought: Well, if I film my coming out process, I can create that film that I wanted to hear, that I was searching for, before I came out of the closet.
MK: In the film, you tell your friends and family and everyone was okay about that?
ALDEN: I was really unsure of what would happen, because most of the coming out stories that I have heard usually involve a strained relationship of some sort. And I kind of just assumed that that was inevitably part of the process. I actually was like kind of worried that like one of these people in my life would actually have a serious issue with it and and our relationship would either end or be strained or something because of coming out and I was super fortunate that everybody super close to me was ultimately very supportive [although] there were some reactions that were not positive - some people who, you know, telling them this news did change our relationship in different ways [and] they decided they didn't want to be part of the project and that's also kind of why the film has all of these, the positive reactions, because those are the people that, of course, you know, want to be part of this, this film process project that I was putting together.
MK: Yeah, actually, that was my next question: Whether or not if there were any scenes that were cut based on the reaction?
ALDEN: Yeah, there was a couple. So, that was just not only what I was telling them but also the fact that it was happening on camera some people were uncomfortable with one or the other or both and ultimately those weren't included.
MK: Yeah, because I have seen like your family had absolutely no issue whatsoever. I know it was hard for you to talk to your dad about it.
ALDEN: Yeah, my dad was kind of the one that I was most nervous about. I think that's kind of maybe more like a common thread, you know, for like gay men especially to tell their fathers this. And, and my, the reaction to my siblings, too. They were kind of like 'How did Dad react? Did he react well?' Like, they were curious. I think all of us were sort of, wouldn't really know how he would react to that, that news so I was extra nervous to tell him.
MK: Yeah, because it seems like the person that you have the hardest time telling is actually the one who is actually the one who is actually the most supportive. Which I've, which actually & I have found that, too. It's like I, I waited six years to tell my grandmother and I was living with her at the time I told her and she was more supportive than anyone else and then I just told my, you know, my aunt, who was the most-religious and she said that 'Oh, I've known since you were four.' You know. So ...
ALDEN: It's funny how that happens, right? ... Where, it's kind of like, it's almost like your prediction, for me anyways, my prediction was that, most of my predictions were wrong. Where, it's like, like there are no extreme extreme negative reactions in the film but, like, generally the people who kind of were a little more uncomfortable were those that I thought would be totally fine and those that were totally fine and supportive were ones that I would have thought to be totally uncomfortable.
MK: I had done a bunch of coverage about six years ago, all related to those teen suicides. There was like a suicide like every other week. That was also the time of Tyler Clementi and so forth ... and so it was really cool that you actually did document that particular point; and during all of that, did that make it feel like you needed to come out at that time?
ALDEN: Yeah, that was, that was my wake up call that I needed to do something. For me, it really, I wasn't, you know, like living an openly-gay life and it was just secret to my friends and family: I just hadn't told them. It was an actual, like self-belief thing that was going on: I wasn't acting on anything other than in secret so that was kind of like a wake up call that, that was not like a healthy path, right? And the breaking news story for Tyler Clementi specifically was that, that, you know, he was outed by his roommate with the, with, uh, the roommate, as you know, recorded [Tyler] and another man on his webcam remotely and then tweeted about it, did another viewing, and that kind of, like, petrified me because I felt like, you know, I was doing the same thing: meeting men secretly at the time. And I thought 'If I were suddenly outed, what would my reaction be?' And that was kind of a very scary train of thought and I realized, like, I have two options at this point: either to come out or to keep it a secret and I chose to come out and then, of course, went the total opposite direction which is came out super publicly with an entire film.
MK: Now in the film you got to sit down with the iconic Janet Mock. How did that come about?
ALDEN: You know, I was super lucky to be able to talk to Janet because she was actually finishing her book, Redefining Realness, and I just e-mailed her and, like, told her about, and she was, she was interested. She was really interested in this intersection of coming out and sharing your story, but, like the digital aspect of it, right? So, in the film, you see these three kind of stages, like: before coming out, coming out, and then finding a community afterwards. And, within all three of those there is this umbrella of our digital lives and what we can keep secret, what we share, how we can stay anonymous or not, and she was interested in that, and it was a wonderful, wonderful conversation. [It was] also probably the most difficult, one of the most difficult scenes to edit, because she was so wonderful. I wanted to leave [so much of our conversation] in the film. She could have been in half the film. She was really excellent!
MK: Well, it looked like you guys were having a really, really, really good time. It was a great - it looked like it was a great conversation.
ALDEN: Yeah, we actually, after the cameras stopped rolling, we were kind of talking a little bit, just about sharing our own stories, which she was doing in her book, and for the film, and I was telling her (because I had read the Marie Claire piece) and I was like 'You know, you look at the two of us and our situations are totally different and, yet, somehow I felt such a connection to your piece.' And she says, 'Yeah, that's really interesting, right? You know, that keeps happening.' She said, like, 'The more personal you make, tell your story, the more people will actually respond to it in the, like, being vulnerable or specific about what [you share] and don't share and that actually kind of is something that I remembered for the rest of the editing, you know, especially in certain scenes, like, it was uncomfortable, 'Do I want to share this in the film?' 'Do I not want to do it?' and I just kind of remembered what Janet told me and kind of leaned into that and that, that really helped the strength of the film also.
MK: Yes, okay, and then you got to go to your first Gay Pride and it was (2011) Seattle Gay Pride.
ALDEN: It was! I was so nervous. I was, went all by myself with a couple cameras, and was just, felt like a total outsider, just looking and watching, and, and at that time hadn't really, still very much like figuring out what this being gay meant to me and how I fit into this community, but it was a lot of fun. I actually haven't been back to Seattle Pride since then, unfortunately, but I go every year here in New York.
MK: And, then also, you got to go to some of Seattle's iconic clubs and bars?
ALDEN: Yeah, so, I think it's kind of like part of our community, right? That there's always this aspect of, like, the bar setting, or the club setting, that kind of like historically has always been true and that's just always part of this coming out process for all of us, right? That it's like 'Go to the gay bar.' And that's part of, that's part of us being part of the community, and for a lot of us, right?, that's kind of like the first thing we see and maybe we first think, like, this is the community, but it can also be a kind of nuanced community that you can find your place in in other spaces, but at first I was just kind of like 'Oh, my gosh, this is overwhelming.' Don't feel that way so much anymore, like, definitely feel more comfortable, and I will go out and have fun on weekends and stuff, but it was a big shock at first going from like completely-closeted to suddenly being in a bar.
MK: Okay, how is it going, are you dating? Are you going out? Are you meeting people?
ALDEN: (Laughs) Uh huh. Yes. All of the above! What can I say? This is not, this is not the kind of question my mom asks me ... whenever I talk to her on the phone! (Laughs) Trying to get answers about my dating life. Um, yeah, it's kind of interesting. You will also notice that it's totally absent from the film in general, and that was, yeah, that's just been kind of like one of those places where I felt like, yeah, maybe this is something I don't want to share.
MK: What advice would you give to other LGBT youth?
ALDEN: I think that, it's really hard to give like some blanket advice to, like youth, especially, about coming out. Ultimately, though, that like, you know, society is, like, getting better. Not everywhere. Very lopsided progress but it is. But really, I feel like our community is getting better. And, and, like, we as a community are getting better and that, you know, we're here for each other, that there is, like, there are no communities, few communities, that really, really rally together, especially when tragedy strikes, and especially when we are, we're helping those in our community that need the most help, like, we really do come together and, like, all of the other kind of like differences and problems within the community disappear, and that's something that, you know, you are a part of that. And we're all here for each other and that's what I would say, you know. To, to find that community where everybody's for you and, and really become a part of it, because it is really, really powerful.
MK: Wonderful, well, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. And best of luck to you on the film!
Coming Out is available now from Wolfe Video and across all digital platforms including iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, and WolfeOnDemand.com
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