Searching for Acceptance
Alden Peters was shocked and hurt by theseries of gay teen suicides so when he decided to come out himself, he brought a camera to film each conversation, hoping that this would allow him some control over negative comments. As he captured the various surprising reactions to his revelation. His film also consists of interviews with experts and ultimately he presents us with a heartwarming exploration of a common experience across queer generations. Everything is captured on film as it happened and we see and hear the raw, intimate moments when Alden reveals his true identity to his family and friends. The reactions, range from the painfully awkward to the hilariously honest. Peters’ story bridges generations and societal divides and the film causes us to think about what really means to live and honest life. His film takes us to a place of understanding and acceptance of self and community.
Peters searched for a film that showed the coming out process of coming out but he found nothing but fiction. Every coming out story was told in hindsight, and nobody discussed what happened immediately after coming out. He wanted to see that entire process. As he began planning how he would come out to his family and friends, he decided to make the film he wanted to see.
While this is a personal and subjective film, it also includes the voices of Peters’ entire family, his friends and the LGBT community. This could very easily be an academic film about social issues yet it is fast moving and certainly relevant to a young audience.
Peters included videos from LGBTQ youth from around the world to broaden the film. He also speaks to author Janet Mock, developmental psychologist Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, journalist Zach Stafford, sociologist Greg Hinckley, and YouTuber Kayla Kearney. In this way the film becomes a framework for LGBTQ youth to pay attention to digital community and issues larger than themselves as well as an accessible resource for families of LGBTQ youth and those unfamiliar with the LGBTQ experience. While making the film, Peters learned that people around the world wanted the same documentary to exist.
Peters wanted to selflessly make a film for others and found that it was much easier “to go through an intensely delicate, vulnerable process with a camera”. It’s what gave me support, structure, and safety.
“I found people to interview to add context to the personal journey. Zach Stafford, a writer for The Guardian, speaks about how LGBTQ youth use the Internet to explore their identities before exploring them in real life. Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, a developmental psychologist, explains the fallibility of stage models of coming out. Greg Hinckley, a former sociology professor of mine, tells me to stop asking people what I should do next, and to instead go figure it out for myself. Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, discusses the importance of sharing your story. I reached out to YouTubers and included many coming out stories in the film, and spoke with Kayla Kearney, who came out to her high school at an assembly in a video that went viral.
The end of the film is a moment of comfort, a benchmark in the formation of my identity as a gay man. I’ve grown a lot since we stopped filming, but the resulting feature documentary depicts a complete coming out like never before. It’s the film I wanted to see years ago when I was alone in my college dorm watching coming out stories on YouTube.”
“In September 2015, Coming Out premiered at the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. After each of the two screenings, parents came up to me in tears, sharing their gut-wrenching stories about their journeys accepting their LGBTQ children. I learned about suicides, children getting disowned, and families leaving their church to support their children. One young man told me his parents say they love him, but also include “but” afterwards. “We all have our own challenges we need to face,” he told me with a smile. Two parents shared a story about their gay son. After years of rejecting him, they finally left their church and embraced their son for who he is. I could see the pain and challenges in their faces and voices”.