Many people have asked when I knew I was gay – a simple question with a complex answer I’ll try to explain through a pair of movies: Diane Kurys’s Entre Nous and Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. They map the journey from denial to acceptance that every LGBT person walks. For me, it was a very long journey.
If you can bear subtitles, Entre Nous is a must-see. It tracks the stories of two women, Lena (Isabelle Huppert) and Madeleine (Miou-Miou) through the eyes of Lena’s young daughter, who in real life is Diane Kurys, the daughter of the real-life Lena. The two women meet in the 1950s in Nice, both married to men who adore them but are in their own ways klutzes. They are drawn to each other by their interest in fashion, their mutual confusions and something deep and untouched in both of them. Slowly they discover, suffer and surrender to their love. There is no sex. There are no kisses. The movie is subtle, watchful and kind.
I was seduced by the movie but didn’t quite get it when it appeared in the mid-80s. I remember asking my friends whether it was possible that Lena and Madeleine could be lesbians. Talk about denial! It would be like watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and wondering if animation had been used. But that’s where I was … so conditioned by the notion then that homosexuality was about sex that I couldn’t see that it’s principally about love.
Flash forward a decade and you’ll find me rewinding, rewatching and weeping at the scene in Philadelphia where Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas are slow-dancing at a party like any “normal” couple. That’s when I learned that homosexuals can love each other. For me, that scene opened the door not just to loving a partner, but to loving my brother, my uncles, my friends and others in an entirely new way … I guess because I began to love myself.
When did I know I was gay? I still can’t say. Truth can strike like a thunderclap or emerge like a rose from its bud. Often it’s the watching, not the knowing, that matters. So let me ask you, since we’re talking about movies: What have you watched that has opened your own doors? What are the movies on your desert island list?