I still vividly remember seeing Jurassic Park at eight years old and being changed by it. It made me want to make movies, tell stories. It had such a major influence on me in the years to come.
Of course there are also the movies that illuminate what your sexuality might be in the years to come. You might be years away from coming out of the closet or even recognizing you’re gay, but you still might watch something on TV one night at age eight or ten or twelve or whatever and ask yourself, hmm, why am I feeling this way?
I didn’t start developing feelings for other guys until well into high school and it wasn’t until the summer before my freshman year of college I truly knew I was gay.
But many years before high school I would watch certain movies and think unusual thoughts, particularly about the young men on the screen who might have excited me a little more than they should have.
But others did. I had two favorite movies in 1992 at the ages of seven and eight and they were Sister Act and Death Becomes Her. Two different movies in terms of subject matter and style, but they’re definitely films more geared toward women than men.
I played my Sister Act VHS over and over to the point where I wore out the tape. I listened to the soundtrack in my room and memorized the words to all the songs. I was obsessed with Sister Act, and looking back that might have been an early sign.
I also fell in love with Death Becomes Her the first time I saw it at the theater, and it was another one I often watched on loop. At not even eight years old I was obsessed with a black comedy about women scared about aging and going to extreme lengths to stay beautiful forever. In a summer of films that brought us Batman Returns and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, the movie I cared about the most was Death Becomes Her, go figure.
I also saw A League of Their Own twice in the theater that summer, and I’ve watched it a gazillion times to this day. Even at an early age I was more interested in films about women than men. Not to say that kind of interest makes you gay by any means, but there was a pattern there in my film adoration I’ve thought about in the many years since.
I was eleven years old, and I was still dragging my parents and grandparents to movies that most boys my age weren’t seeing. Sure, my dad took me Happy Gilmore and we laughed our asses off. We saw the summer blockbusters like Twister and Independence Day, and I had a great time.
But I also saw The Birdcage early in the year with my grandparents, and I loved it so much I convinced my parents to come see it with me. Here was an R-rated comedy about two gay men I loved so much I demanded to see it a second time. Again, probably a sign I might be gay. I still love The Birdcage so much. It still cracks me up to this day.
But that’s not the movie that made me realize I might have a thing for men. No, it was actually a movie that opened the previous fall that was released to VHS in the spring of 1996. I had been wanting to see it for a long time, but for some reason I couldn’t convince anyone to see it with me in a theater.
In the fall of 1995 I asked my friend Kellie if there were any movies out she’d seen and liked. She said there was one she absolutely loved but that I wouldn’t like it, it was a movie for girls. I told her to tell me the title anyway. She said it was called Now and Then. She said it was about four girls who go on adventures together during the summertime.
And she said there was this hilarious scene where they steal the clothes from boys who are skinny dipping, and then the boys run after the girls naked trying to get the clothes back.
That last detail didn’t turn me off from seeing the movie. It made me want to see the movie now, not later. But Now and Then was out of theaters before I could blink, and then I had to endure the excruciating wait for the movie to come to video stores.
Back in 1996 movies weren’t available to watch a few short weeks after leaving theaters. You had to wait, by God. Four months. Five months. Sometimes longer.
I still remember walking around Hollywood Video in early 1996 and coming across a copy of Now and Then. I added it to the pile in my mom’s hands, and she didn’t question my choice. When I arrived home I found a room in my house where I could shut the door and have some privacy.
And, finally, I turned on Now and Then.
I knew about twenty minutes in the movie wasn’t going to be an instant favorite of mine. It moved too slowly, and the story was kind of dumb. The next League of Their Own this definitely wasn’t, even though Rosie O’Donnell appeared briefly in this one too.
Now and Then wasn’t for me, but I kept watching anyway, waiting for that scene my friend Kellie had told me about months before. Why was I so interested in seeing that scene? Why was I keeping the movie going just to watch that scene? At the time I didn’t think too critically about these issues. I just wanted to see that scene.
I believe it’s about an hour into the movie. The four girls come across four boys (their enemies, of course) skinny dipping in a lake, and after they grab the boys’ clothes for revenge, Christina Ricci’s character screams at them to come and get them. You can’t really see much of the boys in this part. They’re mostly in the lake.
But then as the girls run off with the clothes, you see a few select shots of the boys running naked down a trail and through a barn, and the scene ends with two unavoidable close-ups of all four of the boys’ bare butts as they continue running down a street.
This was the scene that told me I might like men because I immediately hit pause when the scene ended, rewound the VHS tape to the beginning of the scene, and watched it again. I thought the scene was funny, and I loved the song “Hitchin’ a Ride” that played over it. But it was watching the naked bodies of these boys close to my age that excited me, I couldn’t deny it.
A strange sensation came over me. I was attracted to them. I liked them. I enjoyed looking at their naked bodies.
I was feeling something I’d never felt before. I didn’t know what to do about it. I certainly didn’t tell anybody at the time. Who could I have possibly told about this?
Again, it wasn’t until high school that my attraction toward guys started becoming more than mere attraction, but I was aware as early as age eleven that something was definitely different about me. Those feelings terrified me at the time. I didn’t know what to do about them.
But that’s the thing about watching movies at a younger age, am I right? Movies can give you different ideas, themes, and images that might have never crossed your mind up until that point. I wasn’t really thinking about my sexuality in 1996, and I even had crushes on girls at the time.
Ages eleven, twelve, thirteen — they’re confusing times because you’re hitting puberty and all sorts of feelings are coming to the surface and you don’t know where to turn or who to talk to.
Something that helps in that time of life is watching a lot of movies and seeing what scenes and moments resonate. Movies have more power than many people realize. Movies can show you the person you are… long before you have any clue the person you’re going to be.
But watching that skinny dipping scene for the first time pushed me into the next phase of my sexuality. The line was drawn there. Everything before that line was pure innocence, but after that line was the realization I, yes, might be attracted to men.
Sometimes it’s as simple as that.