Film review: Before You Know It, directed by P.J. Raval

Before You Know ItDir. Raval, P.J., Before You Know It. Passion River, 2015. Film. 110 min. $24.95.

This powerful documentary profiles three gay men in their 70s, geographically scattered and with varying backgrounds, circa 2012. While I initially decried there being no lesbians in the mix, that soon dissipated as I became thoroughly engrossed in, and ultimately moved by, these fascinating men’s stories.

African-American Ty is a vivacious Harlem neighborhood activist, enjoying his outreach work for the LGBT advocacy organization SAGE; we see him manning the group’s information booths and marching in local pride parades. During the time his footage was shot, New York State legalized same-sex marriage, leading Ty to best-man status for a friend in his 60s, and contemplating whether he and his current partner want to take the plunge. Ty is outgoing, well-liked by his peers, and a charming man to know.

Robert (aka, “the Mouth”) is the Truman-Capote-esque proprietor of a Galveston, Texas gay bar offering arguably the best in nightly drag show entertainment anywhere in his state. He, too, is gregarious and much loved by his customers-turned-family of choice; his long-time partner has died. Robert’s courage in maintaining the business in that particular locale over several decades, despite financial and legal challenges, is remarkable, and his devotion to the surrounding LGBT community is inspiring.

Perhaps this film’s most poignant subject is Dennis, a closeted Florida widower who lives partner-less but spends time each year in an Oregon LGBT-oriented retirement community, where he appears to have his only real circle of friends. He also likes to cross-dress as his alter ego, “Dee,” when he can.

Dennis does seek occasional companionship via online dating, signing up for gay cruises (where he is the only passenger without a partner) and, in one especially touching segment, joining a small-town pride parade dressed as Dee. Through a sad fluke, he eventually loses his Florida home, and as the film concludes, there is no clear indication where he will go from there. Dennis’s gentle personality and sense of personal dignity moved me tremendously.

I hope the director will someday let us know what has happened to these remarkable guys since 2012. Before You Know It is highly recommended for both LGBT and general history collections. I will not be forgetting these gentlemen any time soon.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library


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