When I Knew

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Airdate: 7:30-8:10 p.m. Wednesday, June 25 (Cinemax) 

I suspect relatively few heterosexuals can pinpoint the exact moment when they first felt attracted to the opposite sex. “When I Knew” maintains that gays, on the other hand, clearly remember when and where they became sure about their feelings for members of their own sex.

That’s not hard to fathom. For gay kids, this pivotal moment in their lives was crucial to their understanding of who they are. No wonder, then, that the dozens of interview subjects in “When I Knew” have such vivid recollections.

This show succeeds in several ways. The wide variety of people and occupations deliberately selected for the documentary argues forcefully that gays as a group are every bit as diverse as straight people.

In nearly all cases, those interviewed said the realization that they were gay occurred at or before puberty, providing further evidence -- though none should be needed at this point -- that sexual orientation is not a conscious lifestyle choice.

Above and beyond all that, their stories and how well they recall them suggests that for many if not most the discovery of their homosexuality was to some extent traumatic and often unwelcome. It was confirmation that they were different from family and friends, and it raised fears of rejection. At the same time, though, it ushered in a paradoxical feeling of relief, an end to the confusion.

Where the documentary, from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s World of Wonder, runs into a problem is finding images to match the stories. The book on which the documentary is based, by Robert Trachtenberg, has a humorous undercurrent. It uses older photos from childhood and cartoon drawings to create a light mood. Although some of the same people appear in the documentary, the tone is far more serious.

In some cases, the documentary uses vintage home movies or videotape. More often, it employs blurred and gauzy video, suggesting a dreamlike past. It mixes black-and-white with color images in a seemingly random fashion, perhaps to break up the visual monotony. Overall, though, the result is more distraction than illustration.

Production company: World of Wonder Productions. Producers/directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato; Co-producer: Mona Card; Based on the book by: Robert Trachtenberg; Director of photography: David Kempner; Editor: Marc Cohen; Music: David Benjamin Steinberg; Casting: Richard Courtney.
 

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