It's been a very strange, unnerving and fascinating experience to see an essential part of my life depicted on film and then dissected and discussed by critics and audiences. For the first several times I saw it, I was not always completely comfortable, or thought 'something' was missing or could have been said differently. Ultimately, I realized anything can always be better, and so the "better" that Family Fundamentals is now, is quite good and impactful, indeed. To this day there are parts of the film that still bring tears to my eyes — evidence of Arthur's unique abilities to tap into his subjects' emotions and an indication to me that there is still pain that apparently remains unhealed. I am proud to be associated with the film and all its participants and I do not regret for a moment my participation.
Happily, I now count as my friends Arthur, Susan, David, Guy and Brett and have spent many good times with them on the road or at a barbeque. This experience has been extraordinarily real and emotional.
Without a doubt the part I have most enjoyed is the opportunity to go on the road with Arthur and participate with him in Q&A's at various film festival or university screenings around the country. It's fascinating to see how every audience is different and it is interesting to see how they often react differently to the same people, scenes and segments in the documentary. There's no real pattern, it just is....different.
I don't know if an audience takes anything I say away with them, but I appreciate the opportunity to use my life examples and voice my feelings about the Dornan family, my own blood family, my partner Rick, gay Republicans, Catholicism and politics in general. If it helps, I am glad. But I believe it is the audience that has helped me more then I them.
Also, often due to the location or venue, I would anticipate a hostile reception (liberals who don't like my politics, or conservatives who don't like my orientation — take your pick!), but to my surprise every audience has been respectful even when they differ with me. Really. Curiously, it seems my politics, more then my sexual orientation, often evokes the biggest response from viewers and I've enjoyed the give and take enormously.
While my father is long deceased, I did watch the film with my mother. I was curious, actually a little nervous, to see if she felt left out or minimized or in any way awkward or unappreciated since the documentary dealt with a "family" relationship I had other then my own — which was a good and mostly happy one. Mom felt none of what I thought she might and has emailed all her friends about the documentary. She's amazing.
Indeed, my brothers and sisters, and at one screening in New York City attended by over 20 of my cousins, the response from my blood family has been unanimously positive. Prior to the film, most had never truly known the depth of my relationship with the Dornans nor — and this was even more important to them — the deep pain and anguish I privately endured as a closeted gay man. It upset them greatly and they felt sadness and anger "at the world" and to a lesser extent at me for feeling I could not trust them enough to tell them so they could love and help me. They also told me how proud they were of me. Amazing. It still chokes me up now as I write to recall it all.
As for the Dornans, this past week I did send Bob & Sallie an advance VHS copy of Family Fundamentals enclosed with a personal letter. In that letter I expressed to them my love and deep hope that they would not view this film as an "attack" but instead to see this film as an attempt "to evenhandedly convey the damage that is done to families or almost-families when homosexuality rather then love becomes the overriding issue in former, seemingly unbreakable, close and loving relationships."
I closed my letter to the Dornans by reminding Bob Dornan of what he asked me never to forget many years ago. "Don't give up on me," he always said after I "came out." So I wrote last week, "'Don't give up on [you]' is still my watchword. I hope it won't be too much longer when we can get together, our differences put aside, and talk about the things we love: each other, the movies, politics, crazy recalls, families and old times."
That remains my wish today. For while we have had friendly, even warm, sporadic phone conversations over the past two years, I have not seen them in at least 5 years. That has not been my choice. I hope it won't be their choice too much longer as I miss them.
Yet life moves on. My partner Rick and I celebrated our 7th anniversary together in June. An African-American, Democrat, professor of dance, Rick and I are blessed with rich diversity in our relationship — not to mention a good argument or two from time to time! We have a wide circle of gay and straight friends and families, old and new, but actually we and they make no such distinctions even though we know society still does. At the Gay Pride parade last May here in Long Beach, Rick and I were too busy to go. Get this though — my mom asked Rick's mom (who was visiting from Ohio) to go with her. So here the gay sons blew off the parade and the moms went instead. Incredible!
I still remain active in GOP politics — especially these days in recall-happy California! But my patience for Republican politics and my Catholic Church is not as it used to be. It's disappointing that when the California electorate backs various aspects of domestic partnerships with over 70-80% support some Republican Party leaders are opposed, bullied or afraid to even give gays and lesbians a seat at the party table or can't support even the most basic legislative act of decency like hospital visitation rights. And with a hostility we haven't seen in quite some time, this past summer my Church seems to place Papal edict on a higher plane then Christ-like love for all. It can wear me down at times. But every time I begin to lose my patience or enthusiasm I remind myself how long it took 'me' to come out and accept myself, then take a deep breath, and hang in there as a gay, Republican Catholic — it's who I am. And I am continually surprised and reinforced by the individual acts of dignity, respect and kindness that come from people I underestimate. The ability of all of us to grow and evolve is transforming if we want it to be.
Though it is not apparent in any of the three stories in Family Fundamentals, the ties that bind us, be they friend or family, is what rocks our world. Two moms at a gay parade, a teenage nephew bravely taking the "pro" position in a high school debate on gay marriage, a conservative political couple asking me AND my partner out to a social dinner and play — set an example and change the little space we occupy around us. Yes, U.S. Supreme Court decisions are monumentally important to effect national change, but it's taken me a while to appreciate that in the end, in my view, it is the individual relationships between and among us, our daily decisions about how we choose to treat those around us, that will ultimately heal the wounds that divide us.
I've witnessed how Family Fundamentals is already a spoke in the wheel of change. By being honest, real, gritty and at times sad, Family Fundamentals sparks dialogue and encourages seekers of common ground who want to avoid the painful and unnecessary breakups in their families that befell these three families.
Thank you Arthur.
With appreciation, Brian Bennett