Film Reviews Gay Lust for Life After 65

The Advocate spoke to the director and subjects of the documentary Before You Know It for insights on love, legacy, activism, and aging.



Above: Ty

Through Dennis, the viewer encounters a character who is indeed evolving as he navigates the world of online dating, embarks on a gay cruise, and tours a retirement facility — Rainbow Vista in Portland, Ore. — that is specifically tailored for LGBT seniors. His experiences mirror the behavior of anyone taking the first steps in understanding his identity and place within a larger community — including the search for love.

For Raval, it was important to show that seniors remain sexually active, which, according to the director, surprised many audience members.

“I think that society, in general, desexualizes seniors,” Raval notes. “And when you’re saying that you’re a gay senior, when you’re saying you’re gay, you’re saying you’re a part of the LGBT community. You’re defining yourself as part of your sexual identity. So the two terms are almost at odds with each other.”

Since the documentary’s debut, Dennis has attended screenings. Occasionally, he will arrive at the events dressed as Dee, “and the crowds go wild,” says Raval.

“And I think that in itself is a narrative. He’s been going to these screenings and being public, and now he’s not afraid to, you know, stand in front of this crowd and answer questions as Dee. It shows that everyone has their own timeline.”

Dennis agrees. He tells The Advocate that one of the greatest advantages of growing older is the ability to finally become comfortable in one’s own skin.

“The most rewarding aspect of being old is that you no longer have to posture and try to impress others,” he says. “You can be yourself.”

While the promise of romance is on display in Before You Know It, so is long-term love. Ty Martin, another central figure in the documentary, first met his partner 40 years ago, and his desire to be married is a driving force behind his political advocacy.

Martin, 65, currently serves as Harlem community liaison for Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of gay seniors. The documentary follows Martin as he engages in his work with SAGE, which includes representing the first LGBT organization at Harlem Week, a major celebration of the historically black neighborhood’s history and culture. Passionate and articulate, Martin paints a fresh portrait of life as a senior.

“You’re supposed to sit in some rocking chair and wait,” says Martin, pointing to ageism as one of the major obstacles faced by  LGBT elders, in addition to social alienation. “I know a lot of seniors are concerned about health-related issues … [But] I don’t think anybody wants to be by themselves. At the end of the day, I think everybody wants someone to be able to communicate with.”