A small boy lies on the living room floor. He's staring up at dust motes that dance past rays of light gleaming through the Venetian blinds. All he can hear is the faint sound of a lawn mower outside and the cool rush of air conditioning. His little sister runs through, followed by his mother.
"Slow down, Juliebug!" she calls.
When I think of that word, "Juliebug," that's the memory that comes to me every time. My little sister, my mother calling her, and me, lying on the floor looking up at the world. I don't think it's even a real memory, just an amalgam of senses patchworked together over time, held together by nostalgia and something stronger, like love.
I have two sisters, Lauren (older) and Julia (younger), two years separating each of us. Back then, I never really noticed how much they influenced me. If Lauren didn't like football, I hated football. If she read books, I read books. I remember one time she declared (likely around age 9, if not younger) that she despised mayonnaise. I never touched the vile stuff.
Lauren was an adult before she turned 6. My father was assembling a swing set in our back yard and a 5-year-old Lauren sat on the railroad ties watching. "You're putting it together backwards," she told him, but he ignored her. How could she know that? But sure enough...
She has never let him live that down. It's been 23 years.
Our parents fought a lot. They yelled, sometimes did more than yell. As kids, we would sit in our rooms and just listen. What else do you do? When things were at their worst, and perhaps one of the parents was leaving for a while, we'd gather in the cool aqua shelter of my bedroom and band together. Lauren was the rational one, helping us see the sense in things. Julia was the empathetic one, making us know she loved us and that we could share how we felt. And I would make them laugh. What else can you do at times like those? Nothing beats the pants off misery like a smile.
Julia and I were playmates. If we could imagine it, we played it. We had these stuffed clowns, Clownie Junior and Clownie Senior, and we'd make up adventures and toss them all around the yard like rag dolls. On our annual summer beach trip with my dad's family, I would run around the rental house throwing Clownie Junior up in the air. I tried to get him as close to the rafters as possible, and, without fail, he would get stuck up there every time. The pool skimmer was requisitioned, Clownie Junior was rescued, and it would all start over again.
On those beach trips, when I was about 13, Julia and our cousins and I began making movies. We cut our teeth on The Lord of Randomness, an epic four-part series of what can only be described as sketch comedy with a healthy dose of slapstick, kiddie-style. Then we made a Star Wars movie, with choreographed light saber fights. And a Hitchcockian murder mystery, for the first time utilizing a script Julia and I had written ourselves.
I became the director of these little films, and by the time I was 17 I was completely hooked. At 18, Julia and I wrote a feature film entitled Kings and Queens about four magically gifted people who stumble into each other's lives on a fateful collision course. It became my magnum opus on Virginia and the countryside in which I grew up, my homage to my home state. At 21, I screened the completed film at the local community college for a hundred friends and family members, and the next day I got in my car and drove to Los Angeles.
As you can imagine, I'm pursuing directing as a career in the City of Angels. Not uncommon, on paper, but every filmmakers has a story to tell. Mine isn't about my movies or Clownie Junior or mayonnaise; it's about my sisters.
When I came out to Lauren, her reaction was "That is so cool, I can't wait to tell my friends!" That enthusiasm for who I am, for the me of me, is present in both of them. Always. Constant, unyielding. It's shaped me, given me confidence, allowed me to grow in unique and brave ways. It's as if my being gay is just part of the story. Not a plot point, not an agenda; it just is. Simple.
A month ago, Lauren got married, and I saw my sisters for the first time in a year. That night was best night of my life. I gave a speech before dinner, and though it was flawlessly eloquent, I've since forgotten most of what I said. But I do remember this: When I told her my mayonnaise story it brought her to tears, and let me tell you, that is a feat. It's the closest I've ever felt to her. Later that night, Julia and I danced like a pair of Elaines, clearing a corner of the dance floor with our wacky moves. It's these memories I refuse to let time rob from me, like when I laid on my back and watched the dust motes overhead.
I wrote a short film last year called Juliebug. In the simplest way possible, it's an homage to my sisters, a love note to them for a lifetime of fun, adventure, and support through the heart-wrenching times. In the short, the two girls are based on my sisters. They are adopted by gay parents, fathers. A note, not even addressed, that they have two fathers instead of a father and a mother. Because it's time we didn't need an excuse to include LGBT characters in our storytelling. We are a part of the world, and the world turns on.
I'm in the middle of bringing this film to life, planning the shoot, gathering crew, location scouting, casting, and all that good stuff. I'm also crowdfunding the budget. Check out the video, I think it's worth watching beyond the context of this campaign, and I hope it brings a bit of joy and excitement to you. To Julie and Lauren, you're my inspiration. I can't wait to put the magic of us up on the big screen where it belongs.