It's not always easy coming out to family — especially when that process involves a road trip to the rural South in the 1970s.
But such is "The Rocky Road" depicted in Uncle Frank, the latest production from Alan Ball. Written and directed by the Six Feet Under and True Blood creator, the new Prime Video film, set in 1973, follows teenager Beth Bledsoe (Sophia Lillis) as she departs her rural Southern town to study at New York University, where her Uncle Frank (Paul Bettany) teaches literature.
Beth soon learns that Frank is gay and living with his partner Walid "Wally" Nadeem (Peter Macdissi). Afterward, a death in the family forces the trio to take a road trip back home and confront past trauma. Along the way, they run into a talented cast that also included Judy Greer, Steve Zahn, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, and Stephen Root.
Inspired by Uncle Frank, The Advocate launched "The Rocky Road" series in partnership with Prime Video. In it, Griffin Matthews, BenDeLaCreme, and Ross Mathews share sad, inspiring, and heartwarming stories of coming out, road trips, and found family.
Read excerpts from these interviews below. And don't miss Uncle Frank, which premieres November 25 on Amazon Prime Video.
How Drag Helped Save BenDeLaCreme
BenDeLaCreme, the RuPaul's Drag Race star who also directed the Jinkx & DeLa Holiday Special, recalled never having the option of coming out while growing up a rural, conservative community in Connecticut.
"I was so flamboyant that it was just a thing where there was no use hiding it," DeLa said. "I was teased constantly both for being effeminate and for my weight. I was very heavy as a kid. There was just never a sense of safety."
Things got so bad in her youth that DeLa would often use the girls' room to avoid bullies — and then would be disciplined for doing so by her school. "It was like, well, where's the safe space for a queer kid?" she asked.
She first caught a glimpse of that safe space when she first watched Wigstock: The Movie, a documentary about the once annual drag festival held in New York City in the 80s and 90s. By watching "legendary" drag icons like Lady Bunny and Jackie Beat, "that was really my first hint of, oh, there is a larger world out there."
How Dear White People's Griffin Matthews Found Family Acceptance
Griffin Matthews, now 38, was 23 when he came out to his mother. At first, she was “shocked.” Then, she revealed to the Dear White People and The Flight Attendant star that when he was 2 years old, she had taken him to a therapist.
“The therapist said to me there's nothing wrong with him, let him be himself,” she recounted to her son. Her response was an affirming one for Matthews.
“This is not something that I came up with in college because I went to drama school," he realized. "I've always been like this. And so I think that was the start of me really ... accepting that I've been told some lies about myself through religion” and society.
Now, he talks with his family every week on Zoom. “We are having some of the most intense family conversations we’ve ever had because of everything that's going on in the world, including about my childhood and my sexuality and what I went through in school,” Matthews said. “I don't think my parents, they had not really understood what I went through in high school, being Black and gay.”
Last year, Ross Matthews, the affable, inspirational TV personality whose joy is so infectious that he who rose to fame as Jay Leno's intern on The Tonight Show in the early aughts, spent last Thanksgiving as a field reporter for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year, with the state of the world, Matthews, a favorite judge on RuPaul's Drag Race, says he's keeping it safe and small while creating new traditions.
Regarding going home for the holidays in the past he says, "I was gay, really from birth." He grew up in a small farming town in Washington state not far from the Canadian border and he credits his family with being accepting and open.
"I come from a small farm town. When I left to the big city, I was going to change and come back a different person. I just happen to have lucked out and had the best family, the best mom, in particular in the history of time," Matthews says.
"When I moved to Los Angeles and came home my first Thanksgiving, I remember wearing platforms, I think I had dyed my hair purple or something. It was just completely different," he says. "My mom, though, was just so wonderful. And I know that’s not everybody’s experience. But she was just so proud of me for being an individual. I think she saw her hard work of constantly instilling the ideology of I can do anything sort of really taking shape in adulthood."