Before You Know It Runs Fri., June 6–Thurs., June 12 at Grand

Before You Know It

Runs Fri., June 6–Thurs., June 12 at 
Grand Illusion. Not rated. 110 minutes.

If you were, say, 36 in 1995, the peak year of AIDS deaths in the U.S., you’d be at the upper edge of the first generation to come out in the epidemic’s shadow, the first to spend their entire adult lives aware of its devastation. And this year you’d just now be eligible for an apartment in Rainbow Vista, Gresham, Oregon’s home for LGBT retirees. It’s a godsend for Dennis, 76, a former racquetball champ, Air Force serviceman, and longtime cross-dresser who’s one of the three subjects of PJ Raval’s doc.

The swath AIDS cut is only one of the issues clouding Dennis’ sunset years—and those of Ty, a Harlem resident and activist with SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders); and those of Robert, whose Galveston Island drag bar, he claims, is the oldest in Texas. There’s also the loneliness endemic to men who likely don’t have traditional spouse-plus-children families, or even sympathetic relatives, to lean on. They have to build their own support networks—in Robert’s case, the queens who star in his bar’s bawdy floor shows and one ne’er-do-well nephew. And gay culture’s notorious preoccupation with youth and beauty doesn’t ease the sting of aging. (Though I wonder: Is that a gay thing or a guy thing? Do straight men treat elderly women any better?)

However, Raval only glances at these underlying difficulties. Ambling and easygoing, Before You Know It is the furthest thing from polemic; it’s simply an affectionate portrait of these three men. I know I shouldn’t, but I’m tempted to say merely an affectionate portrait; untainted by even a hint of data, the film presents no illuminating context. How typical are these men’s experiences? Surely the ranks of 55-plus out gay men are growing—aren’t they? By how much do singles in this age bracket outnumber committed couples? How many Rainbow Vistas are available to cushion the fall? You have to admire Raval’s intent to stand clear and let these three tell their stories—but would a pinch of anger, just for spice, have hurt? It’s clear these men aren’t particularly happy, and Raval leaves you wondering: Are we supposed to do something about it? Or what?

Still, I suppose the fact that today progress can be made on the gay-advocacy front without requiring Larry Kramer-like levels of indignation is itself a sign of progress. For example, one new problem gay men never had to face before is depicted here, both triumphantly and troublingly: Now that we can wed, what happens if you and your elderly life partner suddenly find you’re not of the same mind on the subject?