The subjects of BEFORE YOU KNOW IT are no ordinary senior citizens. They are go-go booted bar-hoppers, love struck activists, troublemaking baton twirlers, late night Internet cruisers, seasoned renegades and bold adventurers. They are also among the estimated 2.4 million lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans over the age of 55 in the United States, many of whom face heightened levels of discrimination, neglect and exclusion. But BEFORE YOU KNOW IT is not a film about cold statistics and gloomy realities, it’s a film about generational trailblazers who have surmounted prejudice and defied expectation to form communities of strength, renewal and camaraderie. An affirmation of life and human resilience told with humor and candor, BEFORE YOU KNOW IT confirms that you are never too old to reshape society.

"An important, entertaining, and original documentary...BEFORE YOU KNOW IT will be of interest to multiple viewers, from sociologists and gerontologists to everyday queers."

Harry M. Benshoff - Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies - University of North Texas
Synopsis: 

The subjects of BEFORE YOU KNOW IT are no ordinary senior citizens. They are go-go booted bar-hoppers, love struck activists, troublemaking baton twirlers, late night Internet cruisers, seasoned renegades and bold adventurers. They are also among the estimated 2.4 million lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans over the age of 55 in the United States, many of whom face heightened levels of discrimination, neglect and exclusion. But BEFORE is not a film about cold statistics and gloomy realities, its a film about generational trailblazers who have surmounted prejudice and defied expectation to form communities of strength, renewal and camaraderie whether these communities be affable senior living facilities, lively activist enclaves or wacky queer bars brimming with glittered trinkets and colorful drag queens.

Dennis is a gentle-hearted widower in his 70s who begins exploring his sexual identity and fondness for dressing in womens clothing under the name Dee. Ty is an impassioned LGBT activist who hears nothing but wedding bells once gay marriage passes in New York. Robert The Mouth is a feisty bar owner who presses on when his neighborhood institution comes under threat. Born before the Civil Rights era, these men have witnessed unbelievable change in their lifetimes, from the Stonewall Riots and gay liberation, to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and Queer Nation, to gay marriage and Lady Gaga, and have lived to become part of an unprecedented out elder generation. BEFORE focuses on the lives of these three gay seniors, but reminds us that while LGBT elders face a specific set of issues, aging and its challenges are universal. An affirmation of life and human resilience told with a refreshing humor and candor, BEFORE confirms that you are never too old to reshape society.

Reviews

"A crucial new addition to the LGBT doc canon"

indieWIRE

"College educators in diverse fields can use this compassionate film to teach social history and as a tool to promote dialog about essential human issues, including aging, sexuality, and discrimination. It can also be utilized by organizations that are committed to building community and collaborating for social change."

Vicky Westover, Director of the University of Arizona Hanson Film Institute

 "BEFORE YOU KNOW IT  is a chronicle of the challenges facing an aging portion of the population, but it doubles as something more universal: a means of cutting through isolation and societal expectation, and finding a stronger self on the other side."

Village Voice

"Young college students were exposed to a group often ignored in LGBT studies...PJ's time in the classroom offered students insight into the process and techniques of documentary filmmaking -- an incredible opportunity for any film student or budding student filmmaker!" 

Stephen Low - LGBT Studies Film Series - Cornell University

"Engrossing...Provides sufficient contrasts, surprises, epiphanies and warm moments to keep it rolling engagingly along...Resists foundering in pathos or kitsch; its subjects are too complex and resistant, having survived decades of change, to be reduced to victims or examples."

Variety

BEFORE YOU KNOW IT is an extraordinary film and an outstanding achievement!  I have no doubt that this film – with its nuanced and loving depiction of three vibrant older gay men -- is going to make a critically important contribution to increasing understanding of the lives of LGBT older people.  SAGE is proud beyond words to support this project!

Michael Adams, Executive Director of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)
Director's Commentary: 

The inspiration behind Before You Know It came in 2008, when I was touring with my last film, Trinidad, a feature documentary that follows three transgender women living in the small town of Trinidad, Colo., also known as the "sex-change capital of the world." We were invited to screen in upstate New York, and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia, Soldier's Girl) was kind enough to organize a reception afterwards at the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center in Kingston. At the event there was a good turnout of LGBT community members, and surprisingly enough, they were almost exclusively LGBT seniors. At that moment I realized how little I'd seen or heard of them as a community, and I started to question why.

I went around the room and thanked many of them for attending. In return, they shared personal stories with me, stories of living many years in the closet, or witnessing a large portion of their community die off during the AIDS crisis, or even grappling with the fact they've lived long enough to see gay marriage legalized in certain states. At that moment I realized that this particular group of people had seen such a large amount of change during their lifetime. Born before the civil rights movement, they have lived through the sexual revolution and Stonewall and now find themselves in a world where they can see openly LGBT characters on TV and listen to Lady Gaga on the radio. Around the same time, I was a volunteer film instructor to queer youth as young as 14, and I wondered if they were aware of the experiences that their LGBT elders had lived through. I was fascinated by the fact that both age groups were on opposite sides of the spectrum, and that I myself was somewhere in the middle. The LGBT community has recently placed a lot emphasis on supporting our youth, and rightfully so, but what about support for the other highly vulnerable group: our senior communities?

Weeks later I found myself still thinking about this overlooked group of people. I mentioned my experience in Kingston to Sara Giustini, who eventually came on as the producer of this film. Together we started researching the topic and uncovered pretty startling statistics, such as the fact that LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone as their heterosexual counterparts, and five times less likely to access social services. Living in a youth-obsessed culture, LGBT seniors face ageism, loneliness and discrimination. Overall, society at large desexualizes seniors, even though someone who identifies as gay is being defined by their sexual identity, making the two terms, "gay" and "senior," seem at odds with one another. Clearly there have always been members of the LGBT community over the age of 65, but we are now seeing the first visible LGBT senior communities. Acknowledging the vulnerability of age and the need for one another, these seniors are organizing and creating their own communities in the form of living facilities, community organizations, bar establishments and so forth. They continue to blaze trails. On a personal note, around this same time, my mother and I started having conversations about her thoughts on retiring one day and the financial and emotional challenges involved. As a member of the LGBT community, I wondered what things would be like when I'm over 65. So I set out to make this film to find out for myself.

Initially I thought I'd chosen each character based solely on my interest in wanting to know more about each of them. I was fascinated by Dennis' ongoing journey of self-discovery. I admired Ty's tenacity as a public figure at the forefront of gay visibility in Harlem while wrestling with personal feelings about issues that he never thought he'd see in his lifetime, like the legalization of gay marriage in New York. I enjoyed hearing Robert tell stories of his wild and unapologetic youth and seeing that unique spirit captured in his bar and passed on to the patrons and staff, whom he considered family. But only when we started editing did I realize that I'd chosen each subject because together they formed a life cycle. Each person represents a different stage of life. Dennis' coming out late in life is reminiscent of adolescence and self-discovery/self-acceptance, even at the age of 80. Ty's story of partnership and marriage echoes midlife concerns of settling down and looking toward the rest of one's life. Robert's narrative signifies legacy and a passing of the torch. All three stories are unique and individual, yet together they give us a larger picture of life and aging. Though each individual lives in a different city, with a different history, and encountering different challenges, they have a commonality between them. They are linked to one another.

Filming Before You Know It has been a life-changing experience for me. Not only have I met and gotten to know three amazing individuals, but I also marched in the New York Pride Parade the day after gay marriage was legalized in the state of New York. I've been on a gay cruise to the Caribbean! I've experienced my first Mardi Gras in Galveston and sat through my first legal gay wedding. A lot of what the characters experienced I've experienced as well. The moments of surprise, sadness, inspiration, laughs and tears will be with me for the rest of my life. The film is a document of not only the three characters' lives but, in a way, my own experience as the filmmaker.

Though Before You Know It looks at aging through the lives of three gay seniors, ageism, loneliness, acceptance and loss are all universal experiences. Not only does it take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support an individual who is aging. It's a community effort, and community could be your friends, a bar, a living facility or "family." But aging alone is a difficult process. It's up to everyone of all ages to support the older generations, and it's in all our best interest to do so, as the aging process does not discriminate. Robert eloquently states in the film, "You never think about getting older when you're younger, but before you know it, it creeps up on you, and you're there already." Making this film, I can now say I've now thought about it... and I look forward to seeing you "there."