A Coming Out Story 65 Years in the Making

On April 29, 2020, Netflix will release A Secret Love, a documentary about the lives of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel. Donahue and Henschel have been together as a couple since 1947 but did not come out—to anyone—until over 60 years later. Donahue’s great nephew, Chris Bolan, directed the film, which follows the couple from 2014 to 2018 as they adjust to life in public.

Family, friends, and co-workers all knew the pair as best friends and roommates, some even thought they were cousins. But Donahue and Henschel had met and begun dating almost immediately, hiding their sexuality due to punishing social norms and fear of retribution. At the start of their relationship, Donahue was a 22-year-old catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. 18-year-old Henschel began traveling with her team to watch Donahue play, and kept in touch via letters when they couldn’t be together.  Several years later, the pair moved to Chicago, living as “roommates” together for decades.

In the film, the pair reports Donahue’s Parkinson’s diagnosis (as well as other aging-related challenges) as the catalyst for coming out to their families and friends in their eighties. The world had changed dramatically by then, and the pair felt more comfortable going public than ever before. After they came out to him in 2009, Bolan felt moved to make a film that would accurately portray their “seven decades’ worth of stories” (as he reported to TIME magazine).

Though Donahue died in 2019, their love story has lived on through the production of this film. The documentary, unlike most coming out films, centers around an aging couple getting used to life with their community after decades of keeping their relationship completely private.

Netflix has also recently released a number of other LGBTQIA+-centric films, both Netflix original films and outside content. Most popular has been the release of Circus of Books, which tells the story of the straight, middle-aged Jewish couple that ran Circus of Books, a porn shop and gay media store in LA. Another fan favorite is Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, which chronicles the life of drag queen Trixie Mattel as she becomes famous in drag and in music.

If these films aren’t enough to tide you over through quarantine, Netflix is also releasing the half of it on Friday, May 1. This film tells the story of Ellie Chu, a high school student who agrees to write love letters for a star jock at her school. The only problem is that in the process, Ellie falls for his crush too.

And if you don’t have Netflix, or just have way more time on your hands than you ever thought possible, use your WUSTL Key to access Kanopy, the online video platform that brings together documentaries and independent films for libraries and universities across the world. There are near unlimited options for watching, both LGBTQIA+ related and not.

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