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'When I Knew' zeroes in on the a-hah moment for gays and lesbians

For some gay people pondering their place in society, it is a crucial question, simple and complex in the same breath. ¶ When did you know? ¶ Gay documentarians Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ( The Eyes of Tammy Faye) sat 150 subjects before their cameras to ask the question, inspired by a 2005 book. ¶ Their resulting 35-minute film, When I Knew, airs Wednesday on Cinemax at 7:30 p.m. It focuses on 16 stories, ranging from a guy who grew obsessed with the muscular male on the Doan's Pills box to a woman who burst into tears as a teen when her best friend kissed a boy. ¶ "It seems like most people have a number of 'when I knew' stories," said Barbato, noting how the realization often evolves over time. "People usually have the funny story and the not-so-funny story . . . the private, I knew not to tell anybody story." ¶ As Gay Pride Month unfolds, I echo the film, asking a range of gay people locally and nationally the same question. Here are the answers, edited for clarity.

Ant (born Anthony Steven Kalloniatis), 40,

Los Angeles, comedian and reality show host

When I Knew: "I remember I was 9 years old and we had a tree fort in my back yard we built with my dad. It had electricity and lights. Seriously, the only thing that was missing was a foyer. And Richard Scalfani swiped one of his dad's Playboys. And he brings it into the fort. And I'm there (with two other friends). They open up the centerfold and they see her breasts and say, 'Look at that' and then they come down to her nether regions and say, 'Look at that.' And I yell 'Look at her shoes!' "

Ricc Rollins, 45,

Tampa, senior pastor of the Breath of Life Fellowship Community Church

When I Knew: "I was fascinated by Liberace. Let me give you a list: Liberace, Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly — there was something about them. . . . It was almost like seeing black people on TV in the '60s, where you'd (call your friends) and say, 'Look, there's a colored person on.' Little Richard fascinated me. Because they lived their lives with such flamboyance. It was not them; it was the manner in which they lived their lives — out in the open."

David Warner, 55, Tampa, editor of Creative Loafing newspaper

When I knew: "I think I knew when I was 9 years old. I just remember being conscious of other guys' bodies, I guess. We moved to a new school where everybody had to shower together for gym class from fourth to eighth grade, and I guess I just saw things in a different light. But I'm somebody who didn't come out officially until I was 23. . . . There was just an attraction there that I was feeling but couldn't really name. And I got called 'Daisy' when I was a kid. So I must have been sending out signals to someone."

Lisa Leigh Robinson, 39, of St. Petersburg, executive chef

When I knew: "Kindergarten. I had a teacher that I thought walked on water. I thought she was the most beautiful thing that hit the planet. It was really funny because, being a girl, my family wrote it off as a crush — (heterosexual) infatuation. But when I got into second grade, I had a teacher's aide and I did the same head over heels thing. So it was this pattern."

Michael Freincle, 20, Brandon, student

When I Knew: "Sometime before 8 years old. I was more comfortable with girls because they weren't so obsessed with sports. I didn't like games like 'smear the queer' — because, ironically enough, I was always the queer. You know, where you throw the football and whoever catches it gets tackled? . . . I was just an easy target."

Lorna Bracewell, 24,

St. Petersburg, singer-songwriter

When I Knew: "I guess it came out when I was in fifth grade. I knew from watching The X-Files in school and having the hots for Agent Scully (Gillian Anderson) and not for Mulder (David Duchovny). Everybody — they'd always teased me from as early as I can remember, saying 'That's just because you're gay' or 'You're a lesbian,' and I'd say, 'But I have a boyfriend.' I think they knew it before I did."

Patti Petow, 52, Clearwater,
concert promoter

When I Knew: "I saw Babes in Toyland when I was 4 or 5 . . .
I don't remember the whole story. But I remember there was a relationship. And I wished I was the guy in the role, not the girl. Only because I wanted the affection of the girl."

'When I Knew' zeroes in on the a-hah moment for gays and lesbians 06/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 9:46am]
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