A Secret Love - a review
A Secret Love documents the life of a lesbian couple in Chicago over seven decades.
Terry is a famous baseball player, whose role in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the ‘40s and ‘50s was captured in the famous film “A league of their own”. Terry, then 22, meets 18 year old Pat at a party for “girls like them” in 1947, and they go on to spend their whole lives together. The intensely homophobic period means that their intimate relationship was kept secret from their families for fear of rejection. Instead, they tell their families that they were best friends and had to live together due to the high cost of living. They live and work together.
The documentary shows archival footage and images throughout the two women’s time together, as young women ice-skating, beach-going, and wearing stylish dresses, lipstick, and heels, looking like “ladies” so as not to stand out. Their early love letters had the endings torn of fear of being caught by the authorities.
Interviews with other women tell the stories of persecution of homosexual people during the 50s and 60s, with police raids at gay bars. Pat and Terry explain that they avoided such places, not only of fear of persecution, but also of being deported as they were Canadians. Instead, they focused on family life, supported by other gay and lesbian couples who have been their queer family for decades.
With times gradually changing, and homosexuality becoming more accepted, Pat and Terry, now in their 80s and 90s, finally decide to come out to their families. Mostly faced with acceptance, they were also confronted with reactions of disappointment.
Footage of the documentary, taken by Terry’s great nephew, shows the two women in their older age. It shows them looking after each other; resting, feeding, exercising and taking their medicine together The couple kiss, read the newspapers, watch TV while holding hands, eat with friends and families, sleep. Every day, simple domestic bliss.
Yet as the couple gets older and Terry’s health deteriorates, Terry’s family steps in. They encourage the couple to move back to Canada so that they are close to family, and they go into assisted living. Pat hesitates. They were able to look after each other for decades without the family’s help, and in any case their life, friends, and queer family are in Chicago. Is it really the right move for them to move back to the conservative suburbia they escaped from? Is it right that the family, a family they had to keep their relationship secret from for decades for fear of rejection, makes decisions for them? Is it right that they leave their home, chosen family and anything familiar behind?
Terry’s family insists as decisions need to be made. Decisions that Pat is uncomfortable with. Yet as Terry’s family puts on the pressure with gentle insinuations that Pat’s hesitance is having a negative effect on Terry’s health, Pat gives in.
The documentary sends out a tremendous feeling of sensitivity and care. While focusing on the love that Pat and Terry have for each other, it sheds an insight into the highly homophobic 50s and 60s, but also the progress in our times, leading to marriage equality, a possibility that the couple choses in their old age. The documentary also tackles the issue of old age and the difficulty in reconciling the life that the couple built together with the need to make practical arrangements. It shows the difficulty of coming to terms with the fact that they are no longer able to take care of each other, something they have been doing lovingly and caringly for so long. In the case of Pat and Terry all this becomes even more difficult since for them, as for other gay couples of that era, the life they have built together was filled with pain, fear of the authorities, fear of rejection by their families and social loneliness.
The documentary is a must-see for everyone. It’s a heart-warming, heart-swelling, love wins all viewing that will make even the most cynical amongst us cry.
The documentary is available on Netflix and you can watch the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghv3-lpFOcc