It’s been nearly a decade since the five families depicted in Our House opened their doors to director Meema Spadola, in an effort to show what life is really like for kids with gay parents. Since then, a lot has changed for all the families. Some of the couples got married. Many of the children graduated high school. A few got married and had kids of their own. At least one came out.
One fact of life remains much the same, however. Back in 1999 and 2000, many of the kids wished for the day when having two moms or two dads would be universally accepted by their communities. As Spadola notes in one of the DVD features, that day has yet to arrive.
Though occasionally cloying and at times woefully short on details, Our House holds up as an honest exploration of what it means to be a family. Most of the credit for that should go to the dozen or so kids who took part in the film. Many of them admittedly didn’t offer details about their lives to teachers or schoolmates, but they were willing to go on camera and share them with the public at large.
Unlike adults, children don’t sugarcoat and often don’t try to hide their emotions. Spadola seems to understand that, because she approaches the themes of Our House from a kid’s eye view. The parents offer the basic details of each family’s life, but their sons and daughters tell the real story through their words and their actions.
Nine-year-old Saveon says he might “beat up” anybody who says something mean about his mothers. At one point, Saveon takes over the camera to ask after the feelings of his older brother, who evades the question with the same ease he displays on the family’s backyard basketball court. The two brothers wiggle and squirm in silence as their father openly criticizes their biological mother’s lifestyle.
Spadola’s youngest subjects aren’t thinking about gay rights on a national scale – 9-year-old Jessica admits that she doesn’t even know what that means. To these kids, gay parents, gay adoption and gay marriage aren’t theoretical; gay rights aren’t a political question or a buzzword. Having gay parents is reality, something that makes them different from other kids—but probably not as different as critics think.
The most interesting story in Our House is that of then 14-year-old Danna; older sister Ember, 16, and their (now divorced) mom and dad. The teens were raised in a Mormon church that condemns homosexuality. Their faith, and that of their parents, was tested when dad Dwight came out. Teachers and clergy told Ember to forgive her father but she wondered why: “I didn’t want to forgive him,” she tells Spadola in one interview. “I mean … what had he done wrong?”
Ultimately, Ember chooses to leave the church. Danna is clearly less comfortable with the situation; she retreats to the couch when Dwight and Ember start rating some of his past dates. But the sisters both march in a gay rights parade with their dad. Included on the DVD is a follow-up interview with Danna and Ember that was filmed in 2006. Since Our House was released, Danna got engaged to her boyfriend. Ember now “identifies queer”.
Rightly or wrongly, media coverage often emphasizes that children raised by same-sex couples are no more likely than the sons or daughters of heterosexual couples to identify as gay or lesbian. If Spadola is looking for a follow-up to Our House, she should look no further than Danna and Ember’s discussion of the matter. Ember knows groups who want to take rights away from gay couples could use her sexuality as a weapon. Meanwhile, Danna struggles for acceptance as part, rather than simply an ally of, the gay community.
The additional footage of Danna and Ember’s family fleshes out their story in such a way that also highlights the shortcomings of original documentary. Our House runs only 56 minutes, not long enough to really tell the stories of all of these families. The life of Long Island fathers Rob and Jon and their five children (including the aforementioned Jessica) get particularly short shrift.
Spadola’s mother came out when the director was 10. In the DVD’s “making-of” feature, Spadola says she made Our House so other kids wouldn’t have to feel as isolated as she did. The children of gay parents aren’t the only ones who will identify with the young subjects of Our House, however. The lives of these families will look familiar to any kid.