The earnest, well-meant, no-frills documentary "Devout" explores the conflict of a handful of New York City lesbians between the rigid, anti-gay doctrines of their faith and the gradual realization of their own sexuality.
This territory provided a groundbreaking documentary once before, "Trembling Before G-d," which, incidentally, in a nice, all-too-infrequent show of pan-religious solidarity, inspired a similar film about gay Muslims. Although the exposure of religion as a thin veil for weird hangups about human sexuality probably can’t be done enough, "Devout" goes over the same territory as the previous, much more thorough, film.
"Devout" does have two interesting angles: all of the talking heads here are lesbians; and the film was made after New York State legalized same-sex marriage. Other than that, however, it repeats what activists like Wayne Besen (reasonably) and Dan Savage (much more savagely) have been saying for some time: that religious orthodoxy is way too often used as a thin veil for hatred among the God fearing.
Western history has been a sad saga of the inevitable collision course between the impossible demands rigidity religious fanatics place upon believers and the "slide" believers face every day because they happen to be living, breathing human beings. While Judaism has the slight advantage of rejecting the ridiculous doctrine of Original Sin, the rabbis who have spent their lives interpreting God’s word come pretty close. The women in "Devout" display the same tensions presented by gay Baptists, Mormons, Catholics ... take your pick.
What is truly sad about these women’s plight is that there are alternatives to the pious right only a short subway ride away from their restrictive communities. What do you call a gay Catholic? Answer: an Episcopalian.
In the same way that put-upon Christian gay believers eventually come to the more accepting denominations, gay Orthodox Jews have Reform Judaism, which is the perhaps most advanced of the major Abrahamic sects in its acceptance of LGBT believers. There’s also Conservative Judaism, which bridges orthodoxy and reform but has been advancing rapidly in LGBT issues of late.
In other words, if I could say three words to these women, it would be: Get over it. Yes, your sexual orientation alienates you from your upbringing. Yes, your coming-out was fraught and horrible.
News flash: Everyone, to some extent, has to come to terms with the disconnect between his or her heritage and true emotional and sexual feelings. And all the "It Gets Better" videos in the world will never mitigate the roller-coaster that we all experienced when we came out of the closet.
So stop feeling sorry for yourselves because family members don’t like your living openly with the person you love. Trust me: You’ll make a new family, a better one. Just get on with it, and don’t look back, lest, like Lot’s wife, you turn into a salt shaker.
Screening at the Boston Jewish Film Festival