Documentaries are a great way to pass the time in lock-down, and give us great insight into different worlds. A secret love does just that.
A Secret Love is a different tone to Netflix’s recently popular Tiger King. This documentary is a window into the lives of an elderly couple who have been together for 70 years but, unlike most couples, they have been living in secret love for most of that time. Only coming out in a relationship 3 years before the start of the recording, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel have stood through the trial and tribulations of being in love with a woman for all that time.
A Secret Love is the extraordinary story of two women falling in love-full of quiet declarations of love. The documentary follows Terry and Pat as they face old age together and the major decision of moving out of their well-loved home into a retirement community. Much to the apprehension of Pat, who is reluctant to leave the safe place of their home.
Terry and Pat’s story starts in the 1950s USA, before gay marriage was introduced in 2014, and it was acceptable for two women to walk hand in hand in public. Not only did Pat and Terry face possible disownments from their family they were both women athletes. Terry was a baseball player, for Peoria red wings, in case you cannot tell from the swathes of memorabilia in their house, and met Pat, a hockey player in 1947. In such time, women athletes were scarce, and faced a whole bunch of issues as they fought to be treated equally in an industry dominated by men. As they recount their love story, it is obvious the difficulties they had to go through in such a homophobic period.
Gay relationships were not accepted in mainstream society with couples having to hide their love in underground clubs. These clubs were not a safe place and often subject to raids by the police, Pat describes how she was never caught in a raid but did jump out of windows to avoid them. Terry and Pat mention several times how they had to be extremely careful with their relationship, tearing off any personal information written on the letters they sent to each other back in the day.
Pat and Terry seem to be the kind of couple who had the same love for each other as they did 70 years ago and bicker like an old married couple. Their house full memories accumulated over the last 70 years, both women treasure these memories deep in their heart. One thing for sure is that Pat and Terry’s love doesn’t stop within their relationship, but is far-reaching to their friends and family too. Particularly Terry's niece Dianna is the supportive and loving relative we all need in our life.
Seeing Terry recount how she was terrified of her loving niece rejecting her when she came out was humbling because even 90-year-olds can get scared of coming out too. Although we have made improvements in gay rights, for some people the rejection of your family after coming out is very real. Many people in the queer community still face the risk of disownment by their families, because of their sexuality. At one point in the film, we see one of Terry’s relatives visibly torn up about how long they had kept their relationship a secret. For a relationship before the 2000 secrecy was paramount when rejection by society could mean losing your job, home and family.
This story is one of love but also of a couple facing ailments of being old, which causes some tensions in the family dynamic. Pat is resistant to moving into a care home while Terry’s Parkinson deteriorates. Throughout it all, is an undeniable extraordinary warming love which has quietly lived in the hearts of this beautiful couple for many years.
So if you’re looking for a heartwarming love story with a dash of social history thrown in, A Secret Love is available on Netflix now.