The Rumpus Interview with Cassie Jaye

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Documentary filmmaker Cassie Jaye landed the Best Documentary Award at Cannes Film Festival for her film, Daddy I Do in 2010 — about the controversial religious ceremony Purity Balls, where girls from six to sixteen pledge their virginity to their fathers until marriage. She is now touring the country with a new stick of dynamite, The Right To Love: An American Family, which follows Jay Foxworthy and Bryan Leffew, a gay male couple struggling to regain their right to marry, and raise their two adopted children behind a pink picket fence. From emotional protests to documented gay bashing at Yankee stadium; anti-gay TV personalities to counterpoints by everybody’s favorite lesbian Rachel Maddow; even Bryan’s family admitting that they voted for Prop 8, “R2L” covers some ground. But, it’s clear, this fight is nowhere near over.

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The Rumpus: Congratulations on completing your second film! Daddy I Do won Best Documentary at Cannes. Was it daunting to choose which topic would be a good follow-up to Purity Balls?

Cassie Jaye: It was, but in some ways The Right to Love: An American Family is an extension of the ideas talked about in Daddy I Do. They both question if people have the right over their own sexuality, or does the government and society have the right to dictate what we can and cannot do, or who we can and cannot love.

Rumpus: What struck me right away was the massive love emanating from the Leffew family. Do you think that the exposition of love alone can change minds?

Jaye: I hope so. I think people fear what they do not understand, or what they haven’t seen. Honestly, before I starting making The Right to Love, I had never met a family with gay parents and I didn’t know how or if it could work. Now, having met the Leffews and for three years really examining the relationship between the dads, their relationship with the kids, and the kids being raised by two gay dads, I don’t know what I was ever afraid of. The unknown is far scarier than reality.

Rumpus: Same-sex marriage in California was recently legalized, with Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional. Is The Right To Love: An American Family still relevant?

Jaye: Sadly, yes. Even when rights are protected by the Constitution, discrimination can still and probably will exist. There is a long road ahead for the LGBT community to be fully accepted in society, but I hope that this film will at least help speed up the process of acceptance.

Rumpus: When did gay marriage become illegal?

Jaye: In the United States, before the 1970’s there was never a legal definition of marriage in any state in the U.S. By common law, it was just between a man and woman. It wasn’t until 1973 that Maryland became the first state to ban same-sex marriage, and other states followed suit.

Rumpus: In your film, liberal news personality Rachel Maddow brought up a powerful point, which is that people’s rights should not be voted on. Why do you think a gay person’s right to marry appears on the ballot?

Jaye: Because of religion. If we only looked at a gay person’s right to marry as an equality issue and not as a ‘moral standard of society’, then there wouldn’t be an argument. I strongly believe that this particular political issue is a test that religion, possibly subconsciously, is using to see how much control it has over government policy.

Rumpus: It was beyond frustrating to see anti-gay activist Maggie Gallagher (by the way, I’m convinced she or her husband or both are gay) making false claims about religious servants being forced to perform same-sex marriages, public schools having to teach about gay marriage, and other false rhetoric. How does she get away with it?

Jaye: Maggie Gallagher and other anti-gay rights activists are using the ‘say something enough times until people believe it to be true’ tactic.

Rumpus: It was appalling and scary to see gay bashing at a sporting game captured on film. It was a powerful moment to witness. Along with CNN’s list of names of elementary and junior high school children that took their own lives as a result of badgering based on size, appearance and perceived homosexuality, it cemented in my mind the seriousness of the bullying epidemic. How much of this is a direct result of gay people not being able to get married? Are gays seen by the United States as second class citizens?

Jaye: You’ll hear Mayor Gavin Newsom say “separate is not equal” in the film, as well as Maggie Gallagher saying “it is not discrimination to treat different things differently”. Imagine a young kid starting to have a crush on someone of the same gender. On one side, he or she is hearing Gallagher say you’re different, and on the other side he or she is hearing Newsom say you’re not being treated equal. No matter who you hear talk on the subject of marriage equality, you’re reminded that you’re in a separate class, a second class citizen.

Rumpus: I find it interesting that our country pushes marriage then children, but the majority of states disqualify gay marriage, supporting domestic partnerships instead, while still allowing gays to adopt. For both sides, is differentiating ‘domestic partnerships’ and ‘marriage’ semantics?

Jaye: There are many people, including President Obama, who want to give gay couples all the same rights and protections as straight married couples, but gay couples have to call it a ‘civil union’. Would Americans be supportive of white couples having the word ‘marriage’ and black couples having the same rights but calling it a ‘civil union’? That definitely sounds like semantics to me. Also, what message does that send to the children being raised by a gay or lesbian couple, that their parents are being refused the word ‘marriage’?

Rumpus: Unlike in Daddy I Do I had a distinct feeling that you, the filmmaker, had a strong opinion about gay marriage. Your voice seemed more injected this time around. Was this intentional?

Jaye: It wasn’t intentional, but it was inevitable. I always try to give both sides adequate room to state their argument. With Daddy I Do, it was easier to show both sides since ultimately each person is free to make their own sexual choices, whether they remain abstinent until marriage or engage in sexual activity. As long as you are a consenting adult, you have the right to choose. With The Right to Love, the problem is that a majority of people are trying to dictate the rights of a minority. I showed all the main arguments I could for people who don’t want LGBT rights or marriage equality, but the arguments for marriage equality were always so much stronger.

Rumpus: What documentary filmmaker do you aspire to become?

Jaye: Albert Maysles. I hope to meet him one day.

Rumpus: Do you also want to direct motion pictures or other projects?

Jaye: Absolutely, I’m currently working on some scripted films to direct. It’s difficult for me to find as much heart in a scripted film as there is in a documentary, but it can be done and I’m looking forward to starting that journey.

Rumpus: This film was stylistically more sophisticated than your last. Did you study up on Final Cut between Daddy I Do and now?

Jaye: A few people have mentioned that The Right to Love has a slicker edit than Daddy I Do. Maybe so, but they’re both very different styles, and if I had to make Daddy I Do again, I would still edit it the way I had originally. If you compare editing to storytelling, a person telling a story in a soft, slow, deep voice can be just as riveting as someone very animated, jumping around and waving their arms telling a compelling story. They both have their purpose and are impacting in different ways. I did have more practice editing The Right to Love though, so that much is true.

Rumpus: What kind of camera did you use, how long did it take to shoot and where did you travel to amidst filming?

Jaye: We used the same camera for The Right to Love as we did Daddy I Do, the Panasonic HVX200. We shot and collected footage for The Right to Love over a period of two years, and then it was in post-production for one year. Overall, the film took three years from concept to completion. The Leffew Family lives in Santa Rosa, California, and we spent a majority of our time filming them there, but we also followed marches and protests around the Bay Area and Sacramento; all of the filming took place in Northern California.

Rumpus: Cynthia Nixon came under fire recently for claiming that homosexuality is a choice, and that because bisexuals are discriminated against, she calls herself gay (she’s since cleared the air). How much more work is ahead for bisexuals to be treated with respect, and be more understood? Is there room in the discussion of equality for both gays and bisexuals?

Jaye: There is much more work ahead of us until bisexuals, and transgendered people as well, have full respect and understanding. Humans like to compartmentalize sexuality by either saying someone is straight or gay. It’s not so black and white, there is a lot of room for grey area. Here’s an idea to open discussion: Anti-gay activists claim that being gay is a choice. Did they choose to be straight? If they did, one could wonder if those anti-gay activists chose to live a straight lifestyle because they had bisexual feelings. I think understanding sexuality begins by understanding our own feelings before judging others actions.

Rumpus: For people that are attracted to both sexes, being in a homosexual relationship is a choice (though it can be argued that attraction to a person is never a choice, despite their gender), and for gay people, it is seen by the majority as genetic. How can we differentiate a “lifestyle choice” from a genetic disposition? Why do you think this differentiation is so important to society?

Jaye: I think this differentiation is important to society when arguing whether or not it’s a choice. This is the best way I can describe it: you never choose your orientation, you only choose to go with or against your orientation. For bisexuals, they don’t choose their orientation either, they are bisexual, but it’s when they fall in love with someone and they have the choice to accept their feelings for that person or not. They can either follow their heart or go against their heart’s desires. A bisexual woman who falls in love with a man is not all of a sudden straight, she just fell in love with a man.

Rumpus: What changes legally when gay people get married as opposed to having civil unions?

Jaye: It greatly varies between each state, and that’s why same-sex marriage will never be equal to heterosexual marriage until it passes federally. When a straight couple gets married in California, they have the same rights and protections when they vacation in Florida. A gay couple in a California state-sanctioned civil union does not have the same rights and protections in Florida. That’s why the Leffew Family refuses to take their kids to Disney World; it’s too dangerous for them.

Rumpus: Why did you choose the Leffew family to be portrayed, and why not also show two women in a union and/or a transgender couple?

Jaye: Much of what goes into a documentary is just being in the right place at the right time. Early on in the production, we were following several different stories; a young dating lesbian couple, an older married lesbian couple, some activist groups and marchers, etc. As the production evolved, we decided to focus on the Leffew Family and their activism on YouTube following the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, it’s just how the chips fell. We’ve talked about trying to do another Right to Love film, focusing on a lesbian couple or on the children raised by a same-sex couple. You can only cover so much in an hour and a half.

Rumpus: Did you ever feel threatened by anti-gay activists at the rallies you documented?

Jaye: There were times that cars would drive by a protest or march I was filming and someone would shout something terrible out the window and then speed off. We’ve also had some people and organizations threaten to protest our screenings or protest on the Leffew family’s front lawn. People are more likely to make hateful remarks when they’re protected by anonymity. So much of this debate is in passing. I wish the anti-gay activists would at least sit down and have a real discussion with us, and instead of protesting outside the theatre, come and see the film and then let’s talk.

Rumpus: What’s next for you?

Jaye: I’ll have a long year ahead of me taking The Right to Love on the road and trying to get it out to every small town in America and in other countries as well. I’m also gearing up for a third documentary. I like to keep busy.

Rumpus: Do you believe in the Kinsey scale of sexuality? If so, where do you fall?

Jaye: I do believe in the Kinsey scale and I’d say I’m a 2.

Rumpus: Tell me about your project Faces Overlooked.

Jaye: Faces Overlooked was a short film I made when I was 23 years old. I made it for a nationwide film competition called Faces of Hunger in America which asked young filmmakers (anyone under the age of 25) to make a 10 minute film showing the epidemic of hunger in their own community. It was an interesting challenge for me since I had just recently moved to Marin County, CA, a couple months prior, which is one of the most affluent counties in the country. So, not only did I have to learn the area to make the film, but also expose the hidden underbelly of hunger in Marin, which seemed impossible, but sadly, I found it. I really felt like a true undercover filmmaker and I ended up winning second place in the competition.

Rumpus: What film festivals have you hit already with Right to Love and where are you headed?

Jaye: The Right to Love premiered at the historic Castro Theatre in downtown San Francisco on February 6th, and then it screened at the Queer Film Festival in Eugene, Oregon, on February 11th. Our third screening will be at the Smith Rafael Theatre in San Rafael, CA on March 1st, and we have some university screenings in the process of being scheduled, and more film festivals to hear back from. We also just announced on Valentine’s Day that we are partnering with the Liberty Education Forum (LEF), which is a nationwide organization that aims to reach out to conservatives and people of faith regarding LGBT rights and marriage equality. LEF will be taking the film on a church tour across the country this year, which is really exciting. The best way to keep up with our screenings is on our website: www.R2Lmovie.com.


Darrah de jour is a freelance journalist and consultant, with a focus on sensuality, environmentalism, and fearless women in the media. She lives in LA with her doggie Oscar Wilde. Her lifestyle writing and celebrity interviews have appeared in Marie Claire, Esquire and W, among others. She writes a monthly column for SuicideGirls called, “Red, White and Femme: Strapped With A Brain – And A Vagina,” which takes a fresh look at females in America. Twice monthly, Ms. de jour co-hosts SG Radio on Indie 103.1 FM. This is her Rumpus debut. Subscribe to her blog at: www.darrahdejour.com and friend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/darrahdejour More from this author →