Reviews

‘A Secret Love’: Seven Decades of Lesbian Romance

Netflix, with its string of endless content, delivers a heartfelt documentary about two women, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, and their secret relationship of nearly seven decades. Directed by Donahue’s great-nephew Chris Bolan, A Secret Love dives into these women’s love story, from how they met around the end of World War II to how they cope with old age.

Both from the province of Saskatchewan, the two women were known for playing sports: Donahue played for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the same league that was featured in the 1992 film A League of Their Own, while Henschel was known in her hometown of Moose Jaw for playing hockey. Funnily enough the two women met on the hockey rink.

They had been very cautious about their relationship. It was dangerous for out gay people to be themselves during the decades when homosexuality was criminalized. Gay bars were regularly raided, and patrons were thrown in jail. Even after getting released, these jailed patrons suffered from ostracization as their names were published in public records. Even though Terry and Pat led a normal life together, they were forced to cover it up. For years they told their family they were just good friends.

Other than their decades of romance, the documentary also shows the two women transitioning to assisted living. Terry is diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is progressively deteriorating throughout the documentary.

Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 5.13.26 PM
Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, the couple at the center of A Secret Love.

While Tom Hanks’ character in A League of Their Own famously quipped, “There’s no crying in baseball,” this documentary sure is a tearjerker. It is such a nice feeling to see lesbians truly in love with each other at a time when it was hard to be gay. The documentary doesn’t focus on the hardships of being a lesbian at the time but instead it focused on how their love for each other flourished throughout the years, and how they were truly meant for each other. The secrecy was just a small part of a huge history between these two women. With the documentary showing footage from the past decades and the prose that Pat wrote to Terry, their love resonates to us all. “Love is love,” as the two women declare at the end of the documentary.

This is just one of the many stories of same-sex relationships that were hidden away due to the danger of loving who they love. People get arrested, beaten, and even killed just for loving someone. It has been a long fight for same-sex couples’ right to be legally considered in the eyes of the law, and there is still a long way to go to in terms of the prejudice the LGBT community faces. Terry and Pat show us that despite the difficulties, you can endure it and come out of it stronger together. In the end, the two women legally married each other after many years of criminalization of same-sex couples. Terry Donahue sadly died March of last year, 71 years into their relationship. This documentary is a wonderful view into their relationship and will give you a good cry throughout.

 

A Secret Love is currently streaming on Netflix.

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