There’s one way to come out of a closet. Open the door and step out.
Augustus “Gus” Hinton knows that. He’s done that.
The gap between knowing what to do, however, and developing the inner strength to take that step — into the light — is a broad, dark expanse when you’re young and about to alter the course of your life.
Hinton, a University of Wisconsin-Stout alum, lived in that shadow world throughout his teenage years in La Crosse. Before he came out as gay while in college, he wished that he had a way to cope with his situation, even something imaginary to make the pain go away for a while and help build his mettle.
Helping provide a coping mechanism for others is why he’s created “Closet Combat,” a short animation about a closeted teen. The main character deals with his challenging social interactions by imagining he can fight his way out of them.
“While in the closet, I felt like I was constantly dodging bullets. Almost any social interaction could put me in a position where I had to lie, deflect, escape and outsmart in order to not ‘blow my cover,’ ” Hinton said. “It was necessary for me to think of these as battles that could be won. It was the only way I could feel victorious and in control. Almost everything else about being in the closet felt like a loss.”
A professional animator who graduated in 2015 from UW-Stout’s animation and digital media program — then called entertainment design — Hinton began working evenings and weekends on “Closet Combat” in 2018 as a personal side project.
After finishing the first three-minute episode, he entered it into film festivals across the U.S. to help gauge its potential impact. He recently proudly announced on his YouTube channel that “Closet Combat” will be in seven film fests.
“I put a lot of work into the piece and felt proud of the result, but I still can barely believe it. It’s blowing my mind. I’m pretty darned excited,” said Hinton, who works on contract as an animation/motion designer for the Seattle office of Slalom.
He is in the process of moving to Minneapolis after previously working as a motion designer for Weber Shandwick in Seattle.
He plans to attend the Minnesota Webfest, which will be held at the Mall of America, Thursday, Sept. 23, to Sunday, Sept. 26, as well as virtually.
The other festivals are:
- aGLIFF/Prism Film Festival, in Austin, Texas, which ended Sept. 6
- Fighting Spirit All Action and Martial Arts Film Festival, in London, England, held Sept. 11-12
- Los Angeles Queer Film Festival, held Sept. 16
- Cinema Diverse: the Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival, which ends Sept. 26
- qFLIX Philadelphia 2021: the LGBTQ+ Film Festival, Sept. 26 to Oct. 3
- Queer 2 Queer Fest, Nov. 20-27.
Also, “Closet Combat” will be available to the public sometime in October on Hinton’s YouTube channel.
National Coming Out Day is Monday, Oct. 11.
The realization that, through the film festivals and other promotion of “Closet Combat,” he could reach two types of audiences also has him excited.
“The main audience is anyone who has been in the closet or had to hide a part of themselves from others. I would have loved to have seen something like this when I was growing up. I hope that members of my LGBTQ+ community feel seen when they watch this,” he said.
He hopes to reach “people adjacent to the LGBTQ+ community who don't understand what it's like to be in the closet. Perhaps this story will resonate more with them and create a point of empathy.”
The aim of “Closet Combat” isn’t so much about handling coming out as it is the day-to-day challenges a closeted teen or adult might face.
“I wanted to tell a story about the experience of being in the closet that I hadn't seen yet. So often I see stories about big events like coming out to your parents or overt bullying. I wanted to show something smaller, more common, but just as impactful,” Hinton said. “I also wanted to show that both humor and sadness can be found in something like this.”
Pushed himself to succeed at UW-Stout
Associate Professor Kim Loken, director of the animation and digital media program, isn’t surprised by Hinton’s success with his project. He was her student in a Storyboarding and Preproduction Foundations course.
“He excelled at the meticulous planning and steady pace of work that is necessary when one is pursuing independent creative research, like his festival-bound short film,” Loken said.
She also taught Hinton when he was a senior in a Color Seminar course. “He demonstrated a knack for the metaphorical use of color in storytelling, as well as bringing valuable videography skills to documenting a design-build project executed by the entire class.”
Hinton began his undergraduate degree at two other schools before transferring to UW-Stout, where he had a digital cinema concentration to go with his major.
“When I was at Stout, I was a lot more comfortable with my sexuality but still in the process of coming out to those around me. The School of Art and Design felt like a safe and accepting space for me. However, even in that inclusive environment, it was hard to not always be on my guard. Old habits die hard,” he said.
UW-Stout has the Qube, an LGBTQIA+ resource center, in Merle M. Price Commons. One of the university’s FOCUS2030 goals is equity, diversity and inclusivity.
Hinton is thankful for his UW-Stout experience.
“I learned that the more work I put in, the more I would get out of it, so I put in a lot of work. I felt supported when I struggled, but when I excelled my professors pushed me to challenge myself even further,” he said.
“I feel so grateful that I learned so much in my time at Stout and, perhaps even more importantly, had the space to explore creative ideas. There are few opportunities to do that when you're out of school.”