“Gendernauts: A Journey through Shifting Sexes”


Amos Lassen

I feel that I can honestly say that many of us have no concept of transgenderism. It is mysterious and many of us find it fearful. Today transgender people are coming-out more and more and we are hearing their stories but most of us still have lot to learn. We hear of intersexed individuals, hermaphrodites, etc. We see “drag queens” and we laugh with and at them although many of them are not transgendered but simply putting on a show. As our movement gains ground, we must also open our ranks to those who are transgendered—they are part of us.

I received a fascinating film from First Run Features that deals with the issue of transgender—“Gendernauts”, directed by Monika Treut. While I watched, I sat amazed at what I saw and I began to realize that my notions about transgenderism are not only outdated but unfair. This is an illuminating film that takes a compassionate look at a very diverse group of people—transgender people, doctors and experts in the field who have something to say about transgender identity. In the movie are also some of the leading personalities in the San Francisco gender-bending community. Some were born the way they are and some chose the life of a transgender but all blur the lines of the sexual binary. “Gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress”, I learned And no I do not feel sorry for or pity those that feel they are not in the correct gender, for I, too, am an outlaw in society by just being a gay male.

Monika Treut shows us testimonials and her intention is to “affirm the humanity [and dignity] of the intersexed, the transgendered and transsexual individuals she encountered” and in many ways she does so in this film.

The film looks deeply into San Francisco’s transgender, cross-gender, and non-gender community by focusing on people in various states of gender. They introduce themselves, their lives and their choices as well as how they feel about gender. We learn of the creation of gender, the reconstruction of gender, the definition of gender and the redefinition of it as well and we learn what living in the “natural state” means. We meet “women” becoming “men”, “men” becoming “women” and those “remaining” what they are, whatever that is. (The quotation marks are intentional).

There is an Army veteran and history professor, a video artist”, a “Penthouse” model and nightclub performer, a porn star, musicians and writers and they are all sympathetically portrayed with no sensationalism whatever. Surgical methods and hormone treatments are discussed.

Some may find the movie repulsive and uncomprehending but the humanity with which is has been made should prove that the negativity of the subject should be done away with.

The one thing that is missing is the opinion of both the straight and non-transgender point of view of the issue. In documentaries, I feel, all viewpoints should be heard and this was glaringly missing.

Watching this movie opened my mind a great deal and let me know that it was time to do some serious thinking about what I saw– not many movies do that.

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