Marc Theda Bara Bolan

I did decide, after seeing the Theda Bara documentary, that Marc Bolan was her reincarnation. (Or a better guess is that Bolan knew about Bara, & was borrowing her vamp for his stage persona.)

What’s interesting to me is that both were the sex symbols of their time – one male, one female – and yet they look nearly exactly alike.

Kids These Days

At least here at Merrimack, they’ve got it good, even though they probably don’t know what’s right under their noses.

They get free films, for instance. I’ve been going to see them, which is kind of funny considering I don’t like most movies most of the time & don’t go see them – not American movies, anyway, or anything contemporary. They’re rarely worth the $10.

But Tuesday night I saw Deepa Mehta’s Earth, which is about the Partition of India in 1947, into India & Pakistan, and which came with Independence. It’s a stunning movie, & I’ve been thinking about the plot and themes and scenes and characters since I saw it. It’s a terrifying film, but deeply moving as well.

Last night I saw one of the earliest Theda Bara films, A Fool There Was, in which she plays her legendary vampire character, and afterwards they’re screening a documentary about her. A Fool There Was made so much money that it helped launch Fox Studios. It’s such a lovely rare treat to get to see a silent film on the big screen.

& In a couple of weeks, they’re screening a film about Dorothy Day, though it’s not the one that I missed when it played at the Brecht Forum in NYC.

Jennifer Finney Boylan’s Southern Comfort Speech

Thanks to Ms. Boylan for allowing me to reproduce it here; this is the complete & unedited version.

Hi everybody. Gosh, look at you all. You all look fantastic from up here. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room before with so many large women.

(improvised joke #1)

(improvised joke #2)

I notice that some of you look a little tired today. Which is not to say, you don’t look fabulous, I’m just saying that some of you seem like you were up kind of late last night. Did you check out the parties last night? You know the one I mean, the theme party—Come as Your Favorite Nude Author?

First time in my life I’ve ever been in a room full of a hundred and fifty nude Kate Bornsteins.

(improvise joke #3)

I have to be honest and say I feel a little bit like a fraud up here today, because I know that there are so many of you who are so much more articulate about these issues than I am. I am an English teacher from Maine, a storyteller— what I’m not is a therapist, or scholar of gender studies, or for that matter, much of an activist. I’ve tried doing some of those things sometimes, because I want to do my part, but I have to say I just so lame at them. I’m grateful that there are people doing all the work around the country that’s being done on behalf of people like us, including the organizers of this conference—our fabulous chairwoman, Kristen, as well as heather O’malley and Cat Turner, and Lola Fleck. I’m just as grateful for all the people who came before me, who blazed the trail that has made my life easier.. I know I would not be here without them, quite literally.

There is an old saying that I find true for me this afternoon—one reason I am able to see so far is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Continue reading “Jennifer Finney Boylan’s Southern Comfort Speech”

No Sissy Stuff

I was just watching a documentary about Gene Kelly, who my mom always loved & who I came to love watching as well, and they mentioned that in 1958 he did a TV show called Dancing: A Man’s Game which basically showed how the movements and timing of sports were much the same as the movements and timing of dancing.

Interestingly, Kelly wanted to be a Pittsburgh Pirate, and only accidentally (or incidentally) became the dancer and movie star he was.

Still, the documentary asserted that Kelly is the one who re-defined dance to include not only athleticism but a blue-collar masculinity, evidence by his own quote:

I didn’t want to move or act like a rich man. I wanted to dance in a pair of jeans. I wanted to dance like the man in the streets.

Betty did a part a long time ago where he had to leap up on a desk and sing wearing a pair of jeans; his character was a union organizer, and it was the actual musical called The Cradle Will Rock (that the Tim Robbins movie is about). & Yes, it was probably my favorite part he ever did (though in a three-way tie with Algernon and Macheath).

PBS Pride Shows

Just a reminder to check out your local PBS schedule during June. Our local PBS channel has been showing some great shows for Pride Month: things like back to back episodes of In The Life, a celebration for Oscar Wilde’s birthday, a great little documentary about Queerspawn (the children of LGBT parents, & in particular about Family Week in P-Town), a profile of Audre Lorde. Especially check out the late night programming; tonight at least it was all programming about LGBT folks. Screaming Queens, Susan Stryker’s documentary about the Compton Cafeteria Riots, is on the 30th.

Blame It on Bill Irwin

Last night, after hearing from one of my preview readers that the first chapters of my new book come off as dispassionate, I sat around a little overwhelmed, a little frustrated, & a little sad. Not because she was wrong, but because she was right, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

I couldn’t work on the manuscript at that moment because I wanted to burn it, so I put on PBS just in time to catch a documentary* about Bill Irwin. For those of you who don’t know who he is, you might have seen him as “The Flying Man” who fell in love with Marilyn on Northern Exposure (oh, how I miss that show), or you might remember him from that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” video that was played to death. It’s less likely that you saw The Regard of Flight (which was one of PBS’ Great Performances series), or his Broadway shows, Largely New York and Fool Moon. But you should have.

A Buster Keaton fan can’t help but love Bill Irwin, for the obvious reasons, but this Damfino just loves that there’s someone around to make me laugh. Being the somewhat hyper-verbal type that I am, I don’t find a lot of intellectual humor very funny. Mostly I think it’s mean-spirited, actually. But a pratfall or a spittake done well gets me every time. A pratfall with a good reason behind it is even better. Hat tricks rule, in general.

The documentary ended with them interviewing Irwin himself about becoming an older clown – pratfalls and physical humor aren’t easy – and he talked about what he might or might not do as a “retired clown.” But what he said that hit me between the eyes is that being an artist is largely about what’s inside you, & looking at that honestly, and then telling the story.

The timing was impeccable. I’m not really excited about the idea, because I’d much rather hide more and show less. It’s so much easier to be pedantic, but so much more boring, and so much less useful. So I’ll forge ahead, pull out my spleen, and see what comes of it.

But I’m blaming Bill Irwin for the whole terrific mess.

* And whatever you do, don’t read that awful essay on the PBS site about the documentary. It’s exactly not the introduction you want. Honestly, the Bobby McFerrin video would do you better. I’m particularly fond of the Northern Exposure episodes, but I loved that show too. What you really want is to see The Regard of Flight, which you can buy here.

Five Questions With… Josey Vogels

Josey Vogels is the author of the nationally syndicated relationships column My Messy Bedroom and the dating advice column Dating Girl. She has published five books on sex and relationships – the most recent is entitled Bedside Manners: Sex Etiquette Made Easy. Her fourth book, The Secret Language of Girls, has been published in several languages and was made into a documentary. Her website – — is visited by thousands monthly and she is a popular speaking guest at universities and colleges across Canada.

josey vogels

1) I was a little amazed at the ‘revelation’ of She Comes First – considering women have been basically saying the same thing as Ian Kerner (the author of She Comes First) did, for years. Why do you think it took a guy to say it before anyone seemed to listen?

It’s funny, I felt exactly the same way. In fact, this is what I wrote in a column I did about the book: “That Kerner comes off as the Neil Armstrong of oral sex is a little insulting when you consider how many women (several of whom he refers to throughout the book) have been saying for years that intercourse alone doesn’t cut it for the ladies when it comes to orgasm. But the fact that Kerner is on a mission to turn men into enthusiastic cunning linguists like himself is a welcome one. Because, clearly, they aren’t listening to us.”

I think sadly, the fact that it was a man made the mainstream media take notice. It was truly a bizarre thing. I thought it was interesting how though also how Kerner’s language in the book was very “male” which again, might have made it more palatable for a media that likes that kind of male authoritative approach to things.

As I wrote at the time:

She Comes First may have indeed changed the focus from intercourse to oral sex but it’s still all about male performance. Kerner’s just shifted the pressure from the penis to the tongue. He even describes the tongue as the best “tool” for the job.

In fact, at times, with all the references to hoods and shafts and some rather creepy technical illustrations, She Comes First, reads more like a car manual than a guide to becoming a good lover. So while Kerner now describes himself as “happily married and able to make love successfully” (wonder what a good cunnilinguist pulls in these days?), being a “successful” lover isn’t just about having a skillful tongue — though that is, of course, welcome. It’s about knowing how to stimulate a woman’s mind, to make her feel amazing and sexy in bed and out. I’m all for improving your technique. But like a good mechanic, a good lover doesn’t just know how to operate the machinery, he knows how to make it purr.”

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Five Questions With… Bradford Louryk

Bradford Louryk created and performs in Christine Jorgensen Reveals – as Christine Jorgensen herself. In the play, he lipsynchs a recorded interview with Jorgensen that was conducted by Nipsey Russell and recorded in 1958. The show, as directed by John Hecht, has garnered rave reviews, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Louryk did his BA at Vassar, and has acted at varied theatrical venues, from Studio 42 (of which he was a founding member) to Playwrights Horizons to hERE. Christine Jorgensen Reveals plays in New York until January 28th.

1. How has this piece affected your understanding of gender? Is this the first time you’ve played a woman?

This is not the first time that I’ve played a woman, but it’s the first time I’ve played an historical human being who happens to have been a woman. My previous experiences were with Greek tragic heroines – Klytaemnestra, Elektra, Medea, Phedre – and with biblical figures – Judith from the story of Judith and Holofernes, and I’m currently developing a piece about The Virgin Mary called “Version Mary.” I like to stretch myself as much as I can as an actor every time I’m onstage. Whether that’s through language or physicality or playing the opposite sex, I always want to grow as a performer through whatever role I’m creating.

That said, since I first became aware of cross-gendered casting as a politicized choice (when I was exposed to Charles Ludlam’s writing) when I was about 15 years old, I have understood gender as a fluid construct. Thus, my approach isn’t about being male or being female, but about realizing the character in an honest manner. Men are not exclusively masculine and women are not exclusively feminine, thus, when you paint your character with details from the spectrum of what we understand gender to be, you arrive at – I hope – a fully rounded person, with whom the audience can interact.

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Five Questions With… Calpernia Addams

Calpernia Addams is in some ways thecalpernia addams woman that so many transwomen aspire to be because she’s beautiful, talented, outspoken and smart. But her story is also the story of a Soldier’s Girl and came with more than its share of pain. She and Andrea James now run Deep Stealth Productions together, which produces and consults on a variety of video projects related to gender. At her website,, you can find community forums, her diary about her Hollywood doings, and of course more info about who she is, what she’s up to, and how she became the woman she is today.

1) When you spoke last year at SCC, you mentioned that you’d be keeping an eye on representations of trans people by Hollywood. What did you mean by that, and what are you doing?

As a relatively out transwoman, I have been fortunate to make several friends and acquaintances in Hollywood who hold key positions in the business of television and film. I also regularly attend premieres and showcases for new media, where I’m often specifically sought out for opinions and input. I never want to be seen as an overbearing nag, but I always let the industry leaders in these situations know that I am watching their portrayals of trans people closely, and that I am available for anything from conversation to consultation to referrals if they are interested in learning more about the realities of our world. While there are many factors that go into shaping a piece of entertainment media, I do try to be present, available and vocal when I see something that uses an aspect of our community in it’s storytelling. Some of the results of the work Andrea James and I have done can be seen in the upcoming Felicity Huffman film “Transamerica,” for which we provided in-person and script consultation. I also appear as a Texas fiddle player in the film, and Andrea can be seen in a clip from our popular “Finding Your Female Voice” instructional video. The upcoming LOGO network documentary “Beautiful Daughters” will showcase our 2004 sold-out all-trans-cast production of “The Vagina Monologues” with playwright Eve Ensler and mentor Jane Fonda, which was the first event of it’s kind. We have also consulted on television shows such as CSI and many documentaries in the last two years.

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Five Questions With… Susan Stryker

susan strykerSusan Stryker is a researcher, writer, queer historian, artist, and a filmmaker. She is the former executive director of the GLBT Historical Society of Northern California, and a former history columnist for Planet Out. She has written and co-authored books like Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area and edited “The Transgender Issue” of The Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol 4, No 2, 1998. She recently discovered and made a film about the Compton’s Riot – riots by transpeople in San Francisco that pre-date Stonewall – and turned that discovery into a documentary film, Screaming Queens.

1) I was really excited to learn that someone else is a fan of Cronenberg’s films. Why do you love them?

I love Cronenberg because he disturbs me, and because he’s such a fierce auteur who’s not afraid to show even the most unsettling aspects of his sensibility. I like that he is such a philosphically smart filmmaker, and a whiz at making things look stylish on a low budget. But I think my favorite thing is that he really, really pays attention to the fact that we are bodies, that bodies are different from one another, and that bodily difference is a source of fascination, pleasure, dread, and horror for everybody.

That said, I don’t always like Cronenberg. I think his take on women is sometimes mysogynistic, that he finds horrific things I find familiar and desirable. I think he sometimes despairs that his mind is inextricably embedded in flesh, rather than reveling in that. But I totally admire the unflinching way he looks at and represents those feelings. I guess that’s the biggest turn-on for me–that he is alive and engaged with the phenomenogical, existential, emobodied situation of human experience. He feels what it means to be made of meat, and helps us see that.

Favorite moments? Hard to top Videodrome, start to finish–the snuff films, growing new orifices, the flesh gun, infections by viral images, the disemebodied Great White Man in a post-death virtual existence on videotape. What a brilliantly twisted film. And Deborah Harry was just plain ol’ hot. I also love the doomed romance between Jeff Goldblum and Gina Davis in The Fly, and those dwarves who burst out of the rage-sacks growing on Samantha Eggar’s body in The Brood, who then beat that kindergarten teacher to death while all the kiddies look on. When I saw that, I though “this is what filmmaking is all about–see it, don’t say it; show it, don’t tell it.” Cronenberg is such an amazing visual storyteller. He lets you see feeling in an unprecedented way. I could go on and on, but I guess I should stop here.

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Five Questions With… Brianna Austin

brianna austinBrianna Austin is a freelance writer for magazines such as, Lady Like, Girl Talk, Girls Club Reporter, TG Crossroads, Jazz Review, and Music Press. She is about to co-launch a new website with Gina Lance called We first met her at the notorious Silver Swan, where she asked if we’d be in a documentary she was filming – but we declined, due to privacy. A couple of years later when I ran into her, I had to admit we were ready to do her documentary, but she’d abandoned the project, and was very amused at how fast we’d gone from terrified newbies to out out out. It was a pleasure to get to chat with her.

1. So what’s Brianna Austin been up to?

That’s a mouth full. I moved to Buenos Aires in the spring of 2004 and it has been an amazing experience. In addition to running my website, Girls Club Reporter, I did some writing for Lady Like, Jazz Review and other mags, and spent the end of last year finishing a book I co-wrote (it is not trans-related) entitled An Unscripted Life, … I’d Do It Again, which will be available in October. Most of 2005 I have been developing a new transgender web portal ( which will launch shortly. And lastly, I’ve been working on two new books that are both trans related, Candidly Transgender and A Changing Season. I’ll spend August-Oct in NYC and then return home to finish the books in the fall.
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The Aggressives

Betty and I got to see a documentary called The Aggressives on Friday night at BAM, which is screening a weekend of the best of NewFest.

“Aggressive” is the term used by women of color, much like the way “butch” is used to describe some lesbian women. (In fact, the only thing the film didn’t do which I would have liked is mention the use of the word, how it came about, how it’s different or perceived as different than butch by the women who use it to describe themselves.) Effectively “aggressive” describes women who are more masculine in both appearance, physique, and attitude. Some of them identify as trans, yet many were also very clear about the fact that they are women and lesbians.

The film told the stories of five different aggressive women over a five-year period. One was Korean, the others of African-American descent. There were interviews with some of their mothers (one of whom seemed hell-bent on insisting her daughter was going through “a phase”); they talked about who they liked to date (lesbians for the most part, though one also dated transwomen, and got fed up with dating them by the film’s end, and wanted a “real girl” for a girlfriend instead); how they experienced their identities, and what it was about them that was masculine, and how they made it work.

Tiffany talked about how, in school, one teacher in particular would ask her nearly every day if she was a boy or a girl, and after Tiffany stated she was a girl, the teacher would continue to say things like, “Tiffany is a funny name for a boy.” Another’s presence in the women’s showers in the military inspired all the women to cover up until she left the room. With the exception of one, most of these women “passed” as male and in most social situations were assumed to be male – and didn’t correct people necessarily – unless it came to “the ladies,” i.e. the women they dated.

Aside from shining a light on a population that’s rarely discussed or even known, the film was moving for both me and Betty. For Betty, of course, because she understood the issues of passing even when you don’t mean to, the sense of being differently gendered. For me, it was difficult to watch sometimes, because my own relationship with my own masculinity still touches on places of pain and rejection. And yet the film was really inspiring – from very young ages, these women talked about realizing they were lesbian and aggressive, and finding the courage to be who they were. (One had a child from the days where she was trying to prove to herself that she was het, so the self-acceptance didn’t come easy, necessarily.) For the most part, they all had difficult lives in terms of family, economics; more than one was abandoned by one parent or the other at a young age, either through departure of the parent or death. Some sold drugs; one was a fashion model and messenger; another went into the military; another came to work in construction – the only female person at her job. I think they all used the phrase “wearing the pants” at one point or another.

What impressed me the most was how their lives – invisible but for this documentary – contained not just the usual problems faced by those gender variant and GLBT, but that they did so along with discrimination, little to no education or opportunity, and uncertain family relationships. Most seemed to find a real home in lesbian spaces and in drag ball culture, instead.

I did talk with the director, Daniel Peddle, afterwards, who said there is a plan to release the film on VHS or DVD; if and when I can get hold of a copy I’ll be happy to make it a “loaner” for people interested in seeing it. If you can find a screening in your area, do go see it.

Tranny Drinking Games

Last night, the very lovely Crystal Frost was filming a documentary about transfolks that she’s been working on for the past year and a half. She prepared specific questions for me and Betty, good questions, about my erotica, about sexuality, about GLBT politics. I wasn’t surprised; the first time I met Crystal, at FanFair last year, we both instantly seemed to know that we understood each other. It had something to do with the fact that she had brought her boyfriend, and that I was not your average wife. She is a gay man in guy mode, and appreciated my inclusion of gay CDs in my book.

Quite to our surprise, we got the red carpet treatment when we arrived. Ina, Silver Swan’s hostess, saw us first, and then Crystal waved us over: we would be next up for our interview. We didn’t even have time to get a drink. We powdered our noses and reapplied our lipstick, and we were off. At the very end of the interview, off camera, I said to Crystal, “I don’t know who most of these people are; I’ve never seen them here before”. “Camera whores”, she whispered back.

After the interview, Betty and I went in for a drink and found a quiet table in back to talk. Unfortunately, the back room at Ina’s has lived up to the reputation of back rooms everywhere, and is now where the working girls set up trade. One of our CD friends was there, who chatted amiably with us about Betty’s next performance. The minute she walked away, an older chaser took her chair. He immediately explained he was confused by the place, and asked Betty if she was a boy. Although we knew what he was asking (effectively “do you have a penis?”) we didn’t clarify anything for him. He backtracked, pointing at me, “You’ve always been a woman, right?” and then went back to questioning Betty, who of course — as she always does — clarified that we were married. “So would you go on a date with me?” he asked in response. We’re still always dumbfounded by that. We tried to clarify. Betty: “We’re monogamous.” Me: “We met when she was still a boy, and got married, and we’re still married, happily.” Still confusion. Betty finally clarified, “we only have sex with each other, and we like it that way. We”e more like lesbians.” It took the L word to finally get that bulb to light over his head. “Don’t you think lesbians are the reason this place exists?” he said, “If these guys had been able to get dates, they wouldn’t have to do this.” “Uh, no,” I tried to explain. Betty chimed in with the usual ‘sex and gender’ clarification, and when she finished, he asked if we’d be interested in a threesome. “Oh wow,” I said, looking right at him, “we’ve never been asked that before.” I had him. “I’m kidding,” I said, “We get asked that every time we come here, and we always say no.”

At that moment, the very lovely Ina came up and told us we were urgently wanted outside. A big kiss to Ina for that bit of genius; I suppose I had started to look like I was going to hit him.

The night became more bizarre. Betty and I saw someone who looked vaguely familiar and she turned out to be Mona Rae Mason, who is currently interviewing transfolk for her Transgender Project. I stood outside and talked to Crystal’s producer for a while, about gender stereotypes and the way outsiders responded to transness; I got the feeling she was a woman who had seen a lot of the world and wouldn’t have been surprised by much. They moved the shooting inside and all the girls who didn’t want to be caught on film came outside. I chatted with a Silver Swan regular decked out in all white: white corset, hose, heels, – and not much else. I kept thinking about Diane Frank, one of our message board regulars who finds that kind of oversexed slutty outfit abhorrent, and trying not to laugh.

Eventually I went inside and sat next to Betty who was drinking a Corona and had bought me a white wine. “She took a sip,” Betty said, pointing to a tranny sitting catty corner from me. Apparently she’d needed a prop when the camera had come her way, and my wine glass was within reach. “I already gave her what-for,” Betty explained.

I tapped the tranny in question. “Hi, I’m Betty’s wife, I heard you drank my wine.” “Oh, sorry,” she giggled. She asked if it was our first time at the Swan, so I explained I’d done some of the research for my book there more than two years ago. She wanted to know why she’d never seen me there before then. “We don’t come that often; we tend to hang out in lesbian spaces.” “Lesbian?” she clarified. I nodded. She swiveled on her chair and stopped speaking to me altogether.

In the meantime, the camera had found its way to our corner of the bar to shoot a t-girl putting on makeup, so Betty and I took a drink, as per the rules of the Tranny Documentary Drinking Game. Ina brought another girl over to the camera and encouraged her to “do a kick.â” The girl complied. “Oh do it again,” someone else said.

And suddenly I could see the video tape cover to Mondo Tranny. We left soon after. I didn’t have to wonder anymore if the whole talk show modus operandi when covering trans subjects really is the producers’ fault; from where I sat, the trans community was more than willing to play into stereotypes, and no-one had to tell them to, not even egg them on.

That said, I have hope editing will make this a good documentary, anyway.

Apologies Again

Apologies once again for not being where I was supposed to be; I’d been looking forward to being on a plenary panel this morning with Eli Clare, Yosenio Lewis, and Betsy Driver to talk about “Alliances, Umbrellas, Coalitions?” in the trans community. I had a lot to say, too – since there were no other workshops that discussed either crossdressers or partners in the rest of this weekend’s conference.

I’ll eventually put my thoughts together and post them here, since once I thought about the subject I realized I had quite a lot to say.

In thehelen with cats meantime, I fear I’ve managed to get Betty sick as well, and we’re not sure either of us is going to make it to the scheduled party for the NCTE tonight; nor will I make (I doubt) the screening of Susan Stryker’s documentary Screaming Queens, which I was very much looking forward to seeing (as we’d seen a teaser cut of it at Fantasia Fair last year).

On top of everything else, I’ve gotten worse, not better, as my stomach is now in revolt (from all the painkillers, aspirin, and anti-biotics.) The cats, however, encourage me to nap, which is about the only time I don’t feel like hell.

(^ Me with the cats, on a day where I felt much better than I do today.)

The latest on Eddie Izzard

Izzard to star in his own life story
7.02PM, Sun May 16 2004

Comedian Eddie Izzard is making a feature-length documentary about his life.
Cameras have been following cross-dressing Eddie for the past three years in preparation of the documentary, called Diva 51, which will feature footage from his shows, backstage scenes and interviews with family and friends.

It will explore the subject of his transvestism, which he once described as being like “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”, and follow his rise to fame in the States culminating in two Emmy awards for his stand-up show and a Tony nomination for his performance in A Day In The Death of Joe Egg.

Robin Williams, Tim Roth and Eric Idle also feature in the documentary, paying tribute to Izzard’s talents. Izzard is currently promoting the film at the Cannes
Film Festival which is scheduled for release in 2005. “There’s an element of my wild and large, rollicking ego about doing it, but I want the film to dig deep,”
he said.

“The Opposite Sex” – Showtime documentary

From The Advocate, May 11, 2004

The Opposite Sex, a two-part Showtime documentary, begins with the gripping journey of trans man Rene Pena, a God-fearing, married truck driver

By Christopher Lisotta

The Opposite Sex: Rene’s Story opens with documentary subject Rene Pena jogging through the countryside. Handsome, muscled, and driven, he’s a prime example of masculinity. That only grows more obvious when the traditional, God-fearing Pena, a truck driver, interacts with his pretty wife of 11 years, Wona, and their two young sons. But appearances can be deceptive – although everything about Pena’s mind and heart shows he is a man, his body still forces him to face the fact that, at least biologically, he is a woman.

Films and documentaries exploring the transgender experience have become all the rage thanks to the success of Boys Don’t Cry, Southern Comfort, and Soldier’s Girl. But Bruce Hensel, MD, a heterosexual practicing physician and emergency room director who has been a medical reporter on Los Angeles’s KNBC-TV for more than 15 years, wanted to make a powerful film that presents the process of transition from start to finish.

The result is The Opposite Sex, a documentary in two parts, with each part telling the story of a different individual. The first part, Rene’s Story, airs May 3 at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on Showtime. Jamie’s Story, which follows a male-to-female transition, will debut in June. After each segment, Hensel moderates a panel in which trans men and women talk about their own experiences.

“I was so fascinated that so many people are so prejudiced about what they don’t understand,” Hensel explains. “I also knew that I could show the medical side. No movie has ever shown the full journey.” Pena wasn’t Hensel’s ideal choice for the female-to-male segment. Since the now-33-year-old was so masculine, Hensel feared that the audience wouldn’t believe Pena was a biological woman, and he felt the medical journey he was hoping to capture on film would be too short. But after a meeting with the couple – and with prodding from his business partner, out reality TV producer Stuart Krasnow – Hensel changed his mind.

“When we interviewed Rene and Wona, [the decision] was a no-brainer,” he explains. What was initially a liability became an asset once Hensel heard Pena’s personal story. Pena tells The Advocate, “I told my mom when I was 3 years old that God was going to make me a boy, and I never turned back from that statement, not one day of my life.” He refused to wear dresses and fought attempts by his family to make him act or appear feminine. At 11, Pena decided to live his life as a boy. “I just happened to have the strength to be what I wanted to be,” he says, noting that other transgendered people often wait decades before taking that step. “I may be different, but I’m not special.”

Pena’s reason for doing the project was clear: He wanted to get his lower surgery paid for and performed by a world-class doctor. In his early 20s Pena had a double mastectomy, but he’d never had a medical procedure to alter his vagina. Although the film’s producers refused to pay for any surgery, Pete Raphael, MD, a Texas surgeon who performs an innovative procedure that transforms a clitoris into a penis, did the work for free. One of the distinctive elements of the film is its graphic medical footage, which shows exactly what Pena went through to become a man.

Aside from Pena’s unswerving determination, Hensel was fascinated by his relationship with Wona (the couple are in the process of adopting the two boys who live with them). Intensely loyal to one another, the former high school sweethearts were reeling from being shunned by their church after Pena’s transgender status was revealed. “They have so many layers,” Hensel says. “They really love each other in the deepest way possible.” The Penas gave Hensel complete access to their lives, which play out with intense emotion on the screen as one revelation after another comes out into the open.

Both Pena and Hensel insist that the film does not exaggerate. “The pain you see is the pain that’s really there,” Hensel explains. “And triumph, the triumph is really there.”

Doug Wright wins Pulitzer

I think the headlines all should have read, Gay Playwright Wins Pulitzer for Play about Transvestite

Doug Wright, who wrote the play, “I Am My Own Wife,” won the Pulitzer a couple of days ago. (There goes my chance of interviewing him.) If you haven’t gone to see the play yet, and you’re TG, you should be ashamed of yourself! It’s a wonderful, sympathetic-but-realistic portrait of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who lived through the Nazis and the Communists.

Read more about the play and order tickets

It’s worth checking out Charlotte’s book, I Am My Own Woman, as well as the documentary of the same name.