“You need big balls in a world like this.” The monotone voice of Max Valerio in the confrontational documentary, Gendernauts, glares across the screen with an unwavering, dark sincerity. Max used to be a girl – not anymore. This young man in his late twenties is one of the many individuals who is confronted by a conditioned, apathetic, out-of-tune society. Director Monika Truet wants to tune us in. Her natural ability to explore issues of transgenderism in an open, candid fashion educates and at the same time astonishes us. Gendernauts was the second of the three films shown at Images last week, and ultimately, I must say, the most intriguing.
All three of the films the BGLTU sponsored, Priest, Gendernauts and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, were to be part of the events surrounding the time of National Coming Out Day on October 11. Each one was to tie into the week’s theme, “Queerness & Religion.” Priest focused on the struggle between sexual identity and religious identity, and more generally on the conflict between the church and the individual. The Eyes of Tammy Faye looked at acceptance within a religious community, while Gendernauts focused somewhat on acceptance within the queer community, specifically on the role of transgendered people: trans-, intersex, transvestite people, or anyone who ‘transgresses’ gender in some way.
All three films succeed in portraying the struggle by queers not only to gain acceptance within their communities, but also in trying to accept themselves. As they struggle to confront their true identities, they find they may have to entertain the idea of a totally new lifestyle. They must reinvent their person, viewing themselves as “big experiments.” They feel ousted precisely because they feel they have no comfortable place in society in which to grow and discover themselves.
In Priest, Linus Roache takes on the ultimate institution: the Catholic Church. Frustrated and burdened with saturated feelings of guilt, he resorts to hooking up with his partner in the back of a cabby. Roache’s character becomes totally dysfunctional, breaking down in the middle of Sunday mass as people pass him over for the second priest. No one wants to take his sacrament. This is true to life. No one wants to confront the problems, the issues, the uncertainties. Monika Truet feels society must learn to accommodate these individuals; in order to do this, we must be accepting. But there is something even more crucial than this that needs to be resolved first: we must reinvent the way we look at gender issues. When I say “reinvent”, I mean we must totally rediscover vision.
“The BGLTU has sponsored films at Images in the past, and it’s usually a good way to draw in all sorts of people: from the Berkshires, from campus, queer, straight….” says co-president Beth Budwig. The films continued the dialogue of recent BGLTU meetings and other events of the week, raising many provocative, essential questions.
Budwig and others believe that in showing these types of films, the BGLTU is seizing a much needed (and much awaited) opportunity to examine crucial issues facing the queer community. “What is our solution — working within a religious community, leaving a community, or starting our own? How much do ‘queer’ people have in common — are we united by our experiences, our orientations, or our politics? How do we become more inclusive?” she and many others ask.
Those questions are not really being addressed, say a few students. One anonymous student calls it “disconcerting” that students are not more alert and aware of such issues: “I expected more of a reaction to Coming Out Week and for people to take a more adamant stance on these types of issues. I mean, that’s what makes this place truly ‘liberal.’ We need to constantly expose new points of view.” The small turnout for the sponsored events at Images was disconcerting indeed, but Budwig is optimistic. “We’re blessed to have a strong queer/queer-friendly community here at Williams” she says.
I walked away from the film series with the understanding that we are conditioned in our society to see only two genders. We attach certain social taboos to these two genders. But how many different kinds of genders are there really? Truet suggests that there are possibly as many as there are people, or personality types. In Priest, Greg Pilkington says to Roache, “You spit in the face of God if you prevent a human being from reaching his full potential – the creation of mankind only started on the 6th day. It hasn’t stopped yet.” People become what they are meant to become. We, society, must learn to let this like all other things take its course. After all, gender confusion is a small price to pay for social progress.