A Drag King Night at a Manhattan nightclub featuring a boisterous show of male impersonators becomes in Gabriel Baur's illuminating documentary "Venus Boyz" a framework for an exploration of gender fluidity.
Some of these women have created male alter egos, and at least one performer's gender seems biologically ambiguous. Indeed, for all the individual permutations represented there seems to be a tendency toward embracing some degree of intersexual identity, accompanied by a refusal to have their sexuality defined by rigid, traditional notions of gender.
A number of the women have found it empowering to be perceived as men -- that in everyday public life men really do have it easier, commanding attention and respect far more speedily than women do.
Although Baur observes and interviews 18 people, she concentrates on three complex, colorful and forthright individuals. Diane Torr is a chic middle-aged redhead who has become an accomplished performance artist who can walk down a street in any of her various male guises confident that she is passing, and she even conducts classes instructing women on how to do this. Torr has a daughter who appears to be in her late teens. Articulate and reflective, Torr has a forceful, persuasive personality, yet her enduring friendship with the father of her daughter ultimately drove away her lesbian lover.
Del La Grace Volcano, an American living in London, was assigned a female at birth but never felt comfortable in that identity and at age 37 decided to stop shaving his beard and a year later in 1996 to start taking monthly testosterone injections. Volcano has opted for a highly fluid intersexual identity, appearing more male than female most of the time but sometimes female and sometimes somewhere in between. At the point he was able to be perceived as a male, he explains, he discovered how much fear, anger and hostility exists between men and women. Like everyone else in the film, Volcano never refers to having considered any form of transgender surgery.
Like Torr and Volcano, Bridge Markland, a young German woman with a shaved head, loves the empowerment she feels transforming herself into a man, seeing it as a way of channeling her feelings of aggression. In her performance art she will sometimes start out as a seductive stripper; in any phase of her evolving sexual identity Markland is an exuberant, humorous personality.
All the other people in Baur's film are similarly forthright, and it is clear that these individuals have exercised considerable courage and determination to sort out their sexual natures and to be true to them. They have the sturdy sense of human survivors, and in "Venus Boyz" Baur regards them with compassion and dignity.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Complex adult themes, nudity, language
A First Run Features presentation. Director Gabriel Baur. Producer Kurt Maeder. Cinematographer Sophie Maintigneux. Music David Shiller. Editors Salome Pitschen, Daniela Roderer. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Exclusively at the Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd. (at Fairfax Ave.), (323) 655-4010.