Believe it or not, there are still folks willing to spend hours discussing the "politics" of their sexuality, unaware that all such discussions essentially boil down to, "Given the choice, I'd rather get it." At recurring intervals, you can feel the documentary "Venus Boyz" veering off into that sort of self-impressed claptrap, but at least the movie approaches the topic tangentially. Filmmaker Gabriel Baur's doc is only about sex to the extent that you can't have sex without identifying yourself as something -- and how you identify yourself has a lot to do with how others treat you.
These are the stories of the "drag kings," women who know what it means to live as a man. Some are mere cross-dressers performing in nightclub shows that put a macho spin on the concept of gender impersonation. Others, through fate or choice, find themselves in the iffy area between male and female, cultivating beards and waxing rhapsodic over fleshy stumps that were discarded by doctors unable to distinguish the penile from the clitoral. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, the movie affirms; but is it any easier when she's a man?
A number of the participants seem to think so, freely voicing their opinion that men are treated better by everybody. One of the interviewees goes further, stating categorically that fellas look out for other fellas. (Tell that to any guy who's had the snot beaten out of him in the parking lot of a country bar.) Many of the drag kings appear to approach their masquerades with a sick vicariousness, hoping to experience the belligerence and blithe unconcern they feel are the birthright of males. It's disappointing how freely some of these women equate "masculine" traits with negative ones.
That may be why the stage performances, while elaborate, are sadly humorless and often hectoring. (I did, however, enjoy the impersonation of a snot-nosed young filmmaker prattling on and on about his bitchin' first project. Wonder why.) The most impressive subject, professionally and personally, is one Mildred/Dred, a bald-headed black woman who paints on angular "facial hair" to pose as a sweet-talking smoothie of the Isaac Hayes school. We see more of Mildred's daily life and support system than we do most of the others, and the result is that she comes off as the film's most well-adjusted personalityÃ? the one most comfortable with the vagaries of her pose.
As a documentarian, though, Baur is also pretty vague, inadequately identifying the players and cutting off their conversations at a number of genuinely interesting junctures. I was going to chalk the movie up as an intermittently intriguing but dispiriting affair -- until I paused the screener tape I was watching to grab something from the kitchen, and was greeted by the loathsome sight of The Bachelor's coven of cheerleading opportunists, shrieking out their mortifying interpretation of proper womanly conduct. If that's what makes a lady these days, being a Venus Boy looks pretty damn attractive.