On March 16, 2018, Showtime presented the brand new documentary film, “Beyond The Opposite Sex”. It is a 14-year follow-up to the lives of transgendered people, Rene and Jamie, who we first met in a two-part 2004 film titled “The Opposite Sex”.
Their lives have changed so much from when we were first introduced to them, and this film transports us back into their worlds so we can see where they are in life and what’s changed and why. It also has segmented clips of the previous film, throughout, so that people who haven’t watched “The Opposite Sex” can still understand what’s going on and what they’re talking about, allowing them to really showcase how much has changed for Rene and Jamie. We urge you to check out our film review.
Bruce Hensel acted as co-director and executive producer, he also was the executive producer of the two-part 2004 film, “The Opposite Sex”. So, he has a real connection with Rene and Jamie, fully making sure that the film shows them in the best light possible.
We are honoured to have been able to exclusively interview him. We chat about the new film, what he hopes people will get out of it, as well as Rene and Jamie themselves.
Last month, Showtime premiered “Beyond The Opposite Sex”, can you tell us more about the film?
This film is the first to look at very brave people long after they have had what is now called gender affirmation surgery. We followed each of these people thirteen years ago from the time they started hormonal transition to the time of their surgery. That was ground-breaking because nobody had shown that entire part of the surgery or the journey. It was very ground-breaking because very few films and other things have looked at how they have turned out and do they regret their decision; a lot of people read that the surgery is the goal, but as we found out it is only the very beginning to very different turnings. Both Jamie and Rene are very different people with very different journeys.
What was it like to co-direct the film?
Well, I had found these two people thirteen years ago. We reached out to every surgeon in the world that we could reach that did these surgeries and we talked to quite a few people before we chose Jamie and Rene. So, I had known them from that period until now and I stayed in touch with them. Because I knew the individuals and I knew about their lives and because this is a documentary, an authentic story, looking for their stories, I felt that I needed to be involved at that level. I also wanted to show that I could co-direct. Emily [Abt] did a wonderful job, but I was involved in almost every single creative decision, I was on every single shoot, and I made many of the final decisions with Showtime. So, directing is one of the most difficult things you could ever do; it was a challenge, but it was very rewarding.
What was it like to catch up with Rene and Jamie?
I have stayed in touch with both of them. They’re very different people. Rene is a man who always felt that he was a heterosexual man who wanted to be with women. Jamie left his wife and daughter and went out and experimented with men sexually and ended up in a relationship, most recently with a woman and as both of them say, “Sex is about who you want to sleep with. Gender is about who you want to sleep as.” They’re very different things; many people get these things mixed up. I have been a journalist for many years, I was a chief medical correspondent for NBC in Los Angeles and New York for twenty-seven years, and I didn’t only read the news. I did most of my own investigation, much of my own writing and producing, and my two loves have always been the cinematic arts and medicine. Many people have asked how is it that those two seemingly different things are your main passions, but they’re not so different. In both science and medicine and arts, truth is about what’s authentic, what’s real. It’s outside of yourself, you can’t control it; so, I’ve always been attracted to both. I was an actor before I went to medical school, I’ve been in a number of films, and I’ve produced a number of shows in films; so, those were both my passions. My major passion is being challenged creatively to help give birth to something that doesn’t exist before and staying in touch with Jamie and Rene was incredibly rewarding because they had two very different journeys and we wanted to show both journeys; we thought that was crucial. I feel that we’ve achieved that as it has not been done before. There are many stories about people who have been through gender affirmation surgery, but the world has changed so much, and it still needs to change more. I felt as a filmmaker, producer, and journalist that I could help them light these journeys.
How much has changed in the 14 years since the first film?
A great deal has changed for Rene and Jamie. Many of the people who were furious at them have since forgiven them. There is much change in the world as well. When we pitched the first two films, very few people knew about this gender affirmation surgery. Now, almost everyone knows about them, but the world still has a great deal to change. As a filmmaker I felt that we have four characters: Jamie, Rene, now vs then, and middle America because they live in Texas and Kentucky; this is not the two coasts; this is middle America with a lot of opinions and a lot of prejudices, so a great deal has changed. We were able to film a transgender family group with many teenagers but as Jamie said, she feels strongly that once she’s gone through the surgery that she is no longer a transgender; she is a woman, and that’s part of the debate as well. There’s been a great number of changes in the world but many more are still needed.
Do you believe that times have changed in those 14 years in the transgender community? What has changed in particular? And, what still needs to happen?
Within the community, there’s a little bit of division. There are many as we saw in one scene at the University of Louisville where many people who’ve been through these changes wish to be vocal and advocate; Jamie and Rene do not. They also feel that they should no longer be called transgenders. Within the community, there’s a lot more openness but there’s some divisiveness as well.
What questions do you think this film brings up?
I think that’s the most important thing as a filmmaker that you need to look at; what are the questions? Not what are the answers. The best scripts won’t answer every question. When people look at a script in film and say, “Well, what did that ending mean?” That was what the writer has to say. It wasn’t necessarily reality but with documentaries, you do have reality, and the reality is that questions are not always answered. But the questions that we focus on are what are the different journeys? With heterosexuals, lesbians, gays, they have many different journeys. Some of them are very healthy people and some are not. The questions that we ask are, “How did your lives turn out? How do the people in your lives feel? What are the challenges you face?” These movies are not about subjects or social questions, they are about people. And if they help illuminate the subjects and the social issues, then all the better.
What would you like to see people get out of this film?
I would like to see that people understand that Jamie and Rene are human people with feelings, love, and needs like any other people. I know that there are chemicals within the body, there are social aspects, there are genetic aspects; I’ve shown the film to many people who just don’t understand. But you have to understand that everybody is different. There is a full spectrum and I’m a heterosexual man, but I can tell you that I fully accept that people feel differently about who they are; accepting that this is a fact and that it doesn’t make them stranger than anybody else is the major thing we wanted to illuminate, and I believe we did.
Are there any specific moments or scenes in the film that are your favourites?
I believe one of my favourite moments is when Rene is having a long conversation during a hike with Aaron. Aaron was born biologically a female but has chosen hormonally to become a male; however, he does not want to go through the surgery. And the difference in opinions between the two of them is among my favourite thing. I think Aaron is the one who said, “Sex is about who you want to sleep with. Gender is about who you want to sleep as.” Rene’s proposal is a major moment that was incredibly touching and when Jamie and Lisa are out and Jamie’s working on the house and Lisa’s depleting it, Jamie looks a little bit manly in some cases and you know she didn’t have a manual—sort of a combination word that she was using and of course Jamie’s songs are quite incredible. So those were my favourite moments in the movie but there are many to try to pick out just a few.
What has the reaction been like so far?
The reaction has been quite incredible. At the screenings in Palm Springs, I had a few people who felt that they couldn’t meet afterwards for a discussion because they were too emotionally moved by the stories. Most people’s reactions have been incredibly sensitive about the love story they saw and in Palm Springs in one place we had an audience that was older, and their acceptance was incredible. I had a relative who reacted and said that he absolutely couldn’t understand it, he just couldn’t fathom it. So, the reaction has been incredibly positive and has left some people puzzled, much like what you’d see anywhere else.
Is there anything you want to say to Rene and Jamie, as well as everyone included in the film?
I’m still in touch with both Rene and Jamie, and Rene will be joining us at the Outshine Film Festival in Miami on the 28th of April. I think Jamie and Rene both know that I consider them friends, I feel no differently about them than I do with anybody else in my life, and that I am so amazed by their bravery and by all the people willing to be in the film. This was difficult for many people in the film, for Lisa in particular. I understand that they don’t really want people to see their interior life and I am incredibly impressed by the willingness and the willingness of others to do it because it helps illuminate other people.
Do you think the story ends here, or do you think that you will film another follow-up in the future?
I think that the stories do not end here. The stories will go on forever and the challenges will go on forever, but I prefer to do more scripted films in the future; however, I believe that the stories and the people are more crucial to the telling of the story than the social issues. Movies are made about social issues and they’re good, they can be excellent. But they are like news programs. People’s stories make the difference. As much as I love Jamie and Rene’s story, I can’t tell you I’m never going to do another follow-up because that was not my intention thirteen years ago. But I prefer to do scripted films and documentaries about other subjects in the future.
What do you hope to achieve with this film?
My desire to achieve with the film is to illuminate these people’s lives and to show that every journey is different, and they are as normal as any other people and in terms of achievement with myself, I want the opportunity to make more films that can make a difference in people’s lives.
Is there anything you want to say to the people who have watched, or who plan to watch, this film?
Try to come with an open mind. Understand that you’re going to watch journeys that may be different from your own; that allowing yourself to watch their journeys might help you understand things in the people’s lives that you meet in the future or even in your own life. So, try to come with an open mind, try not to judge, allow yourself to have your own experience, and then share it with others and with me. You can reach me easily so that we can all continue this discussion.
Thank you so much, Bruce Hensel, for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you want to get in contact with him, to continue the discussion, as he suggested in his last answer, you can reach him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
“Beyond The Opposite Sex” was shown on Showtime on March 16, 2018. It continues to be repeated on the channel and is also available to watch on demand.