When director Monika Treut set out at the end of the 1990s to make a film about the emerging phenomenon of ‘trans’ (transgender, transsexuality), it was to San Francisco, the epicentre of the trans scene, that she headed. With her documentary, Gendernauts (1999), she created a cinematic tribute to all the fascinating artists she met during her journey through the land of the new genders. Treut portrayed gender-mixers and sexual cyborgs, who changed their bodies with new technologies and biochemistry and thereby questioned the very existence of ‘male’ and ‘female’. The gendernauts travelled through the worlds of gender and sexuality like cosmonauts travelling through space or cybernauts traversing the world-wide web. When asked, “Are you a man or a woman?”, the gendernauts would reply, “Yes”.
More than two decades later, Treut returns to California to meet again with the protagonists of her ground-breaking and award-winning queer documentary classic: Sandy Stone, Susan Stryker, Stafford and Max Wolf Valerio, the pioneers of the 90s trans movement. Most of them lived in San Francisco, then a haven for outsiders and part of the sexual avantgarde. Today, they are aged between 58 and 84 and are mostly living elsewhere. San Francisco has become the dormitory town of the well-paid employees of the high-tech companies in Silicon Valley. The alternative movement has moved to the less expensive East Bay, the deserts in the South, the provinces of Northern California or, like Max, to Colorado. But the energy of the gendernauts and their supporters, such as the sex activists and performance artists Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, is undimmed, their spirit unbroken.
How have their lives changed in the intervening years? How do these civil-rights activists deal with the right-wing conservative politics that threaten the hard-won rights of social minorities? “Gendernauts” looks back on a time that now seems utopian and shows us the creative resistance of the gendernauts against the challenging living conditions for trans people.