“Beyond The Opposite Sex”

Rene and Jamie

Amos Lassen

“Sex is about who you want to sleep with; gender is about who you want to sleep as,” says Dr. Bruce Hensel, co-director and executive producer of a new documentary, “Beyond the Opposite Sex”. Rene and Jamie, are two very different people who went through very different journeys since their l gender affirmation surgeries. Rene was biologically born a female and feels very strongly about wanting to be a heterosexual male who wants to be with women. Jamie was biologically born a male, was married with a woman and had a daughter as a male, left and was with men as a woman, and eventually entered into a relationship with another woman and becoming an established songwriter in Nashville. Even with their different journeys, Hensel believes that there is one fundamental thing in both of their stories: “they’re about who these people feel they are on the inside and not about who they want to sleep with.”

Rene and Jamie’s stories began in an earlier Hensel documentary in 2004, “The Opposite Sex.” Until that film no documentary had ever followed a transgender person from the moment of making the decision through the surgery before. The producer set about finding the right protagonists of his film by contacting all the surgeons in the world who did gender affirmation surgeries. After looking at 100 five-minute homemade tapes of possible candidates, Hensel and his team eventually chose Rene and Jamie. They felt that they would be open and brave, and allow a deep approach into their stories. They also were interesting and somewhat charismatic people (and quite brave).

After completing “The Opposite Sex”, Hensel and his team kept in touch with Rene and Jamie. “Beyond the Opposite Sex” picks up their stories fourteen years later and we see that their surgeries were far from the end of their journeys. Over the past fourteen years, the world has changed. When Hensel first pitched “The Opposite Sex”, very few people were aware of gender affirmation surgeries. In pitching the newer film it seemed that everybody had a teenager in school who had a number of friends who were going through it yet the prejudice is still there. I find this amazing. Furthermore, within various groups there are different attitudes. “There are some transgenders who don’t want all the surgeries; there are some who do. Also, Jamie and Rene feel very strongly that once they completed their surgery, they were not transgender – they are now a man and a woman. There are people who challenge that, and we see that in the movie. There are also people who feel that they have to be militant about it, while others feel like they just want to live their lives.

Medical advancements have continued over the years, but surgeries still remain strenuous. In the film, we see that Rene has been through nine surgeries and we understand that the physical transition from female to male is very difficult. There is still no way to create a completely natural penis. It’s much more difficult than the transition from male to female. There is no question that there will continue to be advances, many transgenders are choosing to not yet go through with the final surgery for that reason.”

This is a film that humanizes a subject that remains unfamiliar to many people to this day. Any good movie is not about an issue, it is about people that help illuminate an issue, have a social impact and can help change the path. A desire to help and effect change is also what attracts director Hensel, who is a three-time Emmy winning journalist, a doctor, and a broadcasting personality.

Rene is back at school and studying online for a Ph.D. and has a new girlfriend who has no issues with him being a trans man.His mother and siblings who put him through hell when he first started his journey are now fully supportive. His only barrier to full acceptance is with his girlfriend’s family with whom he has not shared his history with yet. 

Jaime, on the other hand, lives with Lisa her girlfriend in a very rural part of her State where they fear that all the neighbors, would want to run them out of town if they knew they were gay.  Jaime accepts that she is not the most feminine of women, which is a point of contention she has with Lisa who would like her to make more of an effort with her appearance.  She is extremely self-assured and insists that she is not a transwoman but just a woman.

Life has not worked out for either Rene or Jaime as they expected but finally becoming their true gender has certainly given them the peace and happiness they never had before.  Aside from one meeting with students to talk about his journey, neither he nor Jaime have expressed any desire for acting as advocates for future generations of trans men and women. Some might find this surprising but I must say that I found in my own case that when I reached a certain age, I just wanted to live out my days quietly.

The one main fault of the film is that it panders too much to society’s obsession with genitalia and sexual performance, and therefore something of a disservice to Jaime, Rene and their partners by making such an issue about this.  It would have been fine just to avoid it altogether.

The concept of doing a follow up on the original films was a great decision and it’s refreshing to see two extraordinary people happy that they got through their personal agonies and hells.  Any addition like this to the continuing dialogue about the journey of the trans community is a good thing.

Leave a Reply