Comedian Mae Martin hopes CBC documentary dispels ‘hysteria’ over gender fluidity

By Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press

Non-binary Toronto comedian and actor Mae Martin says their new documentary about gender fluidity feels especially relevant as transgender rights “are really under attack” in Canada and the United States.

Martin hosts “Fluid: Life Beyond the Binary,” airing Thursday as part of CBC’s “The Nature of Things” series, and says the doc will provide a “counterpoint” to dangerous myths about gender identity perpetuated on both sides of the border. 

“I was excited to have a really well-produced, well-researched piece of work that would be accessible to people in all different demographics and demystify some of the hysteria around gender identity,” the 36-year-old comic said in a video call from Los Angeles.

“[It will] show people that this is all a very ancient and natural thing and that actually, that strict gender binary is not really the rule in nature.”

Directed by Michelle Mama, former executive producer of “Canada’s Drag Race,” and produced by Robert Lang, the documentary debunks pseudoscience and introduces the latest research showing that gender exists on a spectrum for humans and many other species.

Martin said that’s especially important at a time when laws being enacted or proposed in parts of Canada and the United States are trying to limit “life-saving health care” and mental health care for transgender and non-binary people.

“And it’s all based around hysteria and misconceptions, like, ‘Oh they’re going to be giving sex changes to children,’” they said.

In January, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith promised to enact sweeping changes to the province’s transgender policies this fall, including bans on gender-affirming surgeries for those under 17 and on hormone therapy for children under 16 — except for those who have already commenced therapy.

“It’s so disheartening,” Martin said about Smith’s proposed measures, which would also include parental consent for students 15 and younger to use their preferred pronouns in school.

“To feel like you have no recourse and no support and you’re being demonized, particularly when you’re young and going to school, I think that’s pretty devastating.”

Martin, who had top surgery in 2021 and subsequently went on testosterone, said denying gender-affirming health care can have “dangerous” consequences.

“If you talk to any young trans people, it really becomes clear pretty quickly that this is just about people trying to be authentic and happy,” they said.

“People don’t get to those decisions lightly about undergoing any kind of medical intervention. For me, it was at a point where it felt pretty life or death.”

For the CBC documentary, Martin interviewed biologists Joan Roughgarden and Justin Rhodes, as well as prominent primatologist Frans de Waal. They discovered many examples of gender fluidity in nature — from a hermaphroditic ginger plant to female hyenas, which are considered “intersex” because they have penises.

Martin said they were most surprised to learn that female lions, if left to care for their pride, can develop typically masculine traits.

“[They can] grow manes and their voices will drop. That’s pretty wild that nature can do that because we think of the lion as the king of the jungle, and it’s very binary. So, to know that a female lion can inhabit that role and even biologically develop those characteristics, that was pretty mind-blowing.”

Martin said it’s exciting “a revered institution” like the CBC isn’t afraid to take on the topic of gender fluidity. They hope the documentary will inspire viewers to have “more empathy and understanding.”

“In general, it’s liberating any time you embrace fluidity or dynamism in your own life. I think these little train tracks that we are on that are invisible to us often limit our thinking without us even knowing,” Martin said.

“So, any time you can challenge yourself and reframe things in a way that you haven’t thought about before is super helpful.”  

“The Nature of Things” airs Thursday on CBC and CBC Gem.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press

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