“To what extent our destiny is controlled by something we can’t control is something I think a lot of people question.” “Are we born gay?”
That is the question Bryce Sage has asked himself ever since he came out to his parents at age 19. “I grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, where few people, if any, were gay,” says Sage, now 31. “You’re so different from everyone else, and I didn’t choose it, so I wondered, ‘If I wasn’t born this way, why does [being gay] exist at all?’”
Sage finally found some answers. In his latest documentary, Survival of the Fabulous, premiering on CBC’s The Nature of Things this month, the Toronto-based filmmaker sets out to find biological explanations for men being gay. “Or, are we ‘born this way?’ as Lady Gaga would put it,” says Sage.
“We are,” says Sage, “but the questions are, ‘What makes us gay? How could genes that make us less likely to produce survive generations of natural selection?’”
And with that, Sage and his camera crew set out on a journey, tracking down scientists around the world for answers. “It’s shot from my point-of-view,” says Sage, who originally made the film for his masters thesis in documentary filmmaking at Ryerson University.
Complemented by the narration of star scientist David Suzuki, Sage, the main subject of the film, takes viewers on a cross-country adventure, starting at Northwestern University in Chicago to try a penile plethysmograph, a metal wire that wraps around the penis to measure blood flow that, in turn, can supposedly determine one’s sexual preference.
“Before you can say, ‘I’m gay,’ or ‘I’m bi,’ you have to prove it,” says Sage. “Scientifically speaking, of course.”
Sage then introduces a cast of queer-minded subjects from all over: researchers at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, studying the fraternal birth order effect (which states that every time a woman has a son, it increases the likelihood that her next son will be gay), scientists in Los Angeles studying homosexuality in identical twins, “gay sheep” in Montana, a geneticist in Italy decoding the genetic patterns of homosexuality in families to even the fa’afafine, a community of third-gendered people on the island of Samoa.
At one point Sage even asks his supportive parents if they raised him differently than his straight brother. “The biggest challenge was coming to terms with the fact that I set out to find black and white answers,” says Sage, who shot the film in six months. “But there aren’t. There are multiple explanations and causes for being gay.”
While his message is, “Yes, we are born gay,” he insists his “whacky science documentary” isn’t part of some political agenda. “When you make something political it runs the risk of never being seen. It’s not good storytelling. “This was a fun scientific project.”
Survival of the Fabulous airs on The Nature of Things with David Suzuki on Thursday, November 28, at 8pm on CBC. survivalofthefabulous.com.