Film & Video
3 min

Survival of the Fabulous

A new documentary about the genetics of being gay asks Darwin to explain a few things

Survival of the Fabulous, a new documentary produced by the CBC's The Nature of Things, explores the genetics of being gay. Credit: Bryce Sage

Lots of folks have pondered what role our genes play in determining our sexuality. The nature/nurture debate is a well-trod terrain, but there’s a fresh perspective coming to the airwaves. Bryce Sage wants to talk about evolution, and he’s doing it in his upcoming documentary Survival of the Fabulous, produced by the team at The Nature of Things.

“We’ve all wondered, especially when growing up in a small town, you know, ‘Why are we gay?’” says Sage, a man whose sharp wit is rivalled by his intelligence. And nice arms. “By the time I got to university, that question always lingered. If there are genes behind it all, why would a gene make it impossible to reproduce?”

While doing his MFA in documentary media at Ryerson University, this curiosity prompted him to dedicate his thesis to exploring the evolutionary explanation behind the survival of gay men, given the imperative of reproducing that is central to the existing theories. On a shoestring budget, he and his team travelled to Alberta, Montana and Chicago to speak with leading authorities on the topic. He didn't capture enough to create a full-length film, but he ended up with a sizzle reel, a trailer-like sampler used in the industry to pitch to producers. Clearly he was on to something, as it caught the eye of some CBC people at the illustrious Banff World Media Festival. They loved the idea, but Sage would have to start at square one as writer and researcher.

“Normally, the process would require hiring a researcher, but because I’d already done the research for the master’s program, which was intensive as a thesis paper, it just made sense that I’d continue forth with that research process,” he explains.

The result is a well-researched, thought-provoking journey into the genetically and biologically based theories about what determines sexuality, offered through the lens of how these factors could contribute to evolutionary survival. Sage trots the globe (primarily in tank tops), speaking with leaders in the field. In Chicago, he explores whether or not he’s gay by having an instrument attached to his . . . instrument, which gauges his reaction to porn. In LA, he chats with some really hot twins (oh, and there was a scientist there, I think). Geneticist Andrea Caperio-Ciani chats with him in Italy about his studies, while Canadian researcher Paul Vasey meets him in Samoa to talk about the fa’afafine and why people of this “third gender” are significant to understanding gay DNA.

In the end, the viewer is presented with an argument that is open to all sorts of critical analysis. To be sure, it’s one perspective, albeit an interesting one. But it’s enough for Sage to have made some intriguing conclusions: “When it comes to the genetic stuff that makes men gay, the best way to think about it is that the genes don't actually code for homosexuality; they actually code for an attraction to men in general. So the same genes that might influence a man's homosexuality actually make a woman reproduce more often, instead of making her a lesbian.”

Sage’s perspective is well founded and palatably presented. Survival of the Fabulous is well worth a watch for all its discussion-inspiring goodness. Now, for those Foucault followers and friends of Freud (not to mention the Butler boys and girls), the above quote may have raised a red flag. Open your minds and take a trip on the scientific side.

Sage’s humour and enthusiasm are undeniably infectious, offering an entertaining exploration of sexuality from a fresh gay voice (that we’re sure to hear much more of).

“I did turn Grindr on in Samoa and the nearest guy was Fiji. And the next one was New Zealand. Probably because homosexuality is illegal in Samoa,” he confesses, sort of but not totally off the record.