Genderquake is a new two-part documentary that aims to "explore the gender identities being adopted by a new generation of millennials". The format is simple and familiar: 11 young people "from across the spectrum of gender and sexuality" spend a week living in a house together while cameras capture their interactions and discussions around identity.
If this makes Genderquake sound a bit like a woke Big Brother, don't worry: it’s actually a more serious and much less intrusive kind of show. No one's being filmed 24/7, and though episode one features a group outing to the local pub and a Brighton day trip, the cast are largely left to their own devices. There are no cheesy montage scenes set to Chainsmokers' songs.
While it's impossible to represent the "full spectrum of gender and sexuality" with just 11 people, Genderquake deserves credit for gathering a group of millennials with pretty varied identities and beliefs. Saffron is non-binary; Dan identifies as gender queer; Filomena is a cisgender straight female with very traditional views on gender; Brooke and Charley are trans females with vastly different life experiences and goals; Markus is a gay guy who wears makeup but definitely considers himself cisgender; Phoenix is gender fluid. They’re an engaging and articulate bunch who, for the most part, get on very well.
"The main reason I did Genderquake is to dispel any myths about what non-binary is," Saffron says. "A lot of people have maybe heard of non-binary online and think it's like a meme or something. They think anyone who identifies as non-binary is 'attention-seeking' or a 'snowflake' or a 'social justice warrior'. I wanted to do Genderquake to show that I'm a person. Before I'm non-binary, I'm a person like any other with my own likes and dislikes and career goals. I want to talk about what non-binary is so I can help educate people."
"Everyone's story is different, isn't it?" another cast member, Charley, a trans female, tells me. "I want people to see trans as more of a normalised thing. It's so publicised as 'men transforming to women', but it's not that. I was born female."
Though episode one focuses on some cast members more than others, Genderquake allows most of the gang to share their stories comprehensively. What they say is often very moving. When Saffron reveals that she’s always felt "ugly" next to her more conventionally feminine sister, it’s heartbreaking.
We see Tom, a cisgender straight guy from Barnsley, entering the show convinced there are only two gender identities – male and female. By the end, his eyes are opening wider.
The stories are illuminating as well. We see Tom, a cisgender straight guy from Barnsley, entering the show convinced there are only two gender identities – male and female. By the end, his eyes are definitely opening wider as he engages with his housemates and hears why a binary construction of gender leaves them feeling excluded.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say Genderquake is a flawless exploration of modern gender identity. In places, episode one feels a little preoccupied with the physical characteristics of its trans characters: who's had (or intends to have) what done to their body.
In fairness, we also get to know Brooke, a trans female who has no intention of undergoing surgery or hormone treatment. "I don't think there have been many trans people like myself who've been represented on TV shows," she tells me. "A lot of them are shown on some kind of 'surgery journey'. I thought it would be good to show people that there are [trans people] like me who have a different experience and are totally happy with our bodies as they are."
Episode one also features one theme that's uncomfortable to watch, though it does eventually send out an important message about how we respond to others’ identities. Overall, it's an interesting watch that does a fair job of showing that people who don’t identify as simply "male" or "female" are just like everyone else. They get dressed, they drag themselves out for a morning run, they chat and gossip, they disagree on certain issues. And if they drink too much on a night out, as this group do, they all spend the next day absolutely hanging.
Genderquake premieres on Channel 4 on Monday 7th May at 9pm. Episode 2 follows on Tuesday 8th May at 9pm.