You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

In 'Venus of Mars,' all the men are women, all the women are strong, and All The Pretty Horses are somewhere in between

"But--they're not hurting you in any way," Goldberg says off camera.

"No, but I'll kill them if they come in here all the time."


Defense of marriage: Venus (top) and Lynette Reini-Grandell love beyond gender
Darin Back
Defense of marriage: Venus (top) and Lynette Reini-Grandell love beyond gender

Standing in her St. Paul office today, burning copies of her film onto DVDs for the press, Goldberg remembers the Sharky's moment as one of several during the filming when she felt she might be in physical danger.

"There's a lot of hate out there," she says. "Matt and I got fruit thrown at us in New York. Grapefruit hurts."

Goldberg previously made the PBS documentary Jane Goodall: Reason for Hope, and among her All the Pretty Horses memorabilia on the wall is a note from the renowned primatologist Goodall, who signed it, "Never give up."

"She and Venus would seem to be like completely opposite ends of the spectrum," Goldberg says. "But they both have this powerful yet quiet dignity about them, and I was struck by it with both of them."

Venus's wife had seen the Goodall film before Goldberg approached her--that was one reason why the couple agreed to trust the director. But Goldberg's admiration for both artists never canceled out her journalistic curiosity.

At one point in the film, she puts the question to Lynette Reini-Grandell, point blank: "Can you talk about what it's like when breasts enter a relationship where they weren't present before?"

"You can't make a film and not address it," Goldberg says now. "Because, unfortunately, that's what's on everyone's mind."

The answer the spouse ends up offering on camera is both sensible and honest: She doesn't want to get into a discussion of her sex life. But Goldberg does persuade her to read excerpts from a poem she has written for a friend who was curious about the same thing. For this scene, Reini-Grandell reclines on a bed, and...let's just say the effect is to reveal that, yes, sex is part of their lives. Which part, she won't say.

"There's just more to have fun with," Venus says elsewhere in the film, laughing like a kid when the couple is back together on camera.

Then the director asks Reini-Grandell if breasts are a turn-on.

"No, it's not a plus for me," she says, turning to Venus. "Sorry, honey."

One of the things that worried parents about rock 'n' roll in the first place was the way it made sexuality suddenly very public.

"That's what rock 'n' roll means--having sex," says Venus.

She is sitting for a City Pages interview two weeks before the premiere of Venus of Mars, gathered with three other members of All the Pretty Horses (including Forberg) in the band's cavernous basement studio.

The conversation has turned to the stage show, which brings transexuality into the open like few, if any, other live music phenomena. All the Pretty Horses were even the subject of a New Zealand 20/20 segment, though the musicians were predictably hassled by customs on the way into the country.

"Don't put your metal underwear in your suitcase," says Shannon Blowtorch, the band's tattooed and mohawked dancer, by way of practical advice.

The underwear works well for a stunt in which Venus applies an electric-powered grinder onstage to Blowtorch's crotch, shooting sparks over her body (Blowtorch wears safety goggles for this bit). The performance has hazards, of course: Both Venus and Blowtorch have two scars. Venus took a chunk out of her hand in New Zealand, bleeding all over the set list.

The band has experienced some changes since shooting on Venus of Mars was completed: Backup singer Jonnycakes, bassist Pandora, and dancer Star have all left the lineup. There is a new bassist, Tempest, a transgendered male-female in artful eyeliner and heeled boots (who is quiet during most of the interview). Tempest previously played in speed-metal bands as a guy.

And Forberg is now Jendeen 24 hours a day: The drummer's bandmates in the Wolverines have even stopped calling him Brett.

"That was an issue, to have my jazz band that I've had for so long not address me in a male sense," says Jendeen, her hair now grown long to replace the wig in the film. "I don't take [referring to me as male] as an insult. It's just awkward for me, and for people that know me, to hear them do that."

Like Venus of Mars itself, All the Pretty Horses take an unusually humane, activist attitude toward their public sexuality--if they don't come out proud and persuasive, who will? As they well know, the issue can be a matter of life and death: Not long before this interview, one of the "trans" youths whom Forberg works with at StreetWorks, the homeless youth outreach program, was shot on the street (she survived).

Forberg says she has been kicked in the head and knifed in the side. She's more than capable of defending herself. But there is the occasional opportunity to turn a potentially ugly situation on its heels. She remembers one gig at the 4th Street Station in St. Paul (now Station 4) where some of the hip-hop crowd from an earlier show was still hanging around, saying "irritating things" to the band before the set began. Once All the Pretty Horses started playing, though, the same young men were dancing. "One of them shouted, 'You're all some rowdy-ass bitches,'" says Forberg.

"That's the power of rock 'n' roll," Venus adds. "Your sense of fear and concern... The music can wipe all that stuff out of you."

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