In the new documentary Fluid: Life Beyond the Binary, airing on CBC’s The Nature of Things, non-binary comedian Mae Martin leads a fascinating look into the fluidity of gender and sexuality in nature. 

From a hermaphroditic ginger plant to sex-changing clownfish to mammals like lions, hyenas and chimpanzees, many living things exist outside the gender binary. With the help of scientists, including biologist Joan Roughgarden, author of Evolution’s Rainbow, and famed primatologist Frans de Waal, Mae dives into the diversity of plant and animal life, and discovers the power of being able to see themself in nature.

While the doc is full of cutting-edge research from prominent scientists, Fluid also embraces Mae’s relatable humour, infusing clips from their recent Netflix stand-up special SAP, where they touch on their own experiences as a non-binary person.

“Blending humour with science, Mae sheds light on the most recent findings about gender and sexual fluidity in humans and many other species,” said producer Robert Lang. “There is no one better equipped to host Fluid than Mae Martin and there is no better time for audiences to have access to the revelations in the film.”

Fluid dives into the harm of trying to fit any species into two boxes. Currently, the idea that gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum is a mainstream view among scientists. But it’s been a long road to get here. The doc debunks dangerous pseudo-science that has harmed queer and trans people for years, from electro-shock conversion therapy to studies attempting to find “the gay gene”.

As Fluid explores, many scientists are still pushing for change. One segment in the documentary features three young trans/non-binary scientists – Daniel Pfau, Elle Lett and Simone Sun, who are striving for new voices to be heard and taken seriously in a field dominated by white, cisgender, heterosexual men.

“It’s always that we are an abnormal deviation from traditional, true gender. We’re all working towards the same goal of having society understand how expansive gender really is,” Lett says in the documentary.  “When we are able to ask questions that actually come from our own experiences, it becomes much more of a robust science,” Pfau adds.

At a time when gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy are highly politicized, docs like this are more important than ever. Right here in Canada, the rights of trans youth are being threatened— a recently proposed plan from the Alberta government would restrict gender-affirming care for minors. Fluid also features child psychologist Kristina Olson, director of the TransYouth Project, a groundbreaking long-term study of transgender children’s development. In footage captured at Toronto’s The 519, we learn that she has already made major discoveries in her study, including that children report better mental health when they are supported in expressing their gender identity. 

Fluid is a fascinating watch, and Mae is a charming and curious host. To close out the doc, they sit down with a group of trans youth. In a powerful discussion about their shared experiences and hopes for the future, they conclude that a more inclusive future will benefit everyone, no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum.

Fluid: Life Beyond the Binary launches on March 28 at 9 p.m.ET on CBC and CBC Gem.