Esther Newton Made Me Gay

Directed by Jean Carlomusto

US | 2022 | 92 minutes | Color | DVD |

A feature documentary about the pathbreaking cultural anthropologist, dog agility enthusiast, and iconic butch lesbian, Esther Newton.


ESTHER NEWTON MADE ME GAY explores the life and times of cultural anthropologist Esther Newton. The film tells her story of awakening to gay life in the 1950’s, the women’s liberation movement and lesbian-feminism, drag culture, and forging a butch identity that for her is in conversation with trans-masculinity. Keenly attuned to the societal forces that shaped her life, Esther guides us through an anthropology of herself, a study influenced by her love for a sport – competitive dog agility – that pairs her aging butch body with her beloved dog teammate on an obstacle course that is constantly changing.

In her persistent efforts to train her body back into shape after numerous health setbacks, we see the intense drive that helped Esther navigate a lifetime of obstacles she faced in her quest to become who she wanted to be: a butch lesbian, scholar, and athlete.

Throughout her career, Esther was a pioneer – questioning and challenging status quo assumptions on gender, sexuality, and anthropological methods. Her work inspired generations of scholars to pursue research in what would eventually become the field of LGBTQ & Gender Studies.


"Jean Carlomusto makes her films with heart, with grace, and with integrity … her portrait of Esther Newton unveils a living, breathing human being, a masculine of center, femme-loving, dog-loving, brilliant and articulate woman..."

JP Prolman Queerguru

"Inspired by Margaret Mead and Gertrude Stein, Newton forged a path for queer studies in academia, writing about drag artists and gender roles. Esther Newton Made Me Gay celebrates the life, loves, and influence of this pioneering figure in queer studies."

Gay City News Garry M. Kramer

"This is an amazing documentary about history, huge achievements, relationships, and competence. It will make you emotional, enthralled, and excited. A true embodiment of strength and endurance. To see the world through Esther’s eyes is a true privilege."

Cassandra W Lesflicks

"Through the frank recollections of Newton, now in her early 80s, Carlomusto takes in the dawn of gay liberation, infighting within the feminist movement, AIDS activism, and the history of the formation of the idyllic queer community of Fire Island’s Cherry Grove. Newton's story is of a life well-lived, full of love affairs with interesting women..."

James Kleinmann The Queer Review

"Esther Newton Made Me Gay is a ‘sigh of relief’ capable of empowering and liberating us, by focusing on the construction and recognition of identities and categories that have been somehow left behind. [...] This film is a political witness that values and enriches dialog between generations."

Jury Statement for Best Documentary Award, Some Prefer Cake (Italy)

"Newton planted the seed from which grew the forest of queer and gender studies that are now heard in academia across the world. [...] This documentary deserves applause for the way it will introduce this great woman to new minds."

Cláudio Alves Magazine.HD (Portugal)

"Some people, within even queer culture, may not know who Esther Newton is, but everybody should know."

Andrew Peterson Provincetown International Film Festival


  • Best Documentary, Some Prefer Cake Film Festival
  • Best Documentary Feature, Warner Brothers Discovery Audience Award, Provincetown International Film Festival
  • Best Documentary Feature Jury Award, Out at the Movies International Film Festival
  • Martin Contreras and Keith Orr \aut\ Film Award for Best LGBTQ Film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival
  • BFI Flare London LGBTQ+ Film Festival
  • Frameline - San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
  • NewFest - The New York LGBT Film Festival
  • Provincetown International Film Festival
  • Orcas Island Film Festival
  • Tallgrass Film Festival
  • All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival
  • Seoul Women's Film Festival
  • Fargo-Moorhead LGBT Film Festival
  • Queer Lisboa: Lisbon Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
  • Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
  • Some Prefer Cake Lesbian Film Festival
  • Out at the Movies International Film Festival
  • Fabulous Independent Film Festival
  • GAZE Film Festival


Jean Carlomusto

Jean Carlomusto is a filmmaker, activist, and interactive media artist whose work explores the complex nature of unique individuals and marginalized populations. Her work has been exhibited internationally in festivals, museums, and on television. Her Emmy nominated documentary, Larry Kramer In Love & Anger, HBO, 2015, was featured at the Sundance Film Festival. She produced and directed Sex In An Epidemic, Showtime, 2011, a powerful retelling of the birth of the safer sex movements and HIV prevention movements.

Jean was an early pioneer in the AIDS Activist video movement. In 1987, she started the media unit at Gay Men's Health Crisis. She was a founding member of DIVA TV (a video affinity group of ACT UP) and a member of the Testing the Limits Video Collective. The numerous works that she collaborated on throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, included: Doctors, Liars and Women: AIDS Activists Say No to Cosmo; Target City Hall; Seize Control of the FDA; Testing the Limits: NYC; and Women and AIDS.

Her personal films are often unorthodox investigative reports on subjects that have been all but erased from history. In To Catch A Glimpse, (Museum of Modern Art, NYC, permanent collections), she delved into her family history by trying to find out if the rumors about her grandmother's death – from an illicit abortion in 1939 – were true. In L Is For The Way You Look, which aired on PBS/WNET, she pieced together lesbian history using whatever scraps of gossip and memory she could find into a humorous portrait of a population’s creative tussle for visibility and inclusion. Her celebrated work, Shatzi Is Dying, is a multilayered treatise exploring queer culture, AIDS politics, life and death, traced through the near-death experiences of a beloved rescue dog.

Her interactive video altar, Offerings, commemorating AIDS activists, has been featured at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles and toured South Africa as part of the Stop AIDS/Make Art project. In 2016, it was part of EVERYDAY at LaMama Galleria, NYC.

She is a Professor in Communications and Film and Director of the Television Center at LIU Post. (4/23)


DIRECTOR: Jean Carlomusto 

PRODUCER: Shanti Avirgan 

Electronic Press Kit


Shopping Cart