We Just Want To Be

Two unlikely friends uncover the history of trans conversion therapy

Project type: Nonfiction Feature
Project status: Development
Directors: Sé Sullivan & Mauro Sifuentes
Producers: Sé Sullivan & Mauro Sifuentes
Consulting Producer: Marc Smolowitz
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In 1960s California, an L.A. clinic opened its doors to offer conversion therapy to worried parents of LGBTQ children. Doctors wondered if identity was flexible, and designed a project to see if gender and sexuality were the results of nature or nurture. While seeking the truth in this story behind their own identities, two unlikely friends, come together to investigate the ongoing harm of conversion therapy shapes the lives of trans youth today.


The phrase “conversion therapy” brings to mind Red States, Christian programs, and other conservative forces. Few know that the most culture-shaping conversion therapy was developed not only in California, but in liberal Los Angeles of the 1960s and 70s at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute under the Gender Identity Research Clinic. This clinic developed conversion therapy through experiments on white children, creating the concept “gender identity” in the process.

Los Angeles of the 1960s and 70s was a battleground for the twentieth-century culture wars. Shifts in social norms produced new anxieties and new aspirations for gender and race – through whites-only bodybuilding and beauty pageants, the glorification of Hollywood, white flight into suburbs, and questions about the role adults should play in shaping superior children. Among these struggles, many wondered whether or not queer people were a natural part of our human family. Conversion therapy was used to test this research question.

We Just Want To Be telegraphs the journey of two individuals who form an unlikely friendship, across race and generation. One friend, Sé Sullivan (they/them), was a child research subject at UCLA’s GIRC. Sé is Irish-American, an elder, and a queer and non-binary survivor of clinical violence. Sé meets Mauro Sifuentes (all pronouns), a queer, Latinx, non-binary millennial who has a family history of eugenic experimentation in Los Angeles. Mauro struggles to identify with trans peers, as so many trust the field of medicine to address issues of gender. These two activist-educators immerse themselves in their interwoven legacies in Los Angeles to explore how has conversion therapy has shaped possibilities for trans youth today – especially for trans youth of color who carry wounds of medical and psychiatric violence against their communities across multiple generations.

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Meet the Filmmakers

Mauro Sifuentes — Co-Director

Dr. Mauro Sifuentes is co-writer/director/producer for We Just Want To Be, and an accomplished educator and scholar whose activist research and writing support the leadership and healing of queer, trans, and questioning BIPOC communities. Mauro teaches in the discipline of gender and women’s studies, and works in partnership with nonprofits, K12 public schools, community colleges, and universities from across California to holistically address the needs of queer, trans, and questioning students in diverse regions. Their collaborative endeavors with artists, writers, healers, and other filmmakers create engaging opportunities for innovative approaches to history and storytelling. As an advocate for public scholarship, and a first-time filmmaker, Mauro is proud to be a co-writer/director/producer for We Just Want To Be, which brings rigorously engaged California history to popular, advocacy, artistic, and academic audiences.

Dr. Sé Sullivan — Co-Director

Dr. Sé Sullivan, co-writer/director/producer, is a scholar-educator born and raised in Santa Monica, California, and a survivor of conversion therapy who has taught in the discipline of gender and women’s studies across public and private universities in California. Sé has been on the frontlines of LGBTQ+ activism since the 1980s, surviving and organizing through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the lesbian sex wars, and our current era of trans awareness. As a non-binary Irish-American Settler, Sé’s artistic work, including gallery installations and public talks, foregrounds questions of history, gender, and assimilation. They engage the public at a visceral level through audio reenactments of conversion therapy sessions that are accompanied by images from their childhood. Sé may be the only person who survived these experimental therapies at UCLA who has gained access to the official transcripts of these sessions.

Marc Smolowitz — Consulting Producer

Marc Smolowitz is a multi-award winning independent filmmaker based in San Francisco. With three decades of experience in the film and media business, Smolowitz is a director, producer, and executive producer who has been significantly involved in 50+ successful independent films. The combined footprint of his works has touched 200+ film festivals and markets on five continents, yielding substantial worldwide sales to theatrical, television and VOD outlets, notable box office receipts, and numerous awards and nominations. His long list of credits includes films that have screened at top-tier festivals across the globe. His film company — 13th Gen — works with a dynamic range of independent film partners globally to oversee the financing, production, post-production, marketing, sales, and distribution efforts of a vibrant portfolio of films and filmmakers. Founded in 2009, the company is known widely for being active on some 10-15 concurrent projects, both independent and inside Hollywood, and it has successfully advanced Smolowitz’s career-long focus on powerful social issue films and filmmaking across all genres. In 2016, he received an IFP Fellowship to attend the Cannes Film Festival’s Producers Network and Marche du Film, marking him as one of USA’s most influential independent film producers. Learn more at http://13thgenfilm.com

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For inquiries, please contact fiscalsponsorship@filmindependent.org.