The Aggressives, Daniel Peddle's documentary about ultra-butch New York lesbians, follows the lives of a group of these super-masculine, posturing, women-loving females and the results are both gritty and highly absorbing.

Kisha has the exotically delicate bone structure of the model she indeed is, while keeping a day job as a messenger. She's perhaps the most appealing character in the film, as we see her going about her daily business, constantly ringing up various girlfriends on her cell-phone like a modern-day Casanova ("You can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em"). Her model booker attests to the difficulty she encounters in landing the more commercial gigs, while chuckling that her mannequin status does give her a certain oomph factor when it comes to all these ladies. She labels herself a "femme-aggressive."

On the other side of the spectrum is Marquise, a full-on "aggressive" who straps her breasts down to enter gay ball competitions in which she walks the runway in various ultra-masculine categories. She wins one for her construction-worker mufti, complete with concrete brick borne on one hefty shoulder, and is so butch she'd give even Charles Bronson pause. She enlists in the military and says her sexuality is not really a problem, what with "Don't ask, don't tell."

Rjai, a security guard, revels in man tailoring and is such a "man" that she won't even kiss her bisexual girlfriend. There are a lot of other things she won't do, which all fall under the category of being penetrated, something she describes in the typically graphic fashion in which all the subjects communicate.

The hard-knock life of these women has resulted in jail time for some of them, like Octavia, who extols the availability of women (who seem, she says, to like being abused in lock-up), but dearly misses her little son, and Tiffany who, although recently released, proudly displays the drugs she plans on both doing and dealing. Another ex-con is Flo, who revels in her status as the only Asian woman in this community. Her life choice horrifies her traditional mother, who admittedly dressed her as a little boy, her first gender choice of a child. Flo's preference for black women is another sore spot for Mom, who wishes she would at least date Asians, "but I don't find any Asian women I'm attracted to. Black girls got the body!"

The humor which runs through the film is testament to Peddle's empathy and skill with his interviewees. No matter how daunting some of them may appear, their utter realness, strength and, always, joyful acceptance of themselves and their life choices is a pure tonic. This film almost plays like some skewed distaff counterpart to Jenny Livingston's transvestite study, Paris Is Burning, but is far superior in its purer focus and complete lack of exploitation. The fact that all of these women live their not-easy lives with such a guilt-free lack of apology and pride is one of the strongest statements I can think of about how far and positively we've come since Stonewall.

-David Noh