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Boys Don't Cry

in response to an inquiry

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 02/19/2001

I thought about responding privately, but I felt this needed to go out to every one -

On 01.2.19 5:26 AM, "Cheryl Stobie" wrote:

I am shortly to be teaching Boys Don't Cry, and I expect some degree of student discomfort. Does anyone with experience of teaching this film have any helpful comments with regard to useful articles to read or techniques to use? Please respond privately.

Cheryl, I am curious as to why you chose to use this film, especially when there is a more truthful documentary film based on the same event available - The Brandon Teena Story. In the "fiction based on a true story" version (i.e. Boys Don't Cry), many of the facts were distorted or blatantly ignored (e.g. existence of the third - and only Black - victim, Tom Nissen's involvement in white supremacy group). It also contains the most objectifying depiction of rape that I've seen on screen in a while.

Of course rape scenes are by definition objectifying, but this particular one forces the audience to identify with the rapists' gaze as they strip Brandon, for which viewers are excused on the premise that they are concerned about the violence against trans people and therefore they want to know more. It shivered me when I overheard a man talking to his female partner "it was like a porn film, ha ha," as he walked passed me outside of the theatre, where I was trying to calm myself down so that I wouldn't throw up - but later, I realized how true that was.

If you absolutely must use this film, however, the most common complaint from transsexual men (along with the exoticization/ eroticization of trans existence) is that so many non-trans people who saw the film wanted to talk to them about it. One practical advice you could give is to ask them why they need to talk to trans people about the film or the murder, and make sure that it's not because you are merely curious or because you want to show how compassionate you are. My friend Micah (a transman whose work will appear in the upcoming anthology on intersex and trans feminisms which I co-edit) wrote:

"The Boys Don't Cry Syndrome: Since this movie came out, many many people have taken it upon themselves to discuss it at length with me, ask me if I've seen it, explain how tragic it was and how hard it was for them to watch as a non-trans person. This is sort of the equivalent of coming up to me and saying 'Hey, you're a Jew! Have you seen the latest movie about the Holocaust? Well, let me tell you, I'm Very Interested in this subject, and boy was it hard for me to watch all those people get killed.' It IS really important for people to educate themselves about different experiences of oppression. However, someone who has to deal with that oppression all the time may not want to hear about it, or process how hard it was for you, as someone not directly affected by it. Check yourself before you bring up the ten latest, most horrifying transphobic things you heard yesterday, which your trans friend may actually not want to re-experience with you." (from _Timtum: A Trans Jew Zine_ by Micah Bazant)

Emi Koyama

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.

In September 2003, Cheryl Stobie requested this page deleted because she felt that how I quoted her gave an "erroneous impression" about where she was coming from. Her argument was that because I did not include her reply, the page failed to provide the context for the statement that I was quoting and commenting on. I refused to honour the request to delete this page altogether, but offered to reprint her original reply to the above post to address the supposed problem. Below is reprinted from WMST-L with the permission of the author.

Date: 02/20/2001
From: Cheryl Stobie

Hi Emi

The context of my class is different from what you imagine, I think. I live in a small town in South Africa, where the level of discourse differs from the USA. Boys Don't Cry is a text which is, however, readily available at video stores, and for this reason I have chosen to analyse it in my Gender Studies class. I have compiled a file of critiques of the film, and intend to discuss aspects, including the race aspect, which are problematic.