Of all the readings this week, I particularly liked Brenda Cooper’s “Boys Don’t cry and Female Masculinity: Reclaiming a Life & Dismantling the Politics of Normative Heterosexuality”. I think many of the concepts Cooper articulates are insightful and can even be applied to another of the queer films we saw this semester, Johnny Guitar. While the protagonist of Boys Don’t Cry, Brandon Teena, is a trans man and the protagonist of Johnny Guitar, Vienna, is a cisgendered woman, they both display alternative forms of masculinity that challenge what Cooper refers to as “heteronormativity” and “heteromasculinity.” Vienna’s agency and adoption of traditionally male dress disrupt the norms of Wild West America just as Brandon Teena’s basic existence as a trans man performing his gender identity disrupts the norms of Heartland America. Cooper refers to this kind of disruption as “queering the center” (53).
However, despite these more superficial similarities, Boys Don’t Cry and Johnny Guitar are quite different films. Where the former is a film close to the New Queer Cinema ethos and was directed by a queer woman extremely sympathetic to Brandon Teena’s plight and trans issues at large, the latter is of the problematic Hollywood Western genre directed by a known misogynist. This is the reason why Johnny Guitar ends with the erasure of the alternative masculinity Vienna carried when–by restarting her relationship with her former male lover–she reincorporates herself into the hegemonic model of heteronormativity: “the powerful principle of social and cultural order that absorbs and disciplines all forms of gender transgressiveness into its female-male binary gender system” (46). Vienna sweeps away all the gender trouble she’s created thus far by reaffirming this model at the film’s conclusion. Cooper argues that while it would appear that Boys Don’t Cry commits the exact same sin with the murder of Brandon Teena by the two cisgender hyper-male antagonists, in actuality the film does the opposite. Cooper says that Peirce, the director, steers the film away from the anti-queer, heteronormative-affirming film it could be by highlighting the dark, hypocritical nature of the society Brandon is in and the depraved, violent masculinity of the cisgender men he encounters, and by never once denying the truth that Brandon is a man with a new kind of masculinity (49-53). While Boys Don’t Cry ends with the death of its queer character–the common trope in anti-queer films–it still manages to be an empowering text that challenges all the sexual and gender norms it comes up against.
- Cooper, Brenda. “Boys Don’t Cry and Female Sexuality: Reclaiming a Life and Dismantling the Politics of Normative Heterosexuality.” Critical Studies in Media Communication. Volume 19, Number 1 (March 2002): p. 44 – p. 63.