Sexuality remains a common topic of discussion within society and often serves as a theme in works of artistic value. One of these works in which sexuality is a dominant theme is the movie Boys Don’t Cry, which stars Hillary Swank as a young transgender person who is murdered because of his sexuality. In the movie, Swank plays Brandon Teena, a young female-to-male transgender. The movie is based upon the real-life story of Teena, who was born Teena Ray Brandon. Brandon was a non-operative transgender. When he became involved with some convicted felons, his secret is discovered by them. They violently rape and beat him. Eventually, the men kill Brandon in a violent scene. Throughout the movie, there are multiple themes of sexuality that arise in the context of Brandon’s life. This paper will discuss some of these themes. It will also expand upon it by considering how these concepts are shown in other works of art.
The first theory of sexuality that must be discussed is theory of sexuality. There are multiple theories related to what sexuality actually is. Some individuals believe that it is a social construct. However, others believe in the essentialist theory. Some individuals also believe that sexuality is composed of both of these theories. In other words, individuals are born with a certain sexual identity. However, how they choose to express this identity is the result of their social construct. Likely, what happened to Brandon Teena is both. Teena suffered from transgender disorder. In this condition, one’s gender at birth does not match one’s identity. Essentialists believe that transgender disorder occurs as a result of the individual’s biology. Social constructionists believe that it is the result of socialization. Teena was born a male trapped in a female body.
However, his ability to live as a transgender is the result of society. Many cultures would not allow this at all. Furthermore, in some parts of America, his decision would be much more accepting and he would not have been in such grave physical danger. For instance, if he choose to live openly as a transgender in a major city such as New York, or San Francisco, he may have been safer. However, the social constructs of sexuality in rural America are much more conservative and not accepting of others. This, tragically, helped to create the dangerous situation for Teena.
Another topic that is discussed in the movie is the idea of normal and deviant. In the story, Brandon moves to Nebraska where he becomes friends with John Lotter and Tom Nissen. Lotter and Nissen are both convicted felons. The crowd they associate with behave in manners that many in society would not find normal or acceptable. They have been in jail, they drink heavily and essentially live a “low-class” lifestyle. However, their crowd accepts this as normal behavior and not the deviant behavior it actually it. This is, of course, in comparison to Brandon. His behavior is considered by them as deviant; however, many would argue that his behavior is normal based upon his mentation. In this manner, the concepts of what is normal behavior and what is deviant behavior are actually socially constructed.
The behavior of Lotter and Nissen most certainly becomes more deviant as the movie progresses. When they discover the truth about Brandon, they violently rape him. The scene is quite brutal in its intensity. Even worse, after he is raped, Brandon states to them that “this is all my fault.” There is a tragic irony in this. Brandon has become convinced that he is the deviant; he essentially apologies to his rapists, the true deviants. However, in rural America, this may be how it is seen by many individuals. They “blame” Brandon for how he is treated. Eventually Brandon is murdered by these sociopaths. However, this is not before the district attorney also accuses Brandon of being to blame. Furthermore, when he ran to his girlfriend’s house for help, her mother, despite seeing how injured he was, referred to him as “it.” Brandon is far from the deviant one in the movie; the “normal” people around him are the deviants.
The idea of what is “normal” is also discussed in the book Hung by Scott Poulson-Bryant. The book discusses the “measure” of a black man, referring to his penis size. However, the author also points out that he needed to consider the “measure” of himself as a black man. He never was arrested, takes good care of his family and was educated at the Ivy League. However, he does not believe that he “measures up” in penis size. In the book, he discusses that many African-American men believe that nine inches is hung, but ten inches is the actual number they would prefer. This is, obviously, much larger than most men of other races. On average, the penis size of a man is six inches. There is some biological difference, on average, in penis size of men. Certain races are more likely than other races to be well-endowed. This is biology. However, it has become a social construct. In this manner, it also combines the essentialist theory of sexuality with the social construct aspect of it. When black men believe that they need to be larger than they already are, they are responding to the social behaviors of their group and the expectations of society.
This “nature versus nuture” debate however, also is found with regards to female genitalia. As with men, female genitalia comes in a variety of sizes and shapes. In the one monologue, “I Was Twelve, My Mother Slapped Me,” Ensler, the author, discusses the first menstruation of women. Obviously, menstruating is a biological process; it is the response of the body to multiple hormones. However, society does not view it merely as a biological process. It has become a social construct. This includes myths and traditions associated with it. It also includes that many individuals, particularly parents, cannot accept their daughter menstruating. The monologue discusses some of the “old wives’ tales,” such as the inability to bathe. It is yet another way in which society decides if something is normal or deviant, rather than just biological.