Boys Don’t Cry: a critique of director Peirce’s interviews

The most gripping segments of Halberstam’s book were, for me, addressing Brandon Teen’s story and the way it has been interpreted through Peirce’s film Boys Don’t Cry.  I was particularly struck by Halberstam’s critique of the “love scene” in Boys Don’t Cry, and was perturbed by the comments that Peirce made.  Peirce goes on in flowery abstracts about how in this love scene, Brandon can finally become himself and receive love, which I felt was insulting to Brandon’s memory- who is Peirce to invent these fictions about someone whose life she is trying to preserve and represent, when Brandon cannot argue against them? It is clear to me that Peirce is implying that Brandon was not true to himself when he presented as a man, which completely goes against what he must have felt. I attempted to find the interview that Halberstam was quoting from to analyze it further, but I couldn’t find it.  Instead, I came across some patterns in other interviews that I found interesting and disturbing in other ways.

It becomes fairly clear through the reading of interviews with Peirce that she views the Brandon Teena story as fantastical and sees Brandon’s own gender as role-playing rather than an embodiment of an identity.  In this interview http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9910/22/boys.dont.cry/ Peirce speaks about the extraordinary transformation of Brandon into “a fantasy of a boy.”  Although I think I see where she is coming from; that she is trying to draw upon the interviews of all Brandon’s former girlfriends who spoke of him as every woman’s dream, I believe Peirce is framing Brandon’s male identification as a choice rather than what it surely must have been more him: an undeniable necessity.  It is very true that people spoke of him in this way, but Peirce is making it sound as though Teena Brandon woke up one day and decided she wanted to pretend to be Brandon Teena, the “perfect man,” just for kicks.  Peirce explains that she admires Brandon’s courage in carrying out his gender identity, and his “cleverness to keep the fantasy alive.”  To me, this smacks of insult: it paints Brandon as a conniving con-(wo)man who was focused on deluding people, rather than a female-bodied person who identified as male, and simply sought to live out his life as he desired.

In this next interview http://www.popmatters.com/film/interview-kimberly-peirce.html , Peirce says that Brandon “was an invention of her [Teena’s] own imagination, yet she was satisfying a cultural need.”  First, Peirce again frames Teena’s life as Brandon as some sort of imaginative choice that needed to be constructed, and that is therefore not really genuine.  Secondly, Peirce states that Brandon exists to satisfy a cultural need, which I assume means Brandon exists to satisfy women, which takes away Brandon’s own identity and turns it into some gesture to take advantage of a desire that needs filling.  Peirce later addresses the scene where Brandon is being questioned about the rape, and the interrogator pushes her to say that she has a sexual identity crisis.  Peirce frames this as a “confession,” and says that Teena feels he must “own up to it,” and only after this can the love scene with Lana occur- once Teena has “learn[ed] how to love in a true identity.”  This statement immediately frames Brandon’s male identity as not true, as false, and paints his male identity as something pathological and wrong.

In the last interview I’ll write about http://www.fathom.com/feature/35002/index.html Peirce explains that “Brandon is a character that conceals his identity in order to find love.”  I believe this statement shows that Peirce is looking over the most vital part of Brandon’s life: he identified as a man.  In this way, when Teena/Brandon presents himself as male, he is not concealing his female identity which he views as false, but he is finally presenting his real identity.  I truly thought Boys Don’t Cry was wonderfully done, but reading interviews with the director has made me realize that the way she views Brandon’s life is extremely problematic, and offensive to his memory.

-Alison Hunt

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Jenna Talackova

On Tuesday, March 27th CNN posted an article about Jenna Talackova.  She is a Canadian beauty pageant contestant who had been selected as one of 65 finalists to compete in the Miss Universe Canada pageant.  However, organizers of the competition have disqualified Jenna because she is transgender and they claim that rules state that contestants must be naturally born females.  The article states that upon the “discovery” the organizers decided that Jenna had lied and no longer met the requirements of the competition.  

The article also states the Jenna sees her disqualification as an act of prejudice and there might be legal action on her part.  Also, the article says that the Facebook page of Miss Universe Canada has been flooded with comments, one in particular stating that the “Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.” 

The timing of this event/article is really interesting considering our Halberstam reading and the viewing of The Brandon Teena Story.  As I read the article and the comments on the article I kept relating the situation with Jenna to some things Halberstam wrote.  Halberstam writes that Brandon’s masculinity posed a threat to male masculinity and I was thinking that perhaps a reason Jenna was disqualified was because she also posed a threat.  Maybe to other people Jenna is a threat because she doesn’t possess the masculinity they are demanding of her or that they would make them comfortable.  

“As so many transexuals will attest, the voice can be a powerful gender marker for the person trying to pass, and the ‘wrong’ voice can confuse or even anger an unsuspecting listener who may have already made a confident gender attribution that must not be reversed” (108).  This quote stuck out to me because it sounds exactly like what happened to Jenna.  The people she had “fooled” are now angry and her disqualification is their backlash.  Perhaps that is not true and they actually think they are following the rules but the defensive comments on the article nearly all have an angry tone and are from people sticking up for the organizers.  No matter what happens, Jenna’s life is completely different depending on how much attention this story gets in Canada/abroad.  

 

— Megan Hruska

Tree Houses and Queer Time

During our class discussion about reproductive time, I told you guys about my friend Rae and her adventures.  This weekend, she posted a link to a mini-documentary that was recently made about the tree house/hostel that she lived in and worked at in Nicaragua.

Here ya go:

Aside from providing an example of “real” queer time, this video, I think, explains how it can feel to know that you have no interest in living your life as most of the people around you do.  I also think it really illustrates how strongly notions of a “normal” life structure the way we think about ourselves and gives an example of what can happen when you’re able to overcome feelings of shame and abjection that often come with deviating from the norm, especially right around the 6:40 mark.

Towards the end of the video, Fred acknowledges what could be called his “queer” use of time when he says, “I’ve learned that we have our time in life and you have to make your best use of it.”  He knows that his best use of time is not spending it in an office or in a classroom or in a factory, but he also never talks shit about people who do those things.

It still pisses me off that this concept completely eludes so many people I know, but I’ve been there.  I’m not going to lie, when Rae dropped out of school and left the country, I never told her that I thought she was wrong and I’m honestly not sure if that’s even what I thought, but in the back of my head I was definitely so, so skeptical.  I’ve since realized how fucking stupid that was and I’m making a serious effort to restructure the way I think about a lot of things.  Halberstam’s concept of queer time and queer space have given me yet another way to go about doing that.

-Mallory Dauby

Link

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34kCWAsddtA

In this week’s discussion of reproductive time, I began thinking about how we are expected to be in a certain place in life at a certain time.  But what if you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time?  What are the ramifications of this, and is it really all that detrimental?  The emphasis on reproductive time in the movies, commercials, and advertisements serve to fuel the belief that we must go through certain experiences in order to reach the proper destination.  Get all your partying out in college; settle down after your education; buy a motorcycle at age 45 for your mid-life crisis.  All these things have been instilled in us as the pathway to a fulfilled life; otherwise, you are just an unlucky screw-up.

In the recent film Jeff Who Lives at Home, Jason Segel plays an almost middle-aged man who still lives at home with his mother.  This comedic portrayal of stunted reproductive time shows a misunderstood man who never grew up.  In the film Jeff (Segel) constantly considers the question of destiny and that, perhaps, he is meant to be at a stage in life different from his peers.  Looking around, maybe his repo-time path is not off at all, maybe his has just been tailored to fit his own needs, maybe everyone could learn to do such a thing, leading to more happy and fulfilled lives.

-Elizabeth Nash

Brandon’s Masculinity

Aside

In reading Judith Halberstam’s In a Queer Time & Place, I was intrigued by her assessment of the girls who dated Brandon Teena and their reasons for doing so, as well as his masculinity. Halberstam notes that most media accounts of Brandon’s story fail to tell that he was “actively chosen over more conventionally male men” by the girls in his area, and that the girls who dated him described him as the perfect male (28). He doted on them, knew how to treat a woman right, was again and again described as a fantasy or dream boyfriend. Taking all of this into account, Halberstam concludes that “Brandon’s self-presentation…must be read as a damaging critique of the white working-class masculinities; at the same time…his performance of courtly masculinity is a shrewd deployment of the middle-class and so-called respectable masculinities that represent an American romantic ideal of manhood.” In other words, he offered to these girls than the others around him, revealing the inadequacies of his peers while at the same time utilizing the romanticized version of what middle-class girls expect men to be. In the second chapter, Halberstam adds that he was polite, sweet, generous and respectful, all qualities that are associated with middle-class respectability. In this sense then, he destabilized what middle-class masculinity means.

While I agree with Halberstam’s assessment of what made Brandon attractive, and the ways in which he destabilized both middle-class masculinity and what it means to be masculine in general, I wonder what this says about the expectations our society teaches girls to have for their partners. Should it really be that much to ask for, for a partner, regardless of sex or gender to be polite and respectful? What I took away from Halberstam’s description of Brandon’s relationships is that he was nice to these girls, which seemed to be unusual. I think that, in itself, is a large problem. The fact that a polite, sweet, respectful person was so unusual and unexpected, and yet so desired reveals problems with our conception of masculinity that Brandon rightfully destabilized and challenged, but I think also it raises the issue of female expectations.

Hannah Craddock

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Reading

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This week in class we talked about the Butler and Halberstam’s critiques of Paris is Burning. With respect to relationships between drag contestants, Butler clearly outlines the difference between seeing and reading; seeing is accepting something/someone for face value without questioning their representation or reality, while reading is presuming a gap between representation and reality. This argument is similar to Halberstam’s explanation of realness and real in which those who aspire to obtain realness (aka passing or appearing authentic) may not always want to be real. More specifically, those who participate in ball culture and dress as women may not always desire to fully become women.

Halberstam also points out the importance and function of houses in which contestants garner identity based on competition. This competition may take the form of reading other contestants, which allows them to demonstrate loyalty to their houses while showing off their own skills at pointing out the flaws of others. In RuPaul’s Drag Race, contestants were required to read each other during one of the competitions. The video I included is a clip of that episode in which you can see the dynamics present during a reading as well as the differences between reading another contestant and being hurtful or mean, a line that is often blurred in instances such as this. Personally, I find the process of reading others to be an entertaining event, but I wouldn’t want to be the one being read.

-Krystal McKenzie

Are Muslims inheriting Europe?

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As we discussed Halberstam’s notion of “time of reproduction” she explains that the “time of inheritance” connects the family to the historical past of the nation and “and glances ahead to connect the family to the future of both familial and national stability.” This concept led me to think about the “dilemma” of Europe and its Muslims today. This time of reproduction is not taking into account the massive changes the world population is going through. I am focusing on just one example: growing Muslim populations in Europe.

Unfortunately many politicians, thinkers, and citizens across Europe don’t believe that immigrants give a country dynamism, drive, new ideas as well as new blood. The topic of Europe and its Muslims is highly emotional. Europe has been particularly attractive for Muslim immigrants for several reasons. 1) Europe is modern, and has a rich and highly developed economy. Moreover, Europe’s infrastructure requires steady influx of manual labor to maintain itself physically and care for an ageing population. 2) Europe is geographically centrally located, and easily reached particularly from North Africa, Turkey, and the Arab States. 3) Many sending states are former colonies of European nations, and English, Spanish, and French are still spoken in these countries as first and second languages. As a continent, Europe is being changed from within by its immigrant population.

The number of Muslims in European Union countries today is estimated at 13-25 million out of 480 million, that is, 3-5% of the total population.  Also, there are more female than male immigrants.

There are some factors I thought of that challenge this notion of reproductive time in order to also have a time of inheritance. Globally speaking, by 2015 for the first time in human history a majority of the world’s population will live in the cities, and urbanization has generally contributed to the shrinking of populations. There is less space available in the cities than in the countryside, the result of which are smaller houses and less room for children. Furthermore, urban women are more likely to help in the support of their families, developing their careers, and working outside the home. The resulting tendency of this lifestyle is to give birth to a smaller number of children at a later age. Moreover, global careers opportunities are more attractive and potential parents prefer them to having children. Also, the influence of religion has also decreased; hence family planning and contraceptives are more common and easily accessible, as are abortions. The main incentive propelling millions of immigrants is the search for a better life, beginning with a better job.

It is worth remembering that 2.1-2.2 children per woman is the ratio needed to preserve the numbers of a given population.  It is the young foreigners in growing numbers who are filling the gap and replacing the aging Europeans in the workforce. It is their labor that sustains the growing numbers of retirees and aging people. These immigrants are also replacing the Europeans who will accept only “clean” jobs. In certain countries, whole sectors of the economy and many public services have become highly dependent on migrant labor and would collapse if those workers were no longer available. European governments have an obligation to explain to their citizens why they allow and even encourage this flow of foreigners.

PS, in class I said that in 50 years there would be no more Italian and that is totally wrong.
It was estimated that by 2010, Italy would be the “first culture in history” in which the number of people of 60 years and more will be higher than the 0-18 age group. So by the year 2050, the younger generations would only be 15.4% of the country’s population. Italy’s population today is 61.2 million but it is expected to go down to 43 million by 2050. So, the quote goes: “900 years from now and there will be no more Italians.” (aka I was off by 850 years)

This is a little outdated but I still think it’s pretty neat: http://www.poodwaddle.com/clocks/worldclock/

>> I took my facts from the book called Europe and its Muslim Minorities by Amikam Nachmani.

Maria Florencia Serra