Brandon’s Masculinity

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

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