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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