Hegemonic Heterosexuality in the Film Boys Don’t Cry

Yamamoto, Shannan
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Brandon Teena was an American transgender male who was brutally raped and murdered by John L. Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen in Humboldt, Nebraska. Brandon was only 21 years old when his life tragically ended. After reading about the life and death of Brandon, Kimberly Peirce spent almost five years conducting extensive research for her 1999 biographical film, Boy’s Don’t Cry that she directed and wrote with Andy Bienen. Peirce focused the story of the film on the relationship between Brandon and his girlfriend Lana Tisdel. The main themes explored in the film include the nature of romantic and platonic relationships, the source of violence toward transgender individuals, gender binaries, and the intersections of social class, race, gender, and sexuality. In this essay, I connect the main themes of the film to Jonathan Katz’ 1990 essay, The Invention of Heterosexuality, which traces the development of the terms heterosexual and homosexual throughout history, as well as notions of hegemonic heteronormativity, gender expectations, sexual categorization, and sexual identity. I also examine specific characters within the film that affected the life and death of Brandon, including Lana Tisdel, John Lotter, Tom Nissen, and Sheriff Charles B. Laux, the sheriff who negligently declined to arrest John and Tom for rape.
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