**Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched Boys Don’t Cry and want to, please don’t read ahead** (but honestly why haven’t you????)
According to Michel Foucault, language is the most important aspect that needs to be studied when it comes to understanding the social world with dominating discourses on what the “right way of living” and “being” is. Those who are in control of the power of knowledge, inherently control the mindset of the individuals. Foucault’s theory of dominant discourses essentially creates normative standards within the society through the uses of discourse, power, and knowledge in relation to the agency of the individual. I chose to highlight the issue by making remarks on the film Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Peirce as there are several issues that are directly correlated with the arguments stated by Foucault.
Foucault’s arguments with discourse, power, and knowledge are seen evidently in Boys Don’t Cry. The movie is centered on Brandon Teena, who identifies himself as male, although, from birth being categorized as a female, and named Teena Brandon. Brandon is in every aspect a 21-year-old man, he has relations with women, and he talks and appears as male, except for his genitals. After being thrown out by his cousin, he finds himself in a new town where he falls in love with Lana, and she reciprocates. He has always had run-ins with the law, which becomes the reason for him being caught in the web of his lies. This is the point in the film where he is humiliated and abused by his peers and the law because he was different. The movie raises several questions about identity, the role of the women and that of law enforcement in the conservative region of Nebraska.
Brandon insists that he is a man, not a woman from the beginning of the film. The exchange between him and his cousin further establishes this idea into the viewer’s idea of Brandon’s identity. He says “You are not a boy, why don’t you admit that you’re a d*ke?” to which Brandon almost instinctively replies, “Because I’m not a d*ke.”
Throughout the movie, we see that he must go through several instances in which he must prove his dominant feature as would a male in the same situation. Not because he wants to fit in the role and adopt it, but rather because that is who he is, a man. For example, when he picks a fight with the man in the bar after he was bothering Candice. He wants to, in every way and shape, establish that he is capable of all things that a man should be able to do such as fighting for the pride of a woman. Which is why after, they escape the bar; tells John that he did not need help back there because he had it under control. Foucault states discourses makeup categories and sometimes, people don’t properly fit into them which may make some people uncomfortable or seem different to others.
Towards the climax of the film, Brandon’s peers come to find out that he has lied about his identity and become furious. Although, part of their anger is not because Bandon has lied but the fact that he was according to them someone “abnormal.” But what is “abnormal” really? John confronts him in disgust, and so do the others in his social surrounding. They blame him for corrupting Lana’s mind because they believe that Brandon is a woman, who is pretending to be a man only to get women. But this is not true, not according to Brandon anyways, he knows in his heart and mind that he was always supposed to be a man. Hence why he behaves in all aspects as one, because that is who he is, it is his true self. However, Foucault would argue against this because he believed that the true self or that human beings had a soul. He saw individuals as discursive beings, who were only acting out the knowledge that was already produced. Therefore, he would argue that he wishes that people would acknowledge the role he’s playing and associate him with it.
The film is pertinent because it provides a relation between discourse, power, and knowledge by the means of overt violence. The film needs to be understood and acknowledged because it uses the already dominant discourses that were created in order to create new knowledge of the topic of sexuality in the Nebraska region. There are already social relations and identities that are established. Anyone who goes against those ideas is going to be punished. We see this very crudely in the film being carried out by John and Tom.
For example, John and Tom forcefully remove Brandon’s pants and exposed his private parts and make Lana look, who would not, because it simply did not matter to her. This scene was the tip of the humiliation that Brandon was going to face due to his betrayal according to John and Tom. The main reason for the rape taking place in the first place was to establish dominance over Brandon as well as to make him understand that he is, in fact, a woman and should act that way. Foucault would say that this event was necessary according to the beliefs that John and Tom had grown up with because this establishes gender roles and identity as well as maintains social control over other discourse about sexual identity crisis, stated by Brandon.
This film seeks to highlight the risk of violence faced by the individuals of the LGBTQ community, as well as how important it is to give them legal status and security, rather than being scrutinized for their life choices. The gender binaries are built on supposed assumptions that a man should act in this way and a woman in another way. These types of discourses are limiting because they marginalize these individuals. Brandon becomes a problem for the law because there are no categories in which crimes against them can be placed. Brandon does not only have to go through his physical rape by his assailants but a mental and emotional rape by law officials because of his identity being stripped away from him.
Through socialization that we learn to behave and know about what it means to be of a specific gender, whether it is being a man or a woman. We learn that there are certain things that we must not be doing because it is exclusive to only one type of gender. As well as we act according to the stereotypes assigned to our specific genders. Although, I do not agree with the fact that there is no truer self. I believe that from birth to the age where we are able to form ideas about the world around us, we are able to mold ourselves to become unique individuals. Not all humans have the same taste or the same facial characteristics, and therefore it is wrong to classify that no individual can have a true self. It can, however, be seen as if all individuals borrow certain aspects from others and internalize it to make it their own. If we were only the product of society and the discourses, then that would mean that we would all react to the same situation in the same way. But we all know that it isn’t the case. If you control the power of discourse you inadvertently control everybody, so whenever you are placed in a position of power think before you speak because you are just one word away from swaying peoples thoughts.
Brandon Teena was a real human. His story is an important one for the trans community because it not only sheds light on the hatred that they had faced but the struggles they had to go through in order to establish their identity. Brandon was beaten and raped by the people whom he called friends because they found out he was trans and that was unnatural for them. After they brutally beat and violated him they murdered him to keep him quiet. He was wronged for simply being himself, his NATURAL self. All he wanted to do was live his life being his true self rather than follows the gender roles that were enforced upon him from birth. Let’s take a moment to remember the life of Brandon Teena, who had so much to live for, and all those who have to fight each day for their identities to be acknowledged.