Summary-Boys Don’t Cry
The movie was based on the tragic true story of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old Nebraska trans man who was raped and murdered in 1993. Teena Brandon is introduced to us in the opening scene of the movie, living in Lincoln, Nebraska. She has just cut her hair short, sticks a sock down her pants, and dresses in boys clothing. She has decided to be a he, now Brandon Teena. After meeting a girl in the skating rink, he narrowly escapes being beat up and is referred to as a dyke. Brandon meets Candace and John, and ends up heading to Falls City. In Falls City, Brandon meets a new group of friends who know him only as Brandon. Brandon settles into life with a group of people he refers to as family. He starts dating Lana, and as a viewer we are unsure how much she knows about his sexual organs. They fall in love and he seems to finally feel like himself. Unfortunately, after he skips bail a notice is put out in the local newspaper looking for Teena Brandon, naming his gender as female. Brandon’s new ‘family’ finds out and demands to know the truth. They take it upon themselves to discover if the paper is true. In a very uncomfortable scene, they rip off Brandon’s clothing to discover Brandon has female sexual parts. John and Tom take Brandon and violently rape him. After this incident, Brandon knows he needs to leave, while Lana urges him to file a report. Brandon makes plans with Lana to leave Falls City, but they are found by John and Tom, who are looking for revenge and murder both Brandon and Candace. Lana tried to stop the murder and only survived because John was in love with her.
Reflection on diversity topic: what insights, information, or perspectives you gained from a deeper exploration
Gender identity is when a person’s internal experience of gender does not match with the sex assigned at birth including the sense of body, expression of gender like dress, speech, and mannerisms (United Nations, n.d.). In the movie, Brandon often calls this a gender identity crisis. You can see his pain, sadness and confusion when he is trying to conform to society and how, when he is finally able to express his chosen gender, his mental health improves. This movie was incredibly difficult yet important to watch. When this movie was released in October 1999, it was the first mainstream film to focus on a transgender man and was a true depiction of the time. It was only in 2017, when Bill C-16 was introduced, that formal protection against discrimination for gender identity and expression became part of the human rights legislation in Canada (Egale, 2022). The United States, on the other hand, does not have nondiscretionary laws protecting people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and they still face widespread discrimination (Singh &Durso, 2017). Brandon’s mental health is affected by his confusion and further affected when the people around him cannot look past his gender. Before moving to Falls City, he is often getting in to trouble and as he says ‘messing up’. It is not until he moves to Falls City before anyone knows about what sexuality he was born with that he was able to enjoy life. This movie made me ask many questions about gender. I ask myself why we need to disclose our gender? What purpose does it serve? I do not have to announce I am a heterosexual female. This makes me realize how far we are from a society where one feels safe and included as I know I will be assumed to be female in a heterosexual relationship. American literature and schools promote heterosexual norms which are valued from birth, while being part of the LBGQT+ community is seen as shameful and deviant. The internet can also reinforce this narrative, reinforcing negative stereotypes and exclusionary practices (Vaccaro, et al., 2012). Vaccaro et al. (2012) remind us that we all have multiple social identities that make us whole, including our sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and ability, and that being LGBT is not the only identity. We, as a society, have an obligation to explore the terminology and take responsibility in creating a world where all humans can feel safe and accepted. The impact on youth and adults when their identity does not match with societal expectations can cause mental health problems that need not exist.
Reflection on the implications of this learning on your role as an educator
My role as an educator is to create a safe place to explore gender identity in a healthy way. As the topic of gender identity and sexuality seem to be growing in importance, we need to learn more in order to support these individuals. When I did my first practicum in teaching, I was interrupted in a math lesson to ask if two boys could get married. At the time I had no idea how to deal with these questions and just told the student we were learning math. The next day, a very angry parent came in and yelled at the mentor teacher who then told me I was never to discuss such matters in the classroom. I was very bothered by this and have continued to reflect on it over the years. Moving forward, the B.C. curriculum mandates teachers to discuss and explore gender and sexual diversity. Last year I had a trans man give a presentation in my classroom about his personal journey and what all the terms meant. It was a highlight in my year as I saw students become visibly relaxed, as all questions were answered and discussed openly. Later, a few students came out to me and their class. Students are surrounded by cultural norms that promote heterosexuality, and are socially differentiated from their peers and sometimes feel deviant in comparison (Castro & Sujak, 2014). Before this experience, I will admit I was still nervous about the parental reactions. My whole mindset of the importance of creating a safe environment grew to become something very important to me. Support groups for sexual minority students should widely available within schools, as well as programs that help students who have questions but are fearful of the stigmatization (Castro & Sujak, 2014). Moving forward, I want to spend more time exploring the SOGI website so that I can continue to help create safe places for my students. I can add to my classroom library to make sure that there is a variety of books including multiple diversities.
Connections to the scholarship on the topic
Schools can help takes steps to avoid discrimination, internalized homophobia, stigmatization and violence, and to support sexual minority students, by adopting an inclusive curriculum that speaks knowledge, empathy, and acceptance in regard to homosexual issues (Castro & Sujak, 2014). When students of sexual minorities are able to feel accepted and decrease their stress related to sexual orientation, they could then improve poor academic performance and dropout rates (Castro & Sujak, 2014). In Martino & Palllotta-Chiarolli’s (2007) interview with different high school students, they found that students still being labeled as lesbian were found in the lowest rung of the social ladder, and that boys deploy forms of homophobia against marginalized boys as well as girls because they threaten the normative constructs of femininity. This shows that schools and societies need to do a better job in deconstructing these powerfully gendered roles. Students are learning in ways that extend beyond the formal curriculum in what is called the hidden curriculum, being the curriculum that students are learning that takes place within the school but is not recorded in the official curriculum (Walton, 2005). Informally, students will learn about values and norms of the school culture through peer socialization and school staff which, when viewed through a critical lens, show problems with power and privilege and therefore have harmful implications for disadvantaged students (Walton, 2005). For members from minority groups such as sexual minorities, this happens through the normalization of heterosexuality. An example of this is the fact that when you pick up almost any children’s book there is a mother and father. Another struggle is when legal documents do not support or match gender identity, and in schools when classes are divided up on the bases of gender, bathrooms are assigned to a particular sex, and even field trip forms are filled out with a box to mark the number of each gender. This creates a legal climate that fosters stigmatism and prejudice.
Castro, I. E., & Sujak, M. C. (2014). “Why can’t we learn about this?” Sexual minority students
navigate the official and hidden curriculum spaces of high school. Education and Urban
Society, 46, 450–473.??
Durso, L., Singh, S. (2017, May 2) Widespread discrimination continues to shape LGBT
people’s lives in both subtle and significant ways.
Eagle (2022) FAQ: Gender identity and Canada’s human rights policy.
Martino, W., & Palllotta-Chiarolli, M. (2007). Schooling, normalisation, and gendered bodies:
Adolescent boys’ and girls’ experiences of gender and schooling. In D. Thiessen & A.
Cook-Sather (Eds.), International handbook of student experiences in elementary and secondary school (pp. 347–374), Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
United Nations. (n.d.) The struggle of trans and gender-diverse persons.
Vaccaro, A., August, G., & Kennedy, M. (2012). LGBT identity. Safe spaces: Making schools
and communities welcoming to LGBT youth (pp. 25–45). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Walton, G. (2005). The hidden curriculum in schools: Implications for lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, and queer youth. Alternate Routes, 21, 18–39.