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Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Theory

The transgender gaze in Boys Don’t Cry

By Jack Halberstam, 2001

In her stylish adaptation of the true-life story of Brandon Teena, director Kimberly Peirce very self-consciously constructs what can only be called a ‘transgender gaze’ Boys Don’t Cry establishes the legitimacy and durability of Brandon’s gender not simply by telling the tragic tale of his murder but by forcing spectators to adopt, if 1 only for a short time, Brandon’s gaze, a transgender gaze. The transgender gaze in this film reveals the ideological content of the male and female gazes and it temporarily disarms the compulsory heterosexuahty of the romance genre. Brandon’s gaze obviously dies with him in the film’s brutal conclusion but Peirce, perhaps prematurely, abandons the transgender gaze in the final intimate encounter between Lana and Brandon Peirce’s inability to sustain a transgender gaze opens up a set of questions about the inevitability and dominance of both the male/female and the hetero/homo binary in narrative cinema.

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