Boys Don't Cry

Boys Don’t Cry, released in 1999, tells the story of the life and death of Brandon Teena, a 21 year old transgender man living in Richardson County, Nebraska. Soon after discovering Brandon’s biological sex, John Lotter and Tom Nissen raped him. A week later, after learning that Brandon reported the incident to the police, the two men murdered him. In the years that followed, Brandon’s 1993 murder became one of the most notorious anti-trans hate crimes in the United States, and his story was further popularized through Hilary Swank’s Oscar-winning performance as Brandon in the Academy Award winning Boys Don’t Cry. Here, we examine the metronormative ideas evident throughout film.

portrayal of rural NE
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Portrayal of the Rural Midwest

These clips show that the film portrays small-town Nebraska as dark and backward. In the film’s opening scene, we see flat farmland, a thin wire fence, and a broken-down shed. When Brandon first arrives in Falls City, Nebraska, he calls his cousin and comments that he is in the middle of nowhere. In this conversation, Brandon and his cousin talk about theft, court dates, and jail time. Through this combination, the rural Midwest is presented as a blend of decrepit and delinquent. The characters further this portrayal, something especially evident in the bumper-skiing scene. The young adults are drinking, using drugs, and getting thrown off of old pickup trucks—a deliberate representation of reckless and lowlife behavior. The third scene here shows that Brandon’s cousin, Lonny, is concerned about Brandon’s fate as an LGBTQ person in rural Nebraska. Lonny says to Brandon, “They hang faggots down there, don’t you know that?” It is precisely because of moments like these that Queer Studies scholar Jack Halberstam suggests that Brandon’s death “symbolizes an urban fantasy of homophobic violence as essentially Midwestern” (2005, 25).