Political Rants and Raves Uncategorized

“Hiding the Tears in My Eyes – BOYS DON’T CRY – A Legacy” by Jack Halberstam

A recent protest at Reed College about the screening of Boys Don’t Cry raises questions about contemporary protest cultures.

Boys Don’t Cry, 1999

In 1999, just six years after the rape and murder of a young gender variant person, Brandon Teena, and two friends in a small town in Nebraska, Kim Peirce released her first film, a dramatic account of the incident. The film, Boys Don’t Cry, which took years to research, write, fund, cast and shoot, was released to superb reviews and went on to garner awards and praise for the lead actor, Hilary Swank, and the young director, Kim Peirce, not to mention the film’s production team led by Christine Vachon. The film was hard hitting, visually innovative and marked a massive breakthrough in the representation of gender variant bodies. While there were certainly debates about decisions that Peirce made within the film’s narrative arc (the omission of the murder of an African American friend, Philip DeVine, at the same time that Brandon was killed), Boys Don’t Cry was received by audiences at the time as a magnificent film honoring the life of a gender queer youth and bringing a sense of the jeopardy of gender variant experiences to the screen. It was also seen as a sensitive depiction of life in small town USA. Kim Peirce spoke widely about the film in public venues and explained her relationship to the subject matter of gender variance, working class life and gender based violence.

In recent screenings of the film, some accompanied by Peirce as a speaker, others just programmed as part of a class or a film series, younger audiences have taken offence to the film and have accused the filmmaker of making money off the representation of violence against trans people. This at least was the charge made against Kim Peirce when she showed up to speak alongside a special screening of the film at Reed College in Oregon, just days after the Presidential election. Unbeknownst to the organizers, student protestors had removed posters from all around campus that advertised the screening and lecture and they formed a protest group and arrived early to the cinema on the night of the screening to hang up posters.

Posters at Reed College Protesting the Screening of Boys Don’t Cry, November 2016

These posters voiced a range of responses to the film including: “You don’t fucking get it!” and “Fuck Your Transphobia!” as well as “Trans Lives Do Not Equal $$” and to cap it all, the sign hung on the podium read: “Fuck this cis white bitch”!! The protestors waited until after the film had screened at Peirce’s request and then entered the auditorium while shouting “Fuck your respectability politics” and yelling over her commentary until Peirce left the room. After establishing some ground rules for a discussion, Peirce came back into the room but the conversation again got out of hand and finally a student yelled at Peirce: “Fuck you scared bitch.” At which point the protestors filed out and Peirce left campus.

82e7d16be887d89692c1dfd6efd0aca5This is an astonishing set of events to reckon with for those of us who remember the events surrounding Brandon Teena’s murder, the debates in the months that followed about Brandon Teena’s identity and, later, the reception of the film. Early transgender activism was spurred into action by the murder of Brandon Teena and many activists showed up at the trial of his killers. There were lots of debates at the time about whether Brandon was “butch” or “transgender” but queer and transgender audiences were mostly satisfied with the depiction of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry. The film appealed to many audiences, queer and straight, and it continues to play around the world.

Director, Kimberly Peirce

The accounts given of these recent protests at Reed College give evidence of enormous vitriol, much of it blatantly misogynist (the repeated use of the word “bitch” for example) directed at a queer, butch film maker and they leave us with an enormous number of questions to face about representational dynamics, clashes between different historical paradigms of queer and transgender life and the expression of queer anger that, instead of being directed at murderous enemies in the mainstream of American political life, has been turned onto independent film makers within the queer and LGBT communities. Since this incident at Reed, I have heard from other students that they too felt “uncomfortable” with the representations of transgender life and death in Boys Don’t Cry. These students raise the following objections to the film some fifteen years after its release:

  • First, younger trans oriented audiences want to know if Peirce herself is trans. And they understand her as a non-trans person who is making money from the representation of violence against transgender bodies.
  •  Second, they ask about the casting of a non-trans identified actor in the role of Brandon and wonder why a transgender man was not cast to play Brandon.
  • Third, students in particular have objected to the graphic depiction of rape in the film and feel that the scene is poorly orchestrated and the film is too mired in the pathologization and violation and punishment of transgender bodies.

These are interesting critiques and queries and worthy of conversation in their own right as well as within a clear understanding of the film’s visual grammar and representational strategies. It is not, however, a worthy activist goal to try to suppress the film, to cast it as transphobic and to target Kim Peirce herself as someone who has profited from the exploitation of transgender narratives. The film after all cost only 2 million to make and returned almost nothing to Peirce in profits.


How might we respond to these objections then in ways that do not completely dismiss the feelings of the students but that ask for different relations to protest, to the reading of complex texts and to the directing of anger about transphobic and homophobic texts onto queer cultural producers?

Here are a few thoughts:

1. We need to situate this film properly within the history of the representation of transgender characters. At the time that Peirce made this film, most films featured transgender people only as monsters, killers, sociopaths or isolated misfits.

Dressed To Kill, 1980

Few treated transgender people with even a modicum of comprehension and even fewer dealt with the transphobic environments that were part of heteronormative family life. There were very few films prior to Boys that focused upon transgender masculinity and when transgender male characters did appear in film, they were often depicted as women who passed as men for pragmatic reasons (for example The Ballad of Little Joe, 1993) or androgynous figures of whimsy (for example Orlando, 1992).

Boys Don’t Cry is literally the first film in history to build a credible story line around the credible masculinity of a credible trans-masculine figure. Period.


2. We cannot always demand a perfect match between directors, actors and the material in any given narrative. As a masculine person from a working class background who had experienced her own sexual abuse, Peirce identified strongly with the life and struggles of Brandon Teena. Peirce is not a transgender man, but is gender variant. The film she produced was sensitive to Brandon Teena’s social environment, his gender identity, his hard upbringing and his struggle to understand himself and to be understood by others. If Peirce told a story in which the transgender body was punished, she did not do so in order to participate in that punishment, she did it because that was what had actually happened to Brandon Teena and it would have been dishonest to tell the story any other way. The violence he suffered stood, at the time, as emblematic of the many forms of violence that transgender people suffered and it called upon the audiences for the film to rebuke the world in which such violence was common place.

Hilary Swank in her break through performance in Boys Don’t Cry

3. Transgender actors should play transgender roles but that is not always possible and certainly was a long shot at the time that Peirce made the film. Furthermore, it would be more effective to argue that transgender actors should not be limited to transgender roles. Peirce conducted a national search for a trans masculine actor for Boys Don’t Cry. She did screen tests with many trans identified people and she ultimately gave the role to the best actor available who was credible as a young female-bodied person passing for male. That actor was Hilary Swank, known in some circles at the time for her role in The Karate Kid and occasional appearances on Buffy the Vampire. Given the dependence of the success of the film on the acting ability of the main actor, it was vital to have a strong performer in this role and Swank was cast accordingly. Also why should a transgender actor only play a transgender role – shouldn’t we be asking cis-gendered male directors to cast transgender men and women as romantic leads, protagonists, super heroes?


4. We should not be asking for films to make detours around scenes of sexual violence instead we should be asking about what we actually mean by violence in any given context. In Boys Don’t Cry, the rape scene was brutal, hard to shoot, hard to act in and generally a difficult and emotionally draining piece of filmmaking. But it is also a deeply important part of the film and a way of representing faithfully the brutal violence that was meted out at the time to gender non-conforming bodies and it was true to the specific fate of Brandon Teena. The brutality of the rape also cuts in and out of scenes in the police station when Brandon Teena reports the rape. The police treat Brandon as a “girl” who must have been pleased by the attention from young men and they see the young men as normal, sexual subjects. 23Thus, the rape scene damns the police, highlights the role of violence in the enforcement of normativity and draws the audience’s sympathies to Brandon in a way that makes transphobia morally reprehensible. When we target scenes of rape and sexual violence in independent films about historical characters and call them unwatchable, we are making it difficult to grapple with all kinds of historical material that involves systemic violence and oppression.

But, we are also limiting the meaning of “violence” to physical assault. As so many theorists have shown, violence can also appear in the form of civility, empathy, absence, indifference and non-appearance. Violence is the glue of contemporary representation – we regularly watch films in which cars are blown up (every film with a chase scene), planes are shot down (many films with Tom Cruise or James Bond in them), superheroes sweep the streets of evil taking out hundreds of people at a time (Iron Man but also Ghost Busters), tidal waves sweep through entire cities (The Fifth Wave), colonies of fish are swallowed up by marauding sharks (Finding Nemo), a female deer is shot in front of her child (Bambi), aliens land and eliminate buildings (The War of the Worlds), zombie mobs chase humans and eat them slowly (The Walking Dead) and so on. To focus solely upon sexual violence and to ignore the more general context of cinematic violence and to take complaints only to queer directors who are struggling to represent queer life rather than to straight directors ignoring queer and trans life betrays a limited vision of representational systems and ideologies and ultimately leaves those systems and their biases completely intact.


At a time of political terror, at a moment when Fascists are in highest offices in the land, when white men are ready and well positioned to mete out punishment to women, queers and undocumented laborers, we have to pick our enemies very carefully. Spending time and energy protesting the work of an extremely important queer filmmaker is not only wasteful, it is morally bankrupt and misses the true danger of our historical moment. 


138 replies on ““Hiding the Tears in My Eyes – BOYS DON’T CRY – A Legacy” by Jack Halberstam”

Thank you for writing this. I attend Reed and was extremely disappointed in the protesters’ behavior at this event.

You made a small factual error: Swank did not have “occasional appearances on Buffy the Vampire”. She had a role in the Buffy the Vampire SLAYER movie, which predates the show of the same name.

Haha, I was about to google that, cause I was like, “wait, Hillary Swank was in Buffy?” untill I read your comment.

In terms of the general piece, my feeling is that you’re giving some of these people too much credit. I honestly don’t think there motivations are really empathy or concerns about representation, it’s more finding an identity via a means of a crusade that casts the world into a religious manichean type view. Power seduces, and unfortunately, the reason this kind of stuff has power is because it’s done in the name of legitimate concerns. But I think continuing to bow to such people’s unreasonable demands will only encourage them to make even more unreasonable demands. Fortunately, since the only mode of this ideology is “purify” the group eventually loses unity and turns on itself as the internal tribal identities and power dynamics inevitably require them to prey upon each other.

“First, younger trans oriented audiences want to know if Peirce herself is trans.”

That is an absolutely repugnant demand for two reasons. First, it’s a nod to the all-too-common belief in some activist circles that you can’t know about a subject unless you can identify as the aggrieved group. This is what blogger Fred de Boer called “the politics of deference,” so as to separate it from the vague, co-opted term “identity politics.”

Secondly, the only person that can identify themselves as LGBTQ is the person in question. No one else can force them to come out, and no one else can come out on their behalf. This is something I learned from queer-identified people online. It is rude at the very least, and it removes agency from the individual. The rabble at Reed absolutely should know better.

Campus activism is at the point where it’s eating itself.

according to sjw reasoning, hate speech only applies to those in power, because the offense isn’t identifying with a group and hating another group, it’s not supporting the interests of the opprresed group. Therefore, it’s not “hate speech” if you’re “punching up” at a group that is more priviliged, only if you’re “punching down” from a place of privilge.

Also, don’t yell at me, only explaining the ideology, not advocating for it.

Thank you so much for this. I teach at Reed. I am intimidated by these students. I am scared to teach courses on race, gender, or sexuality, or even texts that bring these issues up in any way–and I am a gay mixed-race woman. There is a serious problem here and at other SLACs, and I’m at a loss as to how to begin to address it, especially since many of these students don’t believe in either historicity or objective facts. (They denounce the latter as being a tool of the white cisheteropatriarchy.)

Tina Fey hit the nail on the head in her Sherry Lansing award ceremony acceptance speech:

Starts at 13:37 and ends at 14:34

I have no words. That (lack of belief in facts or historicity) is the most damning indictment of our higher education system that I can imagine.

So sorry to hear that. I hope you’re able to give them the grades they deserve – I’d imagine they can’t write well if they won’t accept objective facts or historical context, and if they can’t see the total hypocrisy in using a misogynistic slur. I can understand they’d be intimidating, but rest assured that pretty much everyone in reality is on your side (hopefully that includes some/most students? They might be feeling intimidated by them too) and that of other academics dealing with this kind of situation.

This was the tragic mistake of postmodernism. Once it allowd tautological reasoning, it was only matter of time before the must succesful memes (in the evolutionary sense that Dawkins described) perpetuated themselves and spread. What you are seeing is a closed loop info-virus that evolved under the intense selective pressure of echo chambers.

Like most viruses, however it will likely burn itself out, especially as the technological singularities that are rapidly approaching will force humans to confront their notions of identity and agency, making a lot of the conditions this ideology feeds on irrelevant.

I am a transman, and when Boys Don’t Cry came out I found it so emotional and amazing to see a trans man represented on film in such a smart and complex way. The film was part of the push that i needed to come out. At the time it was made, nothing existed in the mainstream that told our story in this way. I am grateful to the director and Hilary Swank for making this incredible piece of film. Yes we should have more trans actors playing trans parts and yes we need to go beyond the trans narrative of victimhood, but this film was the beginning of something and has paved the way for different narratives to come.

I’m a transmasculine Reed student who attended this protest. I assume Jack got his account of the protest from Kimberly, who has certainly not told him a full or accurate story. Prior to the screening, Kimberly removed almost all posters from the lecture hall and engaged in a hostile interaction with students where she said things like “I’m a butch lesbian, so I understand what it’s like to be trans” and “If you’re saying I’m racist, well, maybe I am.” We repeated these quotes to each other so many times that I’m almost sure they’re what she said to us verbatim.
The complaints listed in this article are NOT our complaints about the film. We did not want to suppress the screening, but rather to screen the film in a critical light, acknowledging that it is a product of its time — one that doesn’t hold up today. We wanted to question Kimberly’s sense of entitlement to take creative license with a trans person’s life and identity, most importantly the trans/butch ambiguity she introduces, the addition of Brandon and Lana’s sex scene (which never actually happened, and which occurs in the film on the same day as Brandon’s rape, belittling his trauma), and her choice to depict violence and abjection in trans lives rather than hope or success (especially damning given that there were no contemporary positive representations of transness). We wondered whether Kimberly’s depiction of Brandon’s gender ambiguity and her casting of a straight, cis woman upholds the notion that transness is an illusion or performance which can be violently stripped from us.
We entered the lecture hall silently after the screening, holding posters so that our message would be heard without requiring us to speak over Kimberly. Unfortunately, she posed a choice to us: wait outside until she had taken questions from audience members, or she would leave the screening entirely. We had chosen not to attend the screening because, as trans individuals, we weren’t interested in subjecting ourselves to further trauma (most of us had already seen the film). At this point, the situation escalated and Kimberly did end up leaving for almost an hour. When she returned, she refused to acknowledge certain protesters when they spoke or raised their hands, until a protester became frustrated and shouted at her. This was an unfortunate end to the event, but one that was in direct response to Kimberly’s combativeness, not an unprovoked attack.
I’d like to emphasize again that our message was not that the film should not have been made or screened, but merely that its understanding of transness is outdated and that Kimberly, if she hopes to call herself a trans ally, should be doing continuous work to update her understanding of transness as its definition continues to evolve. As recently as this year, she has continued to exhibit a lack of understanding of the difference between butch lesbians and trans men that makes us doubt her commitment to affirming trans people on their own terms. Rather, she draws an artificial parallel between the two communities to absolve herself of a responsibility to be self-reflexive, resting on her laurels instead. I believe we would have been able to engage her in a meaningful and mutually compassionate dialogue had she not refused to listen to our concerns.

A few responses Jeri – and thanks for writing in – the posters should never have been up in the first place. They mistake a representation of transphobia for transphobia itself, as does your whole protest. Next, the ambiguity of Brandon Teena’s gender is historically accurate. Also, this film was made 15 years ago in response to the transphobic climate of that time. The film accurately captured that climate and was not trying to counter “negative” images with “positive” ones. Positive images can be just as pernicious in misrepresenting queer and trans lives. The scene you critique has been criticized elsewhere – not news. This protest was pathetic and a true waste of your collective time and energy. I bet with Trump in office you all can find some truly horrendous shit to take on next. I look forward to hearing about your protests of deportations, racist police and voter suppression. I look forward to hearing about you protesting the next Hollywood blockbuster in which millions of people die invisibly and just along the way while the hero saves some blond lady; I look forward to you protesting some “positive” movie where all the trans people are good and all the cis gendered people are bad. You really should be thankful that this film even exists given the scarcity of queer directors and truly innovative queer films. I hope you might rethink the premise of these kinds of protests.

Thank you for your frank and honest response to the Reed protestor who wrote in, bullybloggers. I’m a Reed alum who was appalled and embarrassed when I read your original post. It is baffling to me that some current college students can’t seem to imagine what the world was like for transgender folk even just 15 years ago. The impact of Boys Don’t Cry and other works like it, in addition to the horrible tragedies that underlie those works (and many other incidents) are what paved the way for the gender freedom that these students now enjoy. But in what is typical behavior for this generation, they stomp their feet and throw temper tantrums when somebody dares to present a view of something that doesn’t align perfectly with theirs. The way that they treated Kimberley Pierce is unacceptable. She came to discuss her work. You can discuss somebody’s work that you disagree with without calling them a “cis white bitch”. Grow up kids. When you get outside the bubble that is Reed, you don’t stand a chance right now.

Bullybloggers, you’re response is super weak. You don’t address any of Jeri’s substantive comments. From what I can tell – the crux of Jeri’s problem with the film is that it was made 15 years ago and it now really outdated. That’s totally true and undeniable. The reality is that it was pretty outdated 15 years ago. I saw it in the theaters when it came out and thought it very mainstream – and did not think that it’s approach to representing violence benefited the film at all. (Also, although it’s beside the point – your claim that the film was visually innovative is ridiculous). In any case: what i describe is my feelings when it came out – and I was not alone. Of course: tons and tons of people genuinely did like the movie, and were moved by it – and that’s genuinely positive that it had that kind of effect. Further, I don’t think anyone believes strongly the film was made in bad faith at the time. But to argue that it’s not outdated – that it isn’t problematic given reality as it exists now – is farfetched: and something both you and Jeri agree with. So what’s the problem with pointing that out? No one would play Birth of Nation (the original) and claim that its race politics shouldn’t be criticized. The fact is: this movie was presented without that kind of critical context – this group of students believes that the filmmaker is not aware of that critical context – and so they protested the film to draw light to that context (and obviously it worked since you’re reporting on the event; which is typically part of the goal of protests: to draw attention to something). The fact that your response doesn’t address the substance of these arguments and relies on a truly hack argument that “it was cool at the time” is preposterous. (Also your elitism and out-of-toughness seems to spill out in your statement that the film was made for only “2 million”. What?!?! The only reference point that “only 2 million” makes sense against is compared to a movie like mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. Is that really what you want to measure your radical art against? That it’s more innovative or politically progressive than a Hollywood blockbuster?) For a movie like Boys Don’t Cry — which to discerning film audiences was basically cheesy Sundance garbage at the time — to be heralded as some sort of innovative, radical work is definitely something worth protesting! At its best its a historical document about what counted as ‘progressive mainstream stuff’ 15 years ago. And the idea that people can’t protest multiple things at once is idiotic – or that because there are other bad things going on in the world one must not address things happening, literally, in their own community (in this case Reed College) is totally bonkers as an intellectual argument. I’m shocked that you felt the need to write the initial post (protesting a protest you think shouldn’t have happened?! who cares?!) – and even more shocked at how intellectually pitiful your response to someone that apparently was actually there. From my end: I support the protest; I think it’s fine you responded; I’m excited that someone from the protest responded to you – and am just really surprised at how pitiful you seem in this whole thing. (Of course, I support my response to your response, too!! Free speech for everyone! 🙂

Long comment coming up. I’m a UK-based PhD student (focusing on queer cinema) and artist, who read this article and its comments with interest. I agree with many of the perspectives expressed both in the article and below.

J. Halberstam, thank you for an insightful and rousing analysis of the situation. Your work continues to challenge and inspire me. There are a number of points which I would like to respond to, both in the original article and in the comments which agree with its position: thank you everyone for creating an online space in which this discussion is taking place.

1.) The argument that ‘we have to pick our enemies very carefully,’ while containing many elements of truth, has the potential to be extremely reductive… in the sense that it could be used to shut down almost any political discussion, by reducing the debate to a question of who the “worst” enemy is. Oppressed groups are often told to ‘be thankful’ for the privileges that they possess (often, by the very people oppressing them). Countless times, my feminist or queer research has been met with the response that I should instead focus on “bigger issues,” mirroring the article’s comment that the students should instead direct their protests and critiques towards media in which ‘millions of people die invisibly.’ But, if there is a moral and political imperative to focus on the “bigger picture,” why stop at Hollywood movies? Surely, by the same logic, it’s a ‘waste of time’ to practice film criticism of any kind, or to blog about queer politics at all, when so many “more serious problems” or “more dangerous enemies” could be said to exist? Taking that view of morality and politics to its conclusion, we could ask—when 3 million people die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year, why are we focusing on something so insignificant as queer cinema’s relationship to tiny student protests in the US? I completely relate to the sentiment which J.H.’s article was expressing, but I think that we must be very careful about dismissing the rage and grief of trans protestors as ‘wasteful,’ even when they express this rage and grief in ways which we might find tragically misdirected or difficult to understand.

2.) I wonder whether it might be useful to separate the act of critiquing Boys Don’t Cry and how these students went about their critique. As the article comments, their criticisms were ‘not news’: it is their methods which were newsworthy, because they were extremely confrontational. I’m sure that even many of the students who were in attendance would agree that the calling someone a “bitch” isn’t a hugely mature, kind, or reasonable thing to do, no matter how much one disagrees with their actions. But despite the many problems I have with their protest, it’s undeniable that the actions of these students generated an interesting conversation which may not have happened otherwise. Due to how information circulates online, events frequently only get reported if they are controversial in some way (I wonder whether J.H. would have felt compelled to write such a passionate and interesting article if these students had protested against something else?). Although I personally wouldn’t have attended or endorsed the protest, part of me understands the frustration that these students clearly feel. Perhaps, it’s a question of expectations. When I watch a Hollywood film, I expect it to be sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and generally terrible. But when an artwork claims to be something more than typical mainstream cinema—when it is in fact widely lauded as a shining example of ‘truly innovative queer’ work—my sense of betrayal is often much deeper, much sharper, if it represents me or my community in an exploitative or historically incorrect way. Another example, to illustrate my point: when I am mis-gendered by older gay/lesbian theorists (as I have been many times), it often hurts even more than when I am mis-gendered by someone who has never been exposed to queer theory. Could it be that one’s sense of hope—rightly or wrongly—is sometimes shattered even more painfully when the person hurting you is someone who you expected should have been an ally? And could it sometimes be productive to direct our critiques not at those who are never going to agree with us anyway, but to direct them at the artworks or theories which, at one point, were considered the height of radicalism in our own community? Just something to consider…

3.) Building on my previous point, I wonder calling the protestors ‘morally bankrupt’ is going to bring about mutual understanding, or whether it will simply inflame their sense of rarely being understood or represented correctly. Clearly, we need to figure out how an angry younger generation (who often sees older forms of radical theory/art as having “gone soft” or having financially profited from the very systems they claim to critique) and an angry older generation (who often sees millennials as ungrateful, hysterical, over-reactive, and obsessed with political correctness) can find sites of agreement. I often feel frightened to study queer theory or make queer art, because I know that it puts me in the position of attempting to represent my community in ways which I will inevitably get wrong. But I try to welcome radical critiques, even if they make me feel sad or attacked in the moment, or are formulated in aggressive ways. I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to condemn angry trans protesters as ‘morally bankrupt,’ any more than I would say that Kimberly Peirce is.

4.) I agree that, in many ways, ‘Violence is the glue of contemporary representation,’ and that this violence takes on a dazzling multiplicity of forms. Perhaps, then, we can conclude that, throughout history, people have enjoyed representations of violence, cinematic or otherwise? And that violence is often far more newsworthy than non-violence? Perhaps we can also conclude that we are all to a certain extent inevitably complicit in this violence—whether we are an important queer artist, a protestor shouting expletives, or (god forbid!) a Trump supporter? I offer my opinions here not to say that either “side” of this overwhelmingly complex disagreement is unambiguously right, but more to try and point out that there never simply one clear path which leads to mutual flourishing and decency, one obvious target for us to direct our protests against… (I suppose this one isn’t really a coherent point…!)

Anyway, apologies for the length of this essay-comment, and thanks again everyone, for the stimulating article and comments.

Kris –

The was the best and most nuanced comment I have read here so far. Bravo and spot on! When I first read this I was in complete agreement, but I also thought JH’s response to a pretty well thought out response by a protestor was out of line. All this animosity back and forth is serving no one. So I hope both sides can look to your insightful comment for guidance on how to productively move forward as intersectionality aware queers.

I’d like to know how my last name showed up on my comment, since i only wrote in my first name and provided my email with the understanding that it was private (that’s what it said on the comment form). This is a violation of privacy, it creeps me out, and I want it edited immediately.

All we did was hit “approve” on the comment section. I will try to edit it out but not sure how to…

Just to share about the comments section and the sharing of names…

I’ve noticed that if you comment on a WordPress site while signed into an account (on a browser) or if you give an email address that is associated with an account for WordPress or other platforms, it will list your full name (or the one associated with the account) in the comment. I don’t think this is something that bullybloggers did. It is likely a WordPress issue.

Mel- In response to point 3, while the tactics did raise attention, it seems there is a real danger of making people afraid to critique these films at all, lest it be done in the wrong way. And while you sound vry reasonable, it is likely there are people who associate with your cause who are not interested in a discussion and want to participate in the fun of a protest. This approach may have merit for some types of black and white issues, but when it comes to things like representation in the media, or the degree to which different non-gender normative experiences are similar, such a blunt approach doesn’t seem to be useful as the critique gets drowned out by the noise of the method.

Secondly, you reference violence we all participate in. One thing that I do not agree with is that anything in this protest was violent, unless someone made some kind of threat I am not aware of. I know academia has expanded the definition of violence in some circles, but I am not clear what it means here or what the purpose is. It seems the point is to equate non-physical experiences with violence. The issue with that seems to be that the measure of harm becomes dependent on subjective unverifiable criteria, which can’t be used as a basis for predictive ethics.

It seems possible to me that the students at the protest have not read any queer/trans history? As a historian of sexuality, it’s shocking to me that undergraduates would make assertions that are so ahistorical, and utterly lacking in knowledge about even the recent past. The protestors might profitably form a study group, assemble a reading list, and learn something about the history of sexual and gender dissent, about film, about social movements and about productive and engaged protest. I think a little time thinking about their own misogyny might also be useful? “Fuck that cis bitch” is in fact a metaphorical rape threat. Lots of learning to do! College years are one good time to do it…..

You and the other people who harassed Peirce would do a lot of good for yourselves if you admitted to the egregious mistakes in judgment and action that you made and own up to it. You very clearly never intended to “engage her in a meaningful and mutually compassionate dialogue” when you covered the lecture hall in aggressive, misogynistic, and homophobic signs. In what world should a butch gender variant person be expected to engage with a group of people who greet her at the podium with a sign saying, “Fuck this cis white bitch”? And since when does compassionate dialogue mean a group of people asking loaded half-questions, half-accusations that preclude the guilt of the individual? Your implicit line of questioning positioned Peirce as an opportunistic transphobe who sold the story of Brandon Teena’s trauma and death, and you justified your position using snippets of articles and interviews taken out of context. You came to assert a viewpoint – it’s laughable to think that your tactics attest otherwise.

Your response to Halberstam’s criticism fails to address the discriminatory harassment you participated in, both in repressing the screening (which, yes, you did in fact do – ripping down posters undoubtedly denied people the ability to know about the event) and in the targeted misogynistic, homophobic, and (ironically, because your critique ignores Peirce’s own gender variance) transphobic rhetoric you deployed. You also overlook Halberstam’s article entirely – especially his discussion of the history of trans representation in cinema. Admit it: you fucked up majorly, willfully refused to engage with possibly the only prominent gender variant butch filmmaker in good faith, asserted a simplistic and ahistorical interpretation of gender and sexuality, and created a hostile and intimidating environment for anyone in that lecture hall. It also looks like you drove someone questioning their gender identity further into the closet. In a roundabout sense, you’ll probably get what you want – now Peirce will probably never come back to Reed, and plenty of other prominent and inspiring people will follow suit. Your campus will now get to enjoy the chilling effect created by your policing of gender expression.

This is absolutely correct. It is so easy to destroy and condemn, so hard to create. If these students want to accomplish something, let them go forth and make their own artworks, not be hateful little monsters who call women bitches. What is that sexist bullshit? Shame on them.


These spoiled children spouting rape threats and bigoted epithets are difficult to distinguish from the hopped-up white male trump supporters screaming at immigrants, or any typical MRA.

Surely these students are so lacking in thinking and forming a coherent analysis that they cannot manage the demands of the most rudimentary college-level course. Who is paying for the education of these persons who vividly demonstrate their contempt for the most basic level of discourse? They must have money to burn, or the college itself must have subterranean education standards as this behaviour reveals a complete inability to engage in critical thought or to consider an idea that does not immediately serve their preoccupation with themselves.

Their ridiculous and embarrassing behaviour feeds into and legitimizes the outrageous claims of right-wing pundits. Shameful.

Hi, cis white hetero woman over 50 here. Having read the article and all the comments, and having been around to see the movie in 1999 when it first came out, and knowing a little, but truly not all that much about trans issues, I have to say that as a dispassionate reader of testimony and narrative, jeri brand’s story about the situation and (their?) concerns register as true to me. I am pretty sure that what they say happened is what happened in the sense of hearing credible witness testimony. I also think that the points they and their peers made sound like the pertinent issues that need to be addressed at this point in history. It’s ridiculous that Pierce went on the defense instead of being open to actual discussion about these things. Sometimes a person just has to be open enough to being the person in the room who doesn’t know. I do remember thinking that the film was very good back in the day. Just my mustard.

I’m with jiji on this one. Jeri Brand’s response is measured and clarifying in a way that shows the thoughtlessness of many of the other commentors. There’s just nothing wrong with looking at the film in a critical light, and if the filmmaker resists that, there ought to be push back.

It’s ridiculous that the “protesters” decided to open their “dialogue” by calling the filmmaker a “cis white bitch.” How is saying “fuck you” to a person you are intending to engage in a conversation with “casting the film in a critical light?” It is fine to ask Pierce about her choices as a filmmaker and to discuss/critique whether or not she would/should have made different choices at a different time or with more information, but Jeri Brand’s assertion that this was about discussion is completely undermined by the actions of the protesters.

Also, I’m really troubled by the attempts on this thread to draw lines in the sand between butch/gender variant women/folks and transmen/masculine folks. There are a whole heck of a lot of more experiences/issues these communities share than separate them. It’s completely unproductive to act as though someone who identifies differently can’t create art that furthers the causes/ideas of a another community. Brandon Teena’s gender/sexual identity was not settled or clear-cut. Multiple accounts from folks who knew him described different configurations of identity at different times, with different people, and in different communities/contexts. The difficulty of capturing that complexity on film has to be acknowledged.

Boys Don’t Cry also HAS to be understood in its context. It is easy to suggest retroactively that this film should have been made differently. But, what Jack is showing is that it is not productive as a protest to demean/alienate/insult a queer artist simply because her incredibly important/moving film was not made according to a set of newly devised and, frankly, unfair standards. What do any of us in the queer community gain from that kind of “protest?” Kimberley Pierce is CLEARLY a trans ally. Can allies make mistakes or misunderstand something or be forced to work within constraints related to resources and practicality? Sure. Was that done in malice? Any reasonable person would say “no.” This is not the film or the person we should be directing anger at.

Having a “respectful dialogue” is what the protestors completely failed to do.

And by the way – calling someone a “bitch” is grossly misogynist. WHERE IS THE GODDAMN APOLOGY. Calling someone that – particularly someone who is gender fluid but will be “read” as a woman is utterly disgusting The “protestors” would NOT have called the director that – had the Director been a cisgender man

I notice the “protestors” politics on women’s oppression are backward as f**k. The abuse they came out with sounds like something the “Alt-Right” would say.

If I was the director I would absolutely refuse to engage with these bigoted, repugnant misogynists *as a minimum* until they had made a written, public apology for using grossly sexist terms.

Those pampered students from a high fee paying college should try directing their anger at Donald Trump instead.

Absolutely Shameful.

I think you just hit on it, Cheryk, with your comparison between these protestors and the alt-right. People like this are clearly hateful, have a fixed agenda, and see everyone who doesn’t fit with their mold as the enemy. The only difference between these unthinking bullies and the alt-right are the targets they choose. It’s a distinction without a difference.

Signs calling the speaker a “cis white bitch” is a great way to start a meaningful and mutually compassionate dialogue.

Jeri – I am gay and I was at Reed in the first half of the 90s and I just wanted to say it really is too bad Kim Pierce and the protest couldn’t have found more common ground and come together and actually discuss this.

I’ve seen trans people on twitter say that only trans people should play trans characters. The ideal would be to have trans people playing trans roles and I understand people want representation and casting! But I don’t think Brandon Teena was on hormones even. No? Did he even have the language and identity understanding you might? It would make for a really interesting discussion. I would recommend the original 1997 New Yorker article the Humboldt Murders if you haven’t read it. But to rule out the possibility an actor acting sensitively seems, to me, short sighted. Knowing that there are trans people who don’t physically or hormonally transition.

Also, I’m here because the left is going off the rails. We gotta come out of the insane navel gazing. Where something that was progressive and welcome for its time is somehow as objectionable or protest-able than Mike Pence is TOMORROW.

The thing that really bothers me is:

Ahistoricism. And the temptation to rewrite, ignore or censor history as it happened esp. to fit current values. There seems to be no appreciation for how things have changed. What are you learning at Reed? I learned it’s really interesting to take things in context. That’s good if you think this movie is dated but hi no one I knew was talking transgender anything in the 90s. I first started seeing “trans*” as twitter got going. 8 years ago. It felt like repackaging a group of people that had been almost invisible. The Brandon Teena story was a ‘bizarre tale’. People were impressed with this film.

You’re obviously free to criticize the film. I gather your friends don’t like it but I personally thought it was thoughtful and moving and rare. I just don’t get how people would look back on 1999 and choose no representation vs. something so obviously well-intentioned.

I leave you with a few questions. How many gay characters do you think were on TV in 1999? (Maybe.. a few I guess?) And how many women are directing major films in 2016?

My only comment on this issue and I’ll remain silent from here on out.

The film is not “outdated”, rather it’s reflective of the time it was made. This was never meant to reprent trans identitied and experiences today, which is what’s implied when calling something “outdated”. Screenings of the film today offer a place in which to reflect our growth, continued struggles, improvements to representation in media as access and visibility have expanded but the film alone was never meant to be the end all-be all of trans-ness in the United States.

It would do well, if those inclined to support the protesters or the protesting students themselves removed this aspect of their argument. Primarily because maintaining it leaves an observer, no matter their identity or connection, perceiving the protesters as flailing about and grasping at reasons to be angry that simply don’t exist.

And to be clear, I’m not saying don’t be angry. I’m saying, make sure your argument has a logical flow.

-sincerely, a 30 year old, liberal as fuck trans dude

“Kimberly, if she hopes to call herself a trans ally, should be doing continuous work . . . ”

Why should she or any sane person hope to call themselves that, let alone do “continuous work” for the dubious honor of the title? That is not an aspiration for anyone with a modicum of self-respect. The prize” of becoming a “trans ally” is to become a ripe target of abuse by bullies and thugs. A “trans ally” is far more likely to be mobbed, protested, glittered, stalked, assaulted, defamed and/or bullied by trans activists than a leader of a Christian Right organization or an anti-trans group.

She should brush you off, brush your obscenities and your posters and your bullying off, brush your cause off, and go out and do “continuous work” with decent people who will receive her with respect, gratitude and friendship. With these people, she can contribute her talents to causes that are truly worthy. And you can go and make your own films! (As if.)

This sounds like a way more reasonable explanation of what happened and it’s weird to me that no one here seems to be acknowledging it

How is this more reasonable? I’m not hearing him deny that he and his merry band of protesters called Peirce disgusting, misgynistic names and demanded to know whether she is trans. I know if I had to deal with vile cretins at an event that I’m hosting, I might say things I might regret later. But I have more faith in Peirce to apologize than for this creep to do the same.

i’m glad to hear your point of view and much of it is helpful…i wonder how you explain the note “cis white bitch” within the context of what you relay as a desire to dialogue and be heard…can you see how that screams the opposite?

jeri – I’m a trans activist that is still in Portland. I was here when the film was released. I support you and your fellow students for protesting the movie. I don’t support the misogyny that was used. I would be interested in dialogueing with you and your fellow students to hear more of what your experience is and to tell you what trans people at the time of the film said about it.

Please edit Jeri last name from my comment. Since he didn’t want it shown and it is not necessary to leave this message up once you’ve done so

Jeri- I’m a local trans activist. I was fresh out of college when this movie was released. I and other trans people I knew at that time were also angry, saddened and sicked by the “Boys Don’t Cry” AT THE TIME OF IT’S RELEASE. I don’t support your groups use of sexism. But i understand your anger. This movie caused pain for many in my generation too: the depiction of his sexuality and gender, the depiction of the rape scene, the depiction of the police scene still haunt me. It made us feel less safe not empowered either! Don’t let those that don’t remember how trans youth felt then tell you we weren’t sadden and mad and frighten by this movie. One of my contemporaries just told me last night that he went back into the closet because of this movie and only has started to come out again recently.

I’m tired of people dispassionately discussing this movie. I’m mad that atleast two famous trans people are amoung them… I am still in Portland if you and your fellow students want to discuss what being trans was like when this movie came out.

I would also say that the your groups use misogyny hurt our movement here, any new ways to attention away from your points that are truely valid. But I agree many of your other critiques and I’m sorry that so many of my contemporaries are ignoring the problems with this movie and only focusing on the language you chose to discuss its problems.

Another important point your critique overlooked is that a Black disabled man was edited out of this movie. I think his murder is worth discussing and it’s racist that he was removed.

My contemporaries and I can also not think of very many movies were trans masculine/afab people are presented in a way that we feel is accurate to us in our generation or yours. Hopefully you and your contemporaries can change that and perhaps you’ll let our generation help.

Please contact through word press if you would like to talk further.

Ok, but what was on the posters that were removed? Are those pictured and described representative? If so, they do not appear to me to be the opening to a constructive dialogue or made with that intent. Contrast the much less confrontational posters disability rights groups used when protesting Me Before You, a contemporary film so much less understandable in the decisions made about the depictions of disability. The harshest comment seems to be calling it a ‘disability snuff movie’, which is still far less personal and hostile than ‘fuck this cis white bitch’. Those protesters did succeed in opening dialogue. This is likely to end up framed rather differently. I’m not saying this because I want to tone police, it’s that the tone you use matters. Look at the responses you’re getting when you engage the way you just did, explaining in a measured tone what your concerns were.

Though I get the want for uplifting portrayals as well, I’m not sure I fully understand the issue with representing violence – was it not a mostly accurate portrayal (though as you say, with some issues) of a particular transman’s life? This movie was pretty much the first made of its kind, it had to be either a hopeful one or one showing the difficulties transpeople face more strongly first, it could have been either, and I’m not sure why the latter is less valid – violence against transpeople still seems, sadly, very relevant as an issue?

Just to share about the comments section and the sharing of names…

I’ve noticed that if you comment on a WordPress site while signed into an account (on a browser) or if you give an email address that is associated with an account for WordPress or other platforms, it will list your full name (or the one associated with the account) in the comment. I don’t think this is something that bullybloggers did. It is likely a WordPress issue.

You can usually tell it’s not really trans people who are behind a protest or narrative if the following are employed:
– Insisting trans actors should play trans people, instead of simply having a man, either cis or trans, play a trans man.
– Using extreme vitriol, hatred, stupidity and immaturity
– Using ‘trans’ as a stand-alone identity (it is not; it describes an alignment, or lack thereof, but it is not an identity per se; but I digress), and as a badge that signals your queer righteouness.
– Using ‘cis’ as an insult.

As for Jeri:
“As recently as this year, she has continued to exhibit a lack of understanding of the difference between butch lesbians and trans men”

You mean, the same lack of understanding of the difference between ‘transmasculine’ and transsexual men? Yes, there are entirely different identities, entirely different lives, entirely different disprivileges. As a lesbian butch woman, she isn’t even near to understanding what it is to live as a transsexual man. But at least she does not appropriate. She does not colonize. She does not erase. She does not attempt to collect sympathy by claiming a disprivilege she does not have. Whereas you do. Despite juvenile cishomo-centric attempts to shift yourselves back into the edge of the ‘fight’, the fact remains that you *are* cis. Language doesn’t belong to you alone, and words do have meanings. No, I will not validate your appropriation, even in this era of commoditised identities and labels. I will not erase myself for you, and the reality of your experience and privilege speak much louder than your discourse.

I too am a butch lesbian woman. Who happens to have been assigned boy at birth. I have transitioned (in the original, non-appropriated meaning of the word; ergo, I have done more than just ask a few of my friends to sometimes address me by feminine pronouns), a process that has taken away energy, money, sweat, and, yes, even a little bit of my blood. I have lost years of my life. I have actually suffered from dysphoria (again, in the original, unappropriated meaning of the word), battled depression, and even when transphobia from the outside world subsided because they no longer read me as someone who has transitioned, I still face transphobia in LGB circles (in which I, perhaps naively, once thought I would be safe). There is a long story of appropriation, which started with the mysoginistic, transphobic and homophobic Virginia Prince, who appropriated ‘transgender’, originally a term coined to replace ‘transsexual’. Then some LGBs appropriated the term further, and even concepts such as gender identity and gender dysphoria. Nowadays, these terms mean nothing: we have been reduced to rethoric for the benefit of pseudo-intellectual edgelords and ladies, who, as a result of their comfortable lives, have too much time to spare.

“and her choice to depict violence and abjection in trans lives”
Your borgeouis ‘tranness’ doesn’t come with the heavy-handed, even deadly, discrimination that real trans people experience. Does that perhaps saddle your conscience? Is that why you don’t want it pictured?

“but merely that its understanding of transness is outdated and that Kimberly, if she hopes to call herself a trans ally”
Did you expect her to have (non-college educated) Brandon say at some random point in the film, ‘oh, I do live as a man, and intend to transition, but please don’t forget about those trans people who are trans merely because they consider themselves to be trans, even though they look, behave and are rather unimpressively normative?’
No. The world does not revolve around you. The movie was about a trans person. Not a transtrender. You are not trans. You are transphobic. Go protest yourself.

Dialogue with visual cultural studies/aesthetics/film/art history et al. remains low? The arguments put forward here are hardly unprecedented and oddly controversial: the historical context of a film; how images make meaning; and relations between producer and consumer. Why protest-inducing stuff? However, the suggestion that Boys Don’t Cry needed to be shown “in a critical light” is somewhat provocative – who would agree how? We could talk about images, what they are and what they do…

Despite my personal belief that “jeri” and “jiji” are the same person I am just astounded at the level of ad hominem reply, non-factual engagement, and pure ‘opinion’ and ‘feeling’ that they both seem willing to replace for fact, logic, argument. The protest signs, the silly arguments about outdated movies, their embrace of violence against the director, their shade toward Jack here — who, if they actually read any queer or trans theory, is their best theoretical and political ally in a generation! — are so shockingly privileged that I just can not sustain hope in the ability of these students to honestly process reality. Their comments (which are just personal rants and not actual arguments) and their terribly misdirected protests seem so mean-spirited and devoid of intellectual engagement that my heart is breaking. As a professor of gender and queer studies at a public university (so, less susceptible to privileged students hijacking every dialogue, lokemrhese Reed students) I have never once encountered such vitriolic response to a set of strong allies or to this film. That so many of these same privileged student types were supportive of Trump now makes more and more sense — they ignore facts, substitute feelings for arguments, seek their own spotlight rather than seeking to make change, and simply are intellectually incapable of critical response. Not one reply to Jack here is useful beyond the commenter’s need to be seen and heard at any cost. If they honestly understood how their own trans acceptance and visibility is linked to this film — despite all the honestly and earnestly acknowledged issues that Jack and others have offered — they would be ashamed of their behavior. Pissing on your allies is just bad social movement practice, even if it gives you some momentary adrenaline rush and false belief that you did something. You did nothing but piss on the transfolks and allies that real social movements have given you. Despicable and anti-intellectual.

Why is it that you believe the leftist students who so viciously attacked the director for her lack of trans purity would have possibly supported Trump?

don’t you think you’re projecting? or at minimum engaged in a performative critique? i don’t see a difference in form/tone of anyone’s responses (except for the PhD student above who actually took the time to be measured/reasonable – and jeri’s original post which felt quite earnest and non-confrontational) – pretty much everyone else, you and me included, are engaged in a kind of ad hominem, feelings-based frustration and lashing out. tbh i think the internet is a great forum for precisely this kind of behavior – so am always happy to engage – but i would not engage in it and pretend i’m not; which it seems is what you’re doing. your post is an ad-hominem, feelings-based, opinion-based expression that doesn’t engage facts, “substitutes feelings for arguments” and “seeks their own spotlight rather than seeking to make change”… you’re comment is literally not “useful beyond your need to be seen and heard” – and equally “despicable and anti-intellectual” as any of the above. i support your need to be seen and heard!! i support your need to express your feelings in an uncritical and non-intellectual and at times incoherent/bizarre way (claiming that people involved in a protest at Reed College voted for Trump?!?!). nevertheless – and in the same spirit as your post — I think hypocrisy like the kind you’re engaged in is going to ruin everything!! our social movements and attempts at progress are going to be seriously hampered by the way you’re posting things!! god help us!! you should apologize and change and act differently!! what you’re doing is clearly part of a much larger problem in society!! what you’re doing is part of a clear pattern of behavior that’s problematic in an entire segment of society that extends far beyond this realm!! it’s hopeless, i tell you! it’s hopeless! this makes me so sad 😦 (jk) (as an aside, the claim that jack is their “best theoretical and political ally in a generation” is a bit crazed don’t you think? i mean how does one even measure such a thing? there’s no chance in the world jack would ever think such a thing [btw – i really like him and appreciate his intellectual contributions to the world at large very much![ — i laugh, also, because this is exactly something that donald trump would say, “i’m the best – the best ally in a generation!! they love me! i’m the best in a generation!!”)

What, exactly, is anti-intellectual about Jeri’s response? It is an explanation from a different perspective and a clarification of the students’ positions. Since the article was written from only one side, without any student protestor input, that seems necessary in order to have a well rounded view of the situation. Doesn’t intellectual discussion come from that? Jeri doesn’t call anyone names, doesn’t make conjectures about how privileged the author is or who they voted. If someone had to choose between Jeri’s response or your ad hominem attack as “anti-intellectual,” I think you would win. Your entire comment is based on the privilege of the protestors, but what you don’t know is Reed meets 100% of demonstrated financial need, which often means many of the students on this campus have financial packages that exceed $50k. Since Reed’s aid really only covers tuition and on campus room/board, this has meant that particularly disadvantaged/low SES students sometimes are homeless, or don’t have enough money to buy food, because everything they have is going into keeping them in school. Does this mean Reed doesn’t have privileged students or exist in a privileged space? Not at all. What it means is that by called Reed student privileged, you are erasing the very real economic reality of a number of its students (not to mention other identities marginalized in academic settings. I also don’t understand how you’re trying to call for protestors to have less “emotions,” when your own response is so intensely emotional. If you can’t respond dispassionately, why should anyone else?

Oh, BS Reed meets 100% of demonstrated financial need. As a child of a single working parent, Reed insisted on ‘factoring in’ the income of the other, non-involved parent and effectively ‘turned me out’. Fortunately, I had enough academic standing and Reed started early enough that I was able to start college elsewhere with a much more realistic financial aid package.

Let me restate that. I was unable to attend my first choice college, Reed, because the administration made up some dollar figure that my absent parent was supposed to contribute to my education and my work (I’d taken on two jobs after getting to Portland) plus my mother’s contribution could not cover the costs of tuition at Reed.

As for this “Incident at Reed”, kind of absurd “spit the face of potential allies” has got to stop. The world has just taken a sudden step to the far right and if we all don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.

Trans, gay, straight, whatever. If you act like an asshole and a bully, you ARE an asshole and a bully. You are not shielded or excused from being judged as an asshole and a bully simply because you identify as non-binary or whatever gender flavor “victim of the day” you say you are. The protestors are bullying assholes and need to be treated as such and not rewarded for their despicable conduct.

I think this is a valuable debate and thank you for writing this. I am gender queer and I also consider myself trans but don’t want any medical intervention and I am not so particular with pronouns as all of them work for me. I think that there is a lot of anger from the trans community towards butch women who won’t transition. We are seen as women who pretend to be trans but are actually women. Boys don’t cry was an epic film. It may have had some flaws but for the first time it really hit home. The needless violence when someone refuses to be gendered. I really can’t believe that they would use bullying masculinity of tearing posters and carrying placards to supposedly have a critical dialogue with Pierce…. just cause 15 years later some kids think that was not a good enough effort. How utterly privileged and lame!

“I think that there is a lot of anger from the trans community towards butch women who won’t transition”
I think a lot of that has to do with the part of the ‘trans community’ that insists that butch lesbians and femme gay boys are actually trans–hence the re-writing of Stonewall. And the refusal to play along with that idea sets off a hostility that is amazing.

Harold you might want to deeply reresearch stonewall. Most of the rioters did transition including but not limited to Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie who lived as male and went by he and him in his later years.

Your argueing trans people were not appart of the stone wall roit is reduculous. Where there fem men and butch lesbians? Undoubtedly… but many many people were trans and assume medically transition and some socially transition both are legitimate trans identities. I love butch women and fem men. The differences and similarities between us all are important

“I think that there is a lot of anger from the trans community towards butch women who won’t transition.”

I wonder why people who claim to be “non-binary” and generally consider themselves to be courageously nonconformist are angry about woman who socially present traits that are culturally assigned to men? This seems like a classic reversal. A female human who does not adopt the restrictive and submissive traits that our culture dictates for females, is by definition, rejecting the binary. Bullying her (by feeling anger towards her because of the way you perceive her) to alter her body and hormone profile to resemble that of a male body is enforcing the binary.

And what is that word again that describes anger towards someone who is different and/or who does not conform to one’s own personal dictates….?

Why should anyone be angry at someone else for how they live their life unless it directly affects them in a negative way? If transitioning is the right course of action for someone then so be it, but it’s not the right thing for everyone. What’s wrong with being trans, or non-binary, or butch woman? Absolutely nothing, but I think some of us forget that sometimes.

I just want to note that one of the pro-protest commenters here just compared “boys don’t cry” to “birth of a nation” (the kkk original). That comment in itself shows the extent to which sometimes anger is getting directed within, towards allies and each other rather than at our actual enemies which are numerous. This is a problem, and its a problem for social activists of all kinds who are sometimes more fearful of criticism from “friends” than enemies.

just for the record – i didn’t compare it to ‘birth of a nation’ in terms of its effect or substance – i used ‘birth of a nation’ as an example of a movie that no one would have any problem saying that although in its time it may have had political support, in our current time its politics should be viewed critically. if it’s not obvious – i think boys don’t cry is politically a MUCH MUCH better movie than birth of a nation. in fact, it’s much much better than most movies that came out in the 90’s and is also politically better than most movies that come out today (for example, i prefer it to The Revenant!). NEVERTHELESS, i think it’s totally reasonable to place it in a critical light – and have no problem with people doing that! (i also have no problem with people defending it!) jack’s original post even says as much – in the original post he’s critical of (1) suppressing the film; (2) attacking it as transphobic; (3) attacking kim pierce as someone who has profited from transphobia. so far so good — but then when someone who claims they were part of the protest explained that they were not doing those three things, but instead, were doing exactly what jack suggested was legitimate type of conversation to have (the new comment also calls into question whether jack’s portrayal of the protest itself is accurate) jack’s response was to say that they should not have put posters up, that their activism is stupid and a waste of energy, and his post devolved from there — more or less suggesting that this film should be viewed relatively uncritically and that there’s a ‘right’ way to express criticism of this particular film regardless of how upsetting you might find it…

Birth of a Nation was *not* a movie that was politically okay in its day, but now worthy of criticism. It was a racist, reactionary movie when it was made. Boys Don’t Cry, by contrast, is today what it was when it was made: a courageous and radical film. This notion that political historicism is the only possible position, that x was one thing in its day, but another thing now, is, I think, unsupportable. The politics of the 1910s had reactionary and liberatory forces, as did the politics of the 1990s. Boys Don’t Cry was and is a liberatory film. That doesn’t mean it is above criticism, but it does mean that criticism of it has to begin by acknowledging its basic liberatory power. There is no continuum between Boys Don’t Cry and Birth of a Nation. Period.

Let the record reflect yet another addition: I largely agree wit William Clare Roberts — the Birth of Nation analogy is at minimum a bit labored — and in retrospect unnecessary for the point and was serving a dual purpose of being an analogy and kind of juvenile provocation… So: I would retain it only for the second purpose (juvenile provocation)… I, too, actually think that the political role of Birth of a Nation – at its time – was very different than that of Boys Don’t Cry in its time. Birth of a Nation is probably more consistent culturally with something like Breitbart or current white nationalist/alt-right movements – meaning even in its own time it was a fantastical/bizarre white supremacist lashing out by dominant classes losing power (that’s my take at least). Boys Don’t Cry – of course – is nothing like that at all. I could quibble, of course, (and will in this parenthetical, that there are continuums on which birth of a nation and boys don’t cry do connect – continuums like ‘movies cinephiles/film studies majors watch’), but William Clare Roberts’ larger point is valid and wholeheartedly accept it! My inclusion of Birth of a Nation was in the spirit of juvenile provocation – and ultimately – I’m glad I included it because I’ll try to be more thoughtful in how I express juvenile provocation in the future! (Not by way of intellectually lame arguments like the one I made by using Birth of a Nation as an analogy!! — the lesson I take from this – to summarize is: be thoughtful on how I mix provocation (which in my case had an intended, although perhaps poorly expressed, accent of satire) and intellectual argument — provocation, satire, and intellectual argument are all valid expressions, but if I mix them in confusing or careless ways no one benefits – and its needlessly antagonizing!!) [William, if you think I should draw other lessons, let me know!]

It is the nature of identity-based movements that we each arrive and participate from a vantage point of less knowledge and experience than those who came before us. Call me a 1980s lesbian but I wish for us all the humility and wisdom to approach our history and others in the movement with curiosity and respect rather than hostility.

Having community dialogue in relation to cinematic representation has always been one of my favorite experiences — it is a cultural catalyst for us all to learn about ourselves and about each other (when I programmed The Killing of Sister George for my gay film series at the University of Minnesota in 1987 there were droves of older lesbians who walked out and demanded I give them their money back because they felt it to be such a homophobic portrayal — it hit just a bit too close to home and was a really unpleasant experience for them while I was in my early 20s and had a totally different relationship to it).

In the 20 years since his murder Brandon Teena has become solidly defined for us as a transman. But trans identity in 1994 at the time of his death and in 1999 at the time the film was made, was — quite simply — different than what it is now (which is to say far less affirmed in society at large and within the larger LGBT community, not that we don’t still have a VERY long way to go).

Boys Don’t Cry was an amazing film when it was made and remains a remarkably heroic and complex portrayal of a transman. Although the $2 million dollar budget listed on seems very large, the origins of the film were very very scrappy. Kim and her crew and the various producers made the film itself on a really small scale (Hilary Swank was quite unknown) and it was one of the most amazing LGBT film releases of the time when it got picked up by Fox Searchlight who decided to make it a bigger release by taking out full-page New York Times ads and giving it a massive push for the Oscars.

There were at the time and still are so many shitty trans movies — don’t get me started on The Danish Girl — I am hard-pressed to think of other good big screen fictional portrayals of transmen. Okay, but do go get your hands on By Hook or By Crook if you haven’t seen it.

As is true of so many other historical accounts on screen, of course the fictional version of Brandon’s story has transcended the documentary version in popularity and awareness. Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir’s, The Brandon Teena Story is not widely available but you can find it on DVD if you’re lucky enough to have a video store near you.

Lastly, I also just have to say that it has always seemed to me disingenuous to insist that the distance between butch lesbians and transmen means that butch lesbians do not have a unique connection to transmale identity (and vice versa). Yes, these are different experiences, distinct identities — and obviously we should be attentive and respectful of our differences in privilege and power and identity. But as “women” who exist in a space of visible trans-gender identity (generally passing neither completely as male nor as female) butches have a very really affinity to transmen. Having spent my life grappling on a daily basis with the gender dysphoria of my butchness (and having explored but not moved forward on the path of transition) I am not only a trans-ally but actually a trans person. Tho’ the main identity I enjoy claiming is closeted bisexual. Yes, that is both true and a joke.

It is fascinating to see how the common understanding of these words can change so swiftly. In the early ’90s as the word transgender was coming into more common use in San Francisco (as a more nuanced and less pathologized term than transsexual) I recall it as an appellation many of us embraced as broadly inclusive — the term genderqueer evolved many years later as an even more inclusive term). In recent years it seems like transgender has become more normative and firmed up as a kind of conventional and excluding category.

To conclude what has become a bit of a ramble let me also just share the link below to the trailer for the upcoming trans-guy feature, ABOUT RAY. Which mysteriously had its US release cancelled after premiering at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival but has been released widely around the world and which looks well-intentioned and uplifting and yet there is something about the conventional structure of the narrative that makes me dread it. As hard as it is to watch Boys Don’t Cry I suspect that Kim Peirce’s film has more authentic queer ethos in its production on every level.

Jack — thanks for this piece.

When I was a baby queer in college (<5 years ago) and learning about gender & sexuality for the first time, I sent an email to my old gay uncle gushing about the ways my generation was so progressive. He wrote back, "you keep talking about your generation. How do you honor your elders?" His point was not that new ways were bad but that it's essential to pay respect to those who have come before and the foundation they laid for you.

What I see here is a bunch of kids with no respect for their queer elders and th journey they walked (and marched, and crawled) to get to the world we have now.

This is such an important piece of writing thank you so much! I just cannot believe that those so called #activist completely miss the point of this film and the history! Disgusting behavior.

Talk about a circular firing squad. How can people be so incredibly stupid? To alienate potential allies in this manner, with someone like Trump coming into office and the political Right in control of both houses of congress.

If you think people like Peirce are the villains, you are so hopelessly confused that you should spend a lot more time listening and a lot less time talking.

I also love the double, triple, and quadruple standards. The same people who will pounce on any use of a pronoun other than the one they prefer are perfectly happy to call women “bitches” and the like. Rather than engage such people in discussion they should be shut down like any other person engaged in uncivil and abusive discourse.

I’m Reed’s spokesperson and I wanted to let your readers know that the Reed College Dean of the Faculty apologized to Kimberly Peirce, as did other community members who were present, for the deeply disrespectful conduct of the students at the event of which you write. The Dean said he believed what happened that night “harmed the intellectual fabric of this community … and will undoubtedly reduce intellectual traffic and exchange on this campus for the future unless we can swiftly repair the community’s confidence that our guests will be treated well.”

The entire statement can be found at the Reed College Quest:

Click to access Quest-Final-USE-THIS-120216.pdf

How is this adequate? If conservative or Trump-supporting students had coordinated the disruption of a speaking event on campus, had hurled obscenities at the speaker, forcing her to leave the room and end her presentation, there would be sanctions. Why are you not imposing sanctions on these students?

I saw nothing in that piece to indicate that the students in question had apologised or that they had been disciplined. Is this really the case? Is shouting misogynist abuse at visiting speakers really permitted at this university? It’s a poor look-out for your women students if so – not to mention that turning a blind eye like this is a dereliction of your duty to educate your students about appropriate forms of protest.
I had heard things were bad for women on American universities, I didn’t know they were this bad.

The most effective apology would be one from the student protesters, who (vague statements from the person at the protest or claiming to be aside) acted disgustingly. Either coax one out of them or punish them.

It would have been perfectly possible for some students to do a constructive critique of the film with the benefit of 17 years of hindsight.

Instead they sought to damn the film director for not totally aligning with their beliefs.

That is sectarian “throwing the massive baby out of the bathwater” fuckery at its finest.

A couple of commentators on here have blamed the director for refusing to engage with the “protestors.”

That is simply victim blaming.

A small minority of students have dealt with a film that was designed to highlight the brutal murder of a trans man by putting posters up claiming the director is “transphobic.” It was the first movie of its kind and it sought to portray Brandon Teena sympathetically.

They ought to save their placards for protesting against Milo Y or Trump.

I also do not agree with any attempt to coddle these protestors with “oh they are young. We have lost touch, blah blah, blah.” When I was 20 years old I *still* recognised counter-productive sectarian actions and sexist language. There is No excuse.

And I think that the vast majority of people on the left – of whatever age would be totally against the actions of these “protestors.”

Speaking as someone who has been both (contingent) faculty at a SLAC, and an indignant queer undergrad myself: What surprises me is not that college students need to work on their politics and protest tactics — that’s what college is for, after all — but that both the kids *and* the adults involved keep acting like kids. How can JH et al so unselfconsciously indict students’ unwillingness to engage in respectful, generous dialogue… by relentlessly dismissing, demeaning, and patronizing the students?? Arguments like, “kids these days don’t understand history!” “kids can’t interpret a representation!” and “you all should be thankful this film exists!” aren’t arguments of gender/ethnic studies faculty, they’re the arguments of internet trolls. One would think that the kind of balanced, contextually aware analysis that Jack advocates would be able to recognize both that there are grievous problems with the protest, and that, almost twenty years later, Kimberly Peirce remains woefully lacking in critical perspective on her own work.

What’s discouraging to me, as a junior academic, is to see noted scholars clutching their pearls about the incivility of a college protest, when I know that elsewhere, you guys are the biggest advocates of messy, unformulated, tactless, offensive, disruptive political experiments. If you hate political imperiousness and call-out culture so much, try modeling an alternative! These students are pursuing unpopular, bad ideas (and some good ones) with great passion — in another context, we might be really into that.

(totally not signing my name b/c I’m on the job market and paranoid, no shame!)

Thanks for this comment. I don’t think it is fair to call my account and some of the commentary that followed
demeaning and patronizing. I was asked to write in response to the Reed College event by faculty there and I
also heard about it when it happened from Kim Peirce who was very hurt and shocked at the time. This is not about
calling people out, it is about trying to understand the longer arc of queer culture, queer theory
and queer representation. There is no pearl clutching here about “incivility” – instead I am wondering about how
all the rhetoric about care, injury, feelings and trauma results in calling a noted queer filmmaker a “cis gendered
bitch”! There are some short circuits here that are worth looking at both in terms of how historical and theoretical
material is received and how we are pedagogically failing to pass on complex arguments about desire, pain, aesthetics
and protest.

Thanks for this reply! This is great context, and I totally agree that all those short circuits are worth considering. To that end I can’t help but wonder if the need to problematize injury/trauma also extends to us and Kim Peirce — a Hollywood director with a distinguished pedigree and college speaking circuit, who’s had almost two decades to figure out how to receive and respond to criticism of her work. (The same probably goes for us faculty rushing to defend her, aghast at the improprieties of our ungrateful students who refuse to agree with us and just do not realize how good they have it!) I’m struck by how many commenters dismiss the students’ articulations of injury out of hand, while affirming Peirce as self-evidently victimized by a bunch of trans kids. One wonders if KP’s (and our) feelings of shock and vulnerability point not just to the vindictiveness of the detractors, but also to how manifestly unhabituated KP is (and we are) to having her work challenged. Which is kind of one of the protestors’ points: they object to presentation of Peirce and her film as unimpeachable due to the bare facts of her identity — and not just her sexual/gender identity as butch, but also her professional one as a noted queer filmmaker.

FWIW, I also agree there are interesting opportunities for reflection on queer histories of protest — the students might actually have a thing or two to remind us about the interruptive tradition of queer radicalism, which has only sometimes prioritized respectful, constructive dialogue, and has often targeted supposed “allies” in women’s/gay politics and culture… cf ACT/UP or QN’s anarchism, Lavender Menace’s disregard for NOW, or SCUM’s platform of indiscriminate murder (I mean if the queer negative tradition can accommodate a lesbian shooting a gay artist, perhaps it might also have a place for trans students hurling invectives at a lesbian director, whether or not we actually agree with them).

That said, personally, I’d be fine with never teaching SLAC students again, for all the reasons others have cited (but just because I care about academic freedom and my mental health doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate their orneriness and enthusiasm).

I always find it striking how just like the term “vanilla” (vs. kinky), “cis” can be used pejoratively.

And, accordingly, some “trans” “nonbinary” etc. folk begin to see themselves as a superior and more enlightened class of people.

It’s funny how often, too, “I am this identity” becomes “I am an expert on those same identity issues.”

So many college age students nowadays love hierarchy and smackdowns, too, esp if they’re at elite schools (it’s a byproduct of the highstakes testing culture that got them there).

All of these same dynamics seem present in this situation.

“I’m struck by how many commenters dismiss the students’ articulations of injury out of hand, while affirming Peirce as self-evidently victimized by a bunch of trans kids.”

That could have something to do with the “fuck you cis white bitch” poster that was on the podium before Peirce even got there.

I thought you did a terrific job in this piece until you ended it with “at a time when fascists are in the highest offices in the land”. Why write a great answer (in which you logically reason with the unreasonable) and end it with hysterical hyperbole. Too bad.

I think it is wonderful to see trans activists eating their supporters, eating their own. Driven by rage and the need to control, bully and dominate, they direct all of their fury at targets who are most likely to cower and appease them. That is why the targets are never James Dobson or Tony Perkins or the American Family Association, but LGB individuals and organizations and progressives. These are the people dumb enough and gullible enough to think that trans activism is a good cause and that trans activists are good people worth fighting for. Gay filmmaker Israel Luna and Martha Plimpton and David Letterman and Katy Couric and Piers Morgan and Roseanne Barr, and the director of Paris Is Burning — they all learned a valuable lesson about the true nature trans activists. And now the poor, naive Kim Pierce, who probably thought that she would be talking to a group of decent people and would be shown some gratitude and respect – she has learned the same lesson. These people will avoid trans activism like the plague that it is, as should we all.

As for the protests in this specific instance, it is important to recognize that it has absolutely nothing to do with the complaints specified. If Pierce had cast a “transman” in the lead role, and had pledged to make no money from the film (opting, in the absence of an income, to eat soil and rocks and live on the street) and if every other concern of these protesters had been satisfied, there would only be another set of complaints to replace them. Because the goal is not to have any specific complaints addressed. The goal is to get Pierce to cower and beg forgiveness, to put the trans activists in the position of power and moral authority. Deny them what they want, and they go away.

This is very interesting! (for me at least). Obviously, we’re limited in knowing exactly what happened at Reed or who the people involved are or what their true motives are, etc… But I think the idea that in some some/many cases a complaint is not a request to actually change the thing but just a vehicle to exercise domination is provocative — it means that when one makes any kind of cultural/public work, no matter what it does, there will likely be some individuals, or groups, that will try to dominate that person through ‘critique/activism’. If Boys Don’t Cry -had- been made in a way consistent with the protesting groups desires/beliefs would they or another group used the movie to express domination through ‘critique/activism’ of other parts of the movie? Quite possibly! The reason I don’t have a huge problem with this kind of protest is because I don’t see any real harm coming from it. I think ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is really a beloved movie by a lot of people – many people value it, etc. – and this particular protest is not going to dislodge its place in people’s hearts/histories/etc. (and, in fact, it seems like it makes its place stronger based on people’s defense of it). Further: a group of students who are upset also got to express themselves. It’s not clear what was said/screamed/etc. at the event — none of us were there, and even if some of us were this isn’t the kind of forum that could produce what would be called ‘reliable evidence’ — but the event itself obviously caused Kim Peirce to become very upset — and other students who were there to see the movie were upset – as was various Reed faculty, etc. In total then: a group of students who were triggered/upset expressed themselves, and triggered a bunch of other people in the process (Which may have been their intent, or not). The bottom line is: lots of people are upset and lots of people got to express their anger, beliefs, etc.. In the process: certain issues about activism/generations/historical context of movies/tone of discussion got to be hashed out a little bit, or at least different viewpoints got to be expressed. SO: the initial protest, by my metrics, seems like a great success. Further: I think that Jack’s response is actually very consistent with the protesters own tactics. Much like the protesters channelled their ‘upsettness’ into a kind of public performance of their feelings, rather than a ‘civilized’ ‘dialogue’ with the object of their scorn (Kimberly Peirce) — Jack channelled Jack’s upsettness into a kind of public performance of feelings (through this post; rather than through a private dialogue with the protesters themselves). Why did they both choose this approach? Because the object in question (in the protesters case: boys don’t cry; in Jack’s case this particular protest) is not their actual object of interest. The protesters, I’m guessing, are not just protesting Boys Don’t Cry – they’re protesting a kind of marginalization of their beliefs/experiences – and a kind of romanticization/glamourization of beliefs/representations they think are hurtful – the movie screening is the straw that broke the camel’s back or just a good opportunity to present the larger point… Similarly: Jack isn’t protesting the protesters per se, he’s protesting a possible wave of young people using tactics that are possibly counter-productive, etc. That’s why it was important for Jack to make the post public. It’s not just about Reed College – it’s about certain types of tactics used by certain types of young people everywhere (at least for Jack – and obviously lots of other people as lots of people are thankful that he posted this). So – all that in mind – there’s a way that I think Jack’s response actually validates the tactics the protesters used – and confirms that they were pretty good/effective/and probably even correct. One, because both Jack and the Protesters are using very similar tactics. And second, in neither case, are they stopping one another from expressing equally effective and productive counter-protests. All that said: your initial comment suggests that whenever one makes a cultural work – they risk being attacked in a way that doesn’t engage them. They risk being subjected to playing a role in a larger kind of drama (where Kimberly Peirce – for the protest to work – has to be ‘oppressed’ somehow). That a person that feels marginalized – as part of protest – may be inclined to have to marginalize theo there. (In a similar way, I think Jack is trying to marginalize/exercise power/authority/domination over the protesters). This is a very provocative dynamic if it’s true! And I think worthy of much deeper exploration! Bc exercising power in this way can obviously be productive – many people in this thread are trying to marginalize/oppress/access whatever privilege they can to dominate/marginalize others — but the results aren’t unequivocally bad. Maybe – because like Sarah Schulman suggests in her new book: what we have here is CONFLICT, but not ABUSE. I genuinely don’t think the protesters ABUSED kimberly pierce – despite the fact that she felt bad afterwards. I think there was a conflict – and I think that conflict may be productive…

so calling a woman misogynistic slurs (“cis” and “bitch”) in order to shut her up isn’t abusive? I find it hard to picture you making the same claim if, say, this had been a black director who the students called a “N—–.”

I sincerely hope that you don’t pin this behavior on just trans activists, or as being more prevalent among them. The sad thing about today’s leftist activism on all fronts is that it shows no qualms about being absolute creeps to people who are closer to them ideologically. Among the loudest activists, the overriding instruction to outsiders is “shut up and listen,” and allies are treated like burdens rather than important to the cause. And you’ll find lots of this in leftist protests of all stripes, especially if they are centered on an aspect of identity (color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc.).

Solidarity is important. Divisiveness must be discouraged, at Reed and elsewhere.

This all reminds me a wonderful quote I have been working with from the then imprisoned butch political prisoner, Rita B. Brown in 1980.

“Somewhere along the roads to getting our consciousness raised we got angry at the discovery of our personal oppression. That anger sometimes distorts our view of the world. It makes us narrower instead of broader cuz it is so big and ugly. It clouds our brains and fogs our vision so that all we can see is “what they are doing to me.” Even when we find theory that teaches us the importance/necessity of thinking in the broadest terms, we still react in narrow defensive ways. This is all [a] product of cultural brainwashing. We are all products of our “me first” environment…We often let our righteous anger produce the behavior of spoiled brats. We forget that everything we feel, even our anger, is suspect. Not that it is bad to feel anger, but do we deal with it? i mean, look whose institutions taught it all to us, right?

Somewhere along the roads to getting our consciousness raised we learned a new language with all sorts of “isms” & cleaver intellectual phraseology. Now we get even more arrogant cuz we know the lingo & know we have really learned something. We believe we are the only korrect ones & damn anyone else who don’t agree with us. Some of us go so far as to order the korrect clothes to wear, the korrect people to sleep with, the korrect children to raise etc etc etc ad infinite nasium…We create even more OTHERS to scorn & hate instead of dealing with “the man.” Which is not to say we shouldn’t get our own house in order. But we should realize that our misdirected energy is extremely dangerous, especially to us…perfection is not a human characteristic. Only robots have predictable behavior. So let’s get a strong hold on our patience, mix it thoroughly with determination, forget the useless strive for perfection, & let’s continue our work building ourselves and our alliances. It sure won’t be essay to build better ways & days…but we can do it!!”

This is trans activism gone bad. In Germany we also have trouble with some groups of academic-rooted queer activism. They are generous with their assaults of transphobia onto artists and other activists of the LGBT-Community, but their assaults are very often more expression of multiple hurted feeling than having relevance. Often they are acting like assholes and bullies and also with mysogynic slurs. And like Halberstam here, lots of people calmly try to explain, why their behaviour isn’t appropriate. But they can’t deal with other opinions or with deescalation. Like the protestors in Reed our problematic groups in Germany are also showing a concerning lack of theoretical and historic knowledge and they are unable to reflect it.

I am also an activist with academic background and I try to understand, what happens now, because it’s dangerous. Those bullies are destroying the chance for sustainable political activism and they don’t care about that. And I try to understand at which point political activism turns into a useless complaining only about personal hurted feelings with direct demands into action based on those very individual feelings.In the past there were more transformations of those individual feelings and experiences of social marginalization into sharp social theories and analysis. Where did it take the wrong direction and ended up in this silly call-out culture with authoritarian practices of trigger warnings and so on?

Could anyone of the US-Folks explain that? I ask you, because in Germany they say, that most of the political trends or discussion were in the US communities 5-10 years earlier.

I am thankful for any replies.

Best regards,
a transman from northern Germany.

Perhaps it is because we simply do not want to recognize the urgent necessity of personal feelings in conversations. Whether we consider these feelings relevant or not, people work with these feelings and make them their drive and knowledge. We can say that this does not matter, we can say that there have been more productive clashes in the past – but we do not seem to build a bridge to those who do not work with the principles we might have known so far. Perhaps they are not looking for arguments, conversations and community in the broad sense. I have no answers to the situations related to Germany. I can only say that faith, knowledge and thinking are very different processes. How is it possible to communicate with someone who does not want knowledge but faith? I do not know whether that makes sense, but I think – that academic examination about trans*, transgender, transsexuality, drag is not the root for activism that we need? But probably something else …?

This is a comment I left on the lovely blog (note the sarcasm there) “Gender Trender” – What I know of Brandon Teena, comes from the film “Boys don’t cry”. I don’t know the actual facts of the case any more than the people commenting here on it do, but at least I’m honest enough to admit that.

Now, I went to see the film when it came out. It wasn’t a mainstream film by any stretch, and had to go way out of town to a more “art house” cinema to see it. It’s not an easy film to watch, I’d put it in the same or similar category as “Schindlers list” or “The Pianist” for ease of watching. Part of “The Pianist” I’ll never forget is when the old man in the wheelchair can’t get up at the dinner table when the nazi’s demand it and is thrown out the 3rd /4th floor window to his as if it’s no big deal. These things are not what any of us want to see, but they are things I think we should see, and should be shown. My point about the art house cinema, I don’t think a film of this kind (independent studio) will make a great return on it’s investment, but look at the cast of virtual unknowns at the time, which should give you some indication of budgets. Someone like Tom Hanks can pick and choose his movies now as he doesn’t need to make the money anymore, so can simply do it for the love of it. The actors in this kind of film, are doing it for money and / or to get into the movie business, so at both ends of this spectrum, I believe you can get more honest depictions of true life or based on true life stories. Attacking the film director now over a 17 year old film? Get some context please. A film like “Tootsie” wouldn’t be made today (although a TV company did try a TV series in a similar vain which I think last 2 episodes), but is fine to watch when you remember it’s now 36 years old, yet we won’t call Dustin Hoffman all the worst names under the sun because he was involved in a film that may have used trans as a joke, that’s those who have more than 2 brain cells rubbing about in the heads at least.

Old(er) people in this conversation, please… calling young(er) people ignorant and asking them to go read this and that is the most (and worst) patronizing answer. I have read in same blog great articles critiquing trigger warnings, and students looking for easy ways of avoiding pain. Protesters were doing just the opposite: giving pain a political voice. Sure, they have a lot to learn from history -but history is not only the past. History is in the making. They have more to know about being young and trans in the ’90s, and it seems that you have more to know about being young and trans right now. Besitos.

Mauro – this is not just about older people trashing younger people, it is first and foremost about miscommunications about transgender
representation and history. The whole event does not need to be adjudicated by more reasonable voices. We just all need to remember the longer arcs of transgender politics and representation and focus upon the most urgent threats to our future in this moment of impending fascism. I honestly wanted to have a conversation about what happened at Reed but none of the people critical of my original post have taken up a single argument in it.

How can the film both occupy the space of ‘first film with a credible trans arc’ and ‘film that questions whether brandon’s identity is male?’ Don’t you think it is fucked up that the first ‘trans’ movie not only questions whether an individual’s trans identity is legitimate but whether trans identity itself is merely a theatrical performance?

You claim the film was trying to be “accurate” though you un-systematically disregard its inaccuracies. Obviously a dramatic film’s goal isn’t to be accurate.. it’s to tell an emotional story to a mass audience. I don’t fault Peirce or any director for that. If I wanted to know what actually happened I’d read a couple books, some news articles and watch a documentary. Why claim that Peirce—who took so many creative liberties—was constrained by accuracy?

also, dont try to play me: there is big difference between including a scene and *how* you include it, specially in the context of the tons of other artistic choices you make as a filmmaker (lighting, editing, lead roles…)—you don’t have to go to USC to figure that out.

I don’t know if it is worse for Swank’s lead role to be the artifact of a desire for “accuracy” under limitations or an artistic choice. Either option seems to point to the notion that ‘the gender of the actor doesn’t matter but their body does’ —certainly that is what your argument number 2 indicates.

Presumably because you/peirce believe their body is more “accurate” to the story than their gender? ‘Swank was the best female-body available’. Afterall, ‘gender can be easily performed but bodies can’t, especially in a graphic rape scene.’ Is that the line of thought here? Am I missing something?

The problem isn’t that the film depicts violence. The problem is whether the choice to present brandon’s gender as ambiguous, the choice to have a cis-female actor play his role, and the choice to frame a story based on somebody who historically had an ambiguous gender identity as “the first trans story” that every trans person “should be grateful for”—ALL under the name of “accuracy”—perpetuates idea that trans identity, as some sort of theatrical performance, can be violently stripped away.

And for peirce to get her trans friend to blog about it on “bully bloggers” as if a group of college students armed with construction paper, sharpies and the word “bitch” (gasp!) can single handedly bully a critically acclaimed film into the shadows of transphobic film history is almost as sad as thinking that disagreeing with you a waste of energy somehow tantamount to perpetuating fascism. But then again this blog post was never about ‘boys don’t cry’ it was about shaming college-aged trans people who fucked with a celebrity’s ego because in 2016 that apparently is moral bankruptcy. as if the same people who advocate for trans rights aren’t the same people who advocate for women’s rights, and for black lives while protest against white supremacy, gentrification, donald trump and the other fucked up shit USC stands for.

Guess what, at reed college people don’t care if you made a movie in the 90s. you don’t deserve respect for that. you don’t deserve respect for mastering the art of patronizing the pissed off youth one wordpress comment at time either. And you all certainly don’t deserve respect for believing college-aged students deserve being disciplined for protesting a film… based on a one-sided blog post no less. you deserve respect for having honorable fucking ideas, for being able to slice through disciplinary political bullshit, and for being able to stand up and be accountable to people who don’t have mass audiences or multi-million dollar film budgets.

ps thanks for writing something that leftist-hating libertarians and race/gender blind socialists love! glad you’ve been thinking about the 2020 electorate

I think I am at a loss about these protests, but for a different reason. I guess I fall into the age gap of millennial, but I find myself irritated when called that. I am in my late 20s. I am a trans male. I grew up in a conservative suburb, outside of a large city. I remember watching this film, late at night on cable when everyone was asleep. I had set my alarm to watch it secretly. I was a young teenager. Curious, hiding, and terrified. I saw the film and cried and cried, and watched each scene. I remembered thinking to myself, I am Brandon. I saw the sex scene, It was what I would fanticize about. I saw the rape scene… it was a foreshadowing of what was to come later in my life. This movie to me, was part of its time, was part of my youth, and left a crack in my heart when I watched it as a teenager. It’s sad to me that these students can’t understand things in their own context. I get the criticisms. But calling the woman who made the movie a cis bitch? What ? This movie was so personal for me. I speak so emotionally because there are already plenty of intellectual responses here. Film is also about emotion, narration, and humanity. If I had been at Reed College, I would say thank you Kimberley. Boys Don’t Cry was my movie as a teenager.

This story is sad for me as a Gay Activist. I can not speak as anything other than an LGBT Activist that is a Cisgender Gay Man. I personally dislike the term cisgender, it separates me in a manner in which I do not truly identify myself. It bothers me because it is often used like a slur by many Trans Activist or a way to downgrades my thoughts and feelings.

As an activist I have noticed a distinct disconnect and a growing chasm in our community that saddens me. It is one that is growing bigger and bigger everyday. Many of the LGB people in my group do not feel comfortable working with our Trans members. Many feel that there is a growing Homophobia or Misogyny in our group. As it stands today many of the lesbians do not wish to continue the discussion with the Trans women because they feel that they are attacked. many of the Gay men see the Transwomen as being Homophobic. There is a general feeling that we must walk on egg shells around our Trans members. There has been discussions in the community to drop the “T” because of moments like this. It is like a feeling of being attacked by both sides. The biggest problem with this is on both sides… because we never talk about it. It is just not discussed. As much as we LGB needs to be more educated on being Trans, there is also a need to have members of the Trans Community understand the LGB. One fact in particular mis-identifying Gay men and lesbians. Many Gay men who are androgynous or effeminate do NOT identify as Trans and many masculine “butch” women do not identify as Trans… yet they are being told they are trans in the gender spectrum. It is being decided by people outside of themselves. Just as no one should question the gender identity of someone that identifies as Trans, the Trans Community should not dictate that other people are Trans that never identified as trans. It is a two way street. I am seeing a great amount of lesbians that are angered by this in particular.

There is a huge problem in discussing these issues because, there are groups dictating on BOTH sides how the other side how to think and feel. It saddens me because I see what is coming with the Trump/Pense administration, I am seeing things happen that I have not seen in 35 years. Hate is feeling empowered and we should stop empowering it in our own community. I am seeing a lot of Hate floating around and it scares me.

I understand your concerns and just want to shortly reply with this: as a trans guy, I respect and love my LGBT brothers and sisters. I would never tell my butch lesbian friends they are trans, I would never dream of calling any woman a cis bitch or behaving in the manner of one of these protesters… and all the trans people I associate with agree. As someone in my late 20s, it is astonishing to see what is going on now in the universities. To then be lumped in as a trans person, and as a young person with this kind of behavior is unnerving, so I want to say here and now that I and tons of other trans people stand against it and wince each time we see these stories online…and let me tell you if I had been in that auditorium I would have had something to say to whomever called out such ugly names… bugh. They should be sanctioned by the university for such gross misconduct. This kind of news and behavior only makes going out into the world and getting a job and being treated equally even harder for a trans person. This is not who I am, who my friends are. We don’t behave like this. So please let me tell you, if I was to ever meet you one day, I would great you with open arms, love, and joy. Take care and thanks for being such a long time activist for queer rights. Please do not give up on the trans community because of this misrepresentation. xx

Cis comes from chemistry as does trans. Cis means to stay the same, whereas trans means to change, they are equal in their meanings. Trans people didn’t choose to be called trans we were named that by cis people. The coining of cis is the first time in history an oppressed group has came up with an equal balance name for the group that named to them. Cis is used no more angerly than trans is in most conversations I see.

I am like the trans person above me will not separate myself out from the protesters. I understand thier anger at this movie. I don’t appreciate their use of misogyny. But I was angry and sad when I first saw this movie back in 1999 and I appreciate somebody voicing that anger even if it had to come 20 years later. My understanding from reading all these comments is that some of the trans people did try and reason and have a good conversation. The use of sexism definitely did slow down and twart that conversation. Which is sad!

Thank you.My best friend is a Trans Man.
My friend who is also in his 50’s we did not know anything about the existence of Trans Men in 1998 when this film was made. There is a history of Transmen such as soldiers who fought in the Civil War, World War I and World War II. They lived as men and even married and collected benefits as men. I mention these soldiers because when it comes to the history of early Transmen this is were the records are. When a Transman lived as a man it was always some sort of secret, that was never discovered until after death or when they needed medical care from an accident.
These men were always referred to as Male Identified Women, Masculine Women, A Woman who was living as a man or the vulgar Butch Dyke. It was mostly said that these men were women. When this film was made there was still ZERO visibility, of Trans Men, When Buck Angel Transitioned (From the Trans List.) there was no hormone protocol for Trans Men, Members of the Medical Field only recognized “Transsexual Women” Trans Women. The first Trans Man I had ever known, I did not realize he was a Trans Man, in his case he had his top surgery not to transition, but because he had a double mastectomy due to Breast Cancer. Imagine if you will as a modern Transgender person someone that was elated and joyous after having Breast Cancer because for the first time he felt his body had changed into who he was really… and never have a word for it or language for it.
I can tell you as someone who’s best friend learned about Trans Men in the 2000’s because he “borrowed” one of my gay porn films. My best friend had lived as a lesbian. He was angry (could not tell you why.), He was frustrated (could not tell you why.), He attempted suicide and engaged in self destructive behavior and still had no words. So he watched this porn and saw Buck Angel, a light shown, he did not realize what he was seeing but that is what started his journey. Today in 2016 he is one of the most happy and joyous gay men I know. He has his identity. I point this out because in 1998 Trans Men and Lesbians were raped it was important to show that and the death of Brandon Tina was important that it was so graphic. It could not show the reality of life back then if it was sugar coated. It depicts the life of meany Trans Men of that time, it is an accurate history of what a Trans Mans life was. It does not recognize Brandon Tina because LGBT community did not and for that matter neither did the Trans Community recognize TransMen. Young Men like Brandon Tina did not have the words other than “I am a boy.” their was no vocabulary. He lived in a rural community, there was no internet back then for most people, there were no real resources. So when we criticize things like not hiring a Trans Man Actor, there was a huge amount of Transmale actors to draw from. Hillary Swank added name recognition. It was a break through movie at it’s time and I would say to Trans Youth who protested this film. It was a accurate depiction of the lives of many Trans Men at that time that did not have the same Lexicon many of you enjoy today. It is a part of your history… a History that should be recognized.

Erik I WAS an out trans guy in 1999 and I know what life was like for us cause i lived it! I have every right to say you could have hired trans actors back then because I was a trans actor back then and know that there was many others they would have jumped at the role. Let’s face it we didn’t have a name for ourselves so we couldn’t get the role. We didn’t have a name for ourselves because we couldn’t get roles in smaller movies. It was an endless Circle that no one to stand up to that have the power to make big movies. It’s still true today.

Rape scenes can be portrayed in many ways this rape scene glorified rape and made it sexual. Rape is not sexy it’s violence. Graphic choices chosen in this movie that were made the way they were for entertainment value not to help the trans community.

There were very interesting trans people that were alive and well in the 1990s doing very interesting things that could have been filmed.

And to those that are mentioning that Brandon Teena wasn’t clearly male he hid it from his girlfriend. Lesbians were not hiding their gender from their girlfriends. So to perform him as a lesbian is very bizarre to say the least.

i’m agreeing with some of what ‘just a thought’ wrote. There is some kind of privilege being protected with this bullybloggers post. A friend sympathizing with another over a rough time at a college lecture. The college lecture circuit is a business for the author of this blog and Kim (and many other intellectuals and semi-celebrities). How long can you continue to go around peddling a movie you made more than 15 years ago? At some point it is all going to go sour. And it sounds like it is now. The real world is rough and ugly for most regular folks. And It does make me sad that Kim stepped outside of her protected hollywood/los angeles bubble and got blindsided and hurt by this protest. I believe she did a great thing in making boys don’t cry and deserves all of the kudos (and more) that she got 15 yrs ago. She is living a charmed life because of that movie, and it is her right to ride that wave as far and long as she can. But Stop Loss, Carrie and some TV show episodes aren’t really going to keep your queer filmmaker credibility alive and give you the protection you thought you had going into Reed College.

and fyi…. although I wasn’t at the protests. they seem to me to be over the top and mean spirited and a waste of time and energy in a world where we have so many more pressing problems.

I wanted to put this here to give people a different way of thinking about organizing.

Craig Willse on Dean Spade’s Kessler Award: “Our next lesson: Everyone is a potential ally, and you never stop recruiting. Dean can address a room full of prosecuting attorneys and will start with something like, “Because we all oppose the settler colonial state and are committed to ending capitalism, we know prison abolition is the only way forward.” And the prosecuting attorneys will find themselves, having been hailed by Dean, nodding along. Dean presumes the best in people and has shown all of us what can be accomplished when you do political work as a way to invite people in. And Dean does that inviting with the passion of a convert, whether he is trying to convince someone to help stop construction of a youth jail in Seattle or to read a cookbook about ancient grains that Dean swears will change your life. And you know, the thing is, that cookbook probably will change your life.

That passion is important, because it is a source of joy, and we need that joy to sustain us, because Dean has also taught us never to be satisfied, because nothing short of our complete liberation is enough.”

This film really does deserve to be picked apart. The sexism of the protesters is gross. I do agree that the movie was seriously problematic. Portrayed trans men as a type of lesbian. It glorified rape and murder. Also the fact that two people were killed alongside Brandon Teena, including a Black disabled man, is missing from the critique and the movie. The other two people killed were :
Phillip Devine
Lisa Lambert
Please do not be mistaken trans people were mad about this film even when it was first released and I was there and I can testify to that… please don’t tell me to put it in historical context because I remember the historical context well and we were angry then.

There are many trans actors that would have been and still are eager to trans roles. Most companies do a very poor job of trying to reach out to actual trans actors. When people complain about how bad the acting is by the trans people that are scraped up without much effort. Also trans people are not cast even at a college level often which makes it hard for many trans people to get much training. But there are highly trained actors that should be sought out and could have been in 1999! We need to stop apologizing for people that don’t cast trans people. “Casting the best possible actor available” has been used as a cop out for many years in similar racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist situations.

We need to stop apologizing for people that betray us as either murders or the murdered! Putting up constantly at the center of violence does not help us become more safe! Glorifying our rape and murder does not stop it!

Trans people have admitted to me that this movie stop them from coming out until many years later. This movie did harm to trans people then and now! It made us feel less safe not more so!

I wish more trans people protested this movie when I was younger. I don’t think sexism should be used as a part of such protests but we should have spoken up against this portrayal of us. I remember that even older people telling us that we shouldn’t be angry that we should be grateful for the crumbs we were thrown. I don’t think it’s appropriate to tell people not to critique flawed material… to accept it as it is. And I think it’s good for younger generations to pick apart movies that the older generation did not

One commenter asked, “How can the film both occupy the space of ‘first film with a credible trans arc’ and ‘film that questions whether brandon’s identity is male?’ Don’t you think it is fucked up that the first ‘trans’ movie not only questions whether an individual’s trans identity is legitimate but whether trans identity itself is merely a theatrical performance?”

The nut of the problem is all right there: trans activists are allergic to any idea of history, and any idea that there might be an ongoing historical process of thoughtful analysis—where we question WHAT trans identity actually is and WHY it deserves special status, if it does—needed for most folks to feel comfortable swallowing these new Orewellian rules that “female penises” exist, people are “born in the wrong bodies,” and that “gender identity feelings determine reality, screw physical facts & biology.” No, we’re not supposed to question now, nor to have questioned in the past. Never question them, is what they’d like.

Furthermore, trans activists can’t stomach that having “gender issues” or even “being trans” didn’t always (throughout all of history) mean that you hewed to the current regime of Correct Thoughts and Language according to the Trans Activist Melieux of 2016. So, yeah, there are and were trans or gender non-conforming people in history whose identities were “in question” rather than militantly male (if the person was born female). Brandon Teena was one of them. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The trans activist culture of 2016 hates the fact that history doesn’t reflect to them what they want to see so much that it loves re-writing history and “transing” people throughout history who certainly WEREN’T trans.

By inventing this binary of cis and trans, they’ve posited that everyone is either 100% a-okay with the sex role stereotypes associated with their birth sex, or 100% Queer-brand Trans. Not so, and it’s laughable that anyone could miss this. Lesbians, feminists, and all manner of other interesting humans on the planet are NOT 100% okay with sex role stereotypes, and yet most certainly do not desire to be another sex, to alter their bodies to mimic another sex, nor do they even feel that they possess an inner feeling that could be called “gender identity.” Sorry, that’s just how it is. It’s a reality most trans activists can’t face. Of course it really starts to feel like there are a LOT of realities this subculture really can’t quite seem to accept.

So, if ONLY trans actors can play trans characters, wouldn’t that mean trans actors can ONLY play trans characters? See, that works both ways, and by making such demands, we are limiting ourselves. Why are trans ppl creating a situation where it’s harder for trans actors to find work? – coz if they can’t play cis roles, that’s REALLY going to limit their opportunities. Trans ppl are all too ready to play victim. It’s like it’s a contest to see who can be the most oppressed, and it’s a game to see how many things you can be offended by. Most white trans women have spent most of their lives living as one of the most privileged people on the planet, and personally, i find this desire to find as many ways to play victim, to find as many ways to complain about oppression, to find as many ways possible to protest how we’re treated, to be tiresome and disgusting. Yes, we face prejudice, but it’s not a game to see if we can name all the prejudice we face, you don’t get points for finding things that have so little to do with your personal life as to have an absolutely negligible effect on your daily living. THAT’S what true prejudice is, when you are actually impacted by it’s effect in your daily life, and the truth is that most cis ppl who see “Boys Don’t Cry” come out with better trans awareness, not a desire to be more violent toward us. Esoteric concerns aren’t helping our cause, especially when their are trans ppl who can’t go to the bathroom in public in some states – now, *that’s* prejudice you can protest without looking like a whiney, used-to-be-super-privileged person, playing their victimhood to the hilt.

I don’t know ONE MOVIE where trans people play our selves in a major role. This movie was never made for trans people. It was made to entertain the mainstream and because it would make a thrilling story. It was never about trans empowerment or helping the trans community cope with our loss and fear or it would have been done very differently. Most i know did not feel supported by it when we saw it in theaters. We felt exstreme fear and loss and betrayal

It’s worse than that. Ultimately, this kind of logic leads to the conclusion that the only person an actor can portray is themselves. At the time this film was made there was no one promoting the idea that only a trans person should portray a trans person, and no actor or director can look ten, or twenty, or fifty years into the future to know what characteristics it might be deemed offensive for an actor to take on if the actor personally does not have that characteristic in real life. So, to be on the safe side, you should only take the role of a person who shares every single characteristic with you…and that would be you.

The whole point of acting is being someone you are not. To condemn people for doing this, or for selecting actors to do this, when they had no reason to believe that it would someday be offensive to certain people seems absurd to me. It also seems ridiculous that in order to play certain roles you might need to “out” yourself in a way that you are not ready to. Do we really want a set of screening questions about peoples’ personal lives to decide who is “qualified” to play what role?

I agree with you in part, but if the role of a black character was played by a white actor who “blacked up”, then this would be the same argument, but argued a lot differently.

Also, in the comments, GallusMag (blog owner) actually calls Brandon Teena a “lesbian predator” and insinuates his actions were a “crime”. That’s what they made of your good post.

Boys Don’t Cry is a brilliant film. I didn’t know anyone transgender when I saw it but I had a lot of friends in the queer community and they all thought it was a powerful film that helped opened people’s eyes to transgender discrimination. In the late 90s, being transgender was not as openly discussed as it is today. Hillary Swank was great in it and Kimberly Pierce is a fantastic director.

The comparisons to Birth of a Nation, which openly has the KKK has the heroes, is just ridiculous.

If you stunt know trans people who saw it, maybe you could listen to the diverse opinions of trans people here that did?

As a filmmaker and just general observer of culture, I definitely see an alarming trend amongst certain younger activists to be bereft of any sort of artistic irony. For them, representation of any egregious act is implicit approval. While artists have to be strident in their sensitivity to portrayals of violence- intention isn’t always supported by technique and execution- an a priori judgement based on myopic ideology is its own form of fascism that is far more about the intolerance of the observer towards uncomfortable truths than the work itself.

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