Gus Kenworthy
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Reflecting on Queer Cinema's Golden Age: The Gay '90s

Boys Don't Cry (directed by Kimberly Peirce, 1999)

I remember distinctly when my sister started pulling back from me in high school. We never hung out anymore, she didn’t tease me for overeating, and she stayed in her room like the old man from Up. My mother and I chalked it up teenage moodiness; after all, Twilight was pretty popular and "quiet loner" was in. But one day out of the blue my sister asked me if I had seen Boys Don’t Cry, in such a chippy and random manner that it took me a minute to respond. There was a lot I wanted to say, like “Hello, where have you been the last few months?” but I didn’t. Instead I just stared at my sister and for a cool 30 minutes as she asked questions and answered them herself and rambled on about how amazing Boys Don’t Cry was. My sister doesn’t like dramatic films or art-house indies, so everything about the situation was odd. Being a stubborn teenager at the time, I was hurt by her disconnecting, so I said very few words in response. Later that year my sister would come out of the closet. She wasn’t disconnecting; thanks to Boys Don’t Cry, something finally clicked.

Boys Don’t Cry is “a romantic tragedy — a Romeo and Juliet set in a Nebraska trailer park,” according to Roger Ebert. The film is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man. Despite the sensationalized media coverage about Teena, Hilary Swank’s unparalleled performance succeeded in familiarizing Brandon rather than mythologizing. Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment of many is how it succeeded in keeping Brandon human. The film played a crucial role in shedding light on the life-and-death challenges that transgender, genderqueer, nonbinary and nonconforming LGBTQ+ people face when they live authentically. It also shed glaring light on hotbeds of hatred, ignorance, and inherited inclinations of violence inflicted on boys who cry, and anyone like them. The fact that the film won a truckload of awards, including a Golden Globe and Best Actress Oscar for then-unknown Hilary Swank, makes me wish that’s how genderqueer people were valued in real life. —Allison Tate

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Tags: film, Media

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