How the Film Boys Don’t Cry 1999 Pushes the Boundaries Regarding Gender

How the Film Boys Don’t Cry 1999 Pushes the Boundaries Regarding Gender



Written and directed by Kimberly Peirce, the movie Boys Don’t Cry 1999 is grounded on a true story revolving around the life of Brandon Teena who was transgender living in Nebraska. Brandon lived as a male until he was murdered in December 1993 after his biological sexual identity was discovered (Pierce, 1999). Brandon identified herself as intersexual and male and she engaged in a relationship with a young woman who discovered that Brandon had the biological feature of a man. Her male counterparts raped, beat, and eventually murdered her. Through Brandon and other characters, several issues of gender are and gender relationships are revealed in the film including gender, identity, gender expectations and stereotypes, and heteronormativity.

Gender Steriotypes

Issues surrounding gender and gender stereotypes seem to be recurrent throughout the movie Boys Don’t Cry 1999. Living in a town with vast gender stereotypes and gender-based expectations, Brandon contradicts these stereotypes and expectations. At the beginning of the film, Teena cuts her hair short, a stereotype that symbolizes maleness. She also starts smoking cigarettes and drinking beers at the bar, a character that is mostly displayed by men (Pierce, 1999). Besides she engages in fights at the bar to show people that she is tough and manly since the male gender is often associated with violence. In the film, Brandon is in search of identity and she wants to be identified as a man. Her search for identity is connected with her need for sexual fulfillment portrayed by most adolescents. She is trying to find an opportunity to engage in sexual relations with a woman. He believes that women are easy to pursue. Brandon portrays a significant identity problem associated with inferiority feelings that emanate from being a woman in society. Even though the film fails to reveal the childhood life of Brandon Teena, it does a good job to depict her as an individual whose self-identified gender conflicts with gender-based expectations.

Gender Expectations

Living as a man, Brandon is expected to fulfill the male gender expectations in society. He is not provided with an option of living a well-adjusted life in which he can say that he is a man trapped in a woman’s body. Contrary to Brandon’s gender norms, he is treated like a lesbian. This is an interesting sociological concept since society defines the expectations of gender far more than genitalia. Society chooses to define gender based on femaleness and maleness (Callahan & Hébert, 2021). Intersexuals are expected to choose either of the two genders and live with one gender for the rest of their lives while transsexuals are seen as mentally ill or evil. Nonetheless, transsexuality is viewed as a gender disorder in mental health. By definition, mentally ill people are outside the normal range. Thus his is cannot be viewed as a classification problem but a societal problem based on people’s perceptions towards some specific transsexuals.


The most general assumption of heteronormativity is that gender is immutable, natural, and ascribed. Heteronormativity is a significant principle of cultural and social order that disciplines and absorbs all the other types of gender transgressiveness into its binary system of feme-male (Marques, 2019). The media acts as a powerful system that depicts individuals who transgress the boundaries of gender as weak, comic, or evil. The film Boys Don’t Cry 1999 provides the media an opportunity of exploring the struggles of individuals who transgress gender boundaries. It considers how female masculinity depictions in films can work to subvert the privileged positioning of heteronormativity.


Another major concept portrayed in the film is feminism. Feminism is a significant branch of gender studies whose goal is to fight for gender equality and women’s rights in society (Callahan & Hébert, 2021). In the film Boys Don’t Cry 1999, there is no gender equality. Even though Brandon Teena is viewed as a lesbian, it was her girlfriend’s right to choose whether she would continue her relationship with Brandon or not. Even after finding out that Brandon is biologically male, Lana claims to still love Brandon (Pierce, 1999). In the film, women are denied the chance to make choices concerning the kind of relationships they want. This is evident when John and Tom attack Brandon since they feel that her relationship with Lana is not allowed. Furthermore, feminism is also portrayed when John and Tom decide to repeatedly rape Brandon after taking her to an isolated place. The main goal of feminism is to the safety and rights of women in society are observed, but John and Tom’s actions are the contrary. Even though the two were against Brandon’s sexual orientation, attacking someone based on his or her gender preference goes against the principles of gender studies and feminism.


In conclusion, the film Boys Don’t Cry 1999 portrays several issues concerning gender and pushes the boundaries concerning gender in society. The films follow the life of a young transsexual individual named Brandon Teena who identifies herself as a man. It demonstrates how the protagonist contradicts the gender expectations in society including other aspects of gender identity.  Due to her gender identity, she faces major problems such as criticisms, rape, and even death while trying to blend in the society. Among the major issues of gender portrayed by the film include gender, identity heteronormativity, gender expectations and stereotypes, and feminism. These are major issues in not only gender studies but also social psychology that explains important aspects of gender.






















Peirce, K. (Director). (1999). B. F. Boys Don’t Cry [Film]. Hart-Sharp Entertainment.

Callahan, C. M., & Hébert, T. P. (2021). Gender issues. In Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education (pp. 213-228). London: Routledge.

Marques, A. C. (2019). Displaying Gender: Transgender People’s Strategies in Everyday Life. Symbolic Interaction, 42(2), 202-228.


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