For the most part, a person’s sexuality is ambiguous-the presence of a penis or vagina is enough to determine if the individual is male or female. However, in very rare cases, an individual can be born with both reproductive organs of the male and female sex, which are known as hermaphrodites. This usually occurs because of a hormonal imbalance during the baby’s stay in the mother’s womb. Though such cases are unfortunate, it prompted further research concerning surgery and “picking” or “assigning” a sex to the sexually ambiguous individuals. Dr. John Money developed a procedure and method of assigning a sex to hermaphrodites, which soon led to the ability for sex changes (Brym, 2005, p. 287). On the other hand, gender is more the socially projected part of a person’s sexuality. Gender roles are how each gender, male and female, should behave, act, and think. Society has set a group of rules and norms that coincide with each gender. The difference between gender and sexuality is that gender roles can change. Because gender is based on how a person projects his or her sexuality, the way they act based on societal norms places them in a gender group (Gender and Gender Roles, 2006, p. 1).
In the movie, Boys Don’t Cry, Teena Brandon, a woman who wanted a new start as a man, left her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska for the nearby town of Falls City. She obtains a new haircut, toughens up her character, and dons the heavy masculine boots in an attempt to pass as a male. Her actions show her desire to conform with societal norms or perceptions of a “male figure.” In their community, men were perceived as tough, rugged, and not afraid of pain. Her desire to be a man is what motivates her to project herself with masculine qualities and characteristics. Although she was born as a female, Teena Brandon assumed the male gender. Her actions classify her as “transgendered,” which means she “breaks society’ gender norms by defying the rigid distinction between male and female.” Transgendered people believe that they were given the “wrong” body. Therefore, they try to assume the other sexual identity (Brym, 2005, p. 300). The inversion of her name from Teena Brandon to Brandon Teena is only one of the numerous actions she takes to change her gender identity. Sociologists have described gender to be “composed of the feelings, attitudes, and behaviors typically associated with being male or female.” Therefore, although Teena Brandon possessed the female reproductive organs, she possessed the mentality and behaviors of a man. Furthermore, she greatly wanted to portray her gender identity as that of a male. By behaving as a man based on external expectations, Teena Brandon or Brandon Teena, she adopted the male gender role.
Brandon’s situation depicts the concept of sex discordance with gender, which is when gender identity and biological sex conflict. Sometimes, this is purely biological-the sex hormones and the external sex organs do not correspond. This is fairly easy to understand and comprehend, but the discordance with biological sex and gender identity is much more confusing. Though there are numerous ways to explain why people choose to assume a different gender identity based on their biological sex, it is not always conclusive. Furthermore, much of society still attempts to enforce heterosexuality, which is the preference for members of the opposite sex as sexual partners (Brym, 2005, p. 288-289).
Brandon’s situation is a bit different than simply homosexuality and heterosexuality. She sought to assume a male gender identity which conflicted with her biological female sex. And although Brandon is experiencing these times of sexual conflict and confusion, she develops a reputation as a “ladies’ man.” Furthermore, Brandon Teena is just not as “tough” and “manly” as John and Tom. In one scene, Tom explained to Brandon that he and John would cut themselves as a sign and display of manliness. Tom was proud that he could always go deeper than John. There was no doubt that Tom’s behavior projects his male gender identity and role. On the other hand, Brandon’s internal conflict created problems for her because she quickly fell in love with Lana. When Brandon gets arrested, the truth that he was truly a female quickly leaked out. Though Lana still cared about Brandon and loved him dearly, the others, such as John and Tom, were disgusted Brandon’s actions. They cannot accept the idea of two women loving each other because it goes against all of their beliefs and culture. Their reaction is certainly propelled by their upbringing because they were taught about the natural way of life (Brym, 2005, p. 303-304).
After Lana’s two male friends find out about Brandon’s true sexuality, they harass her and even rape her. Rape is often considered the worst physical offense against a woman. It strips her of her free will. Because John and Tom were truly disgusted by Brandon’s truth, they took her to an empty lot and raped her. Their actions humiliate her and almost “force” her sexual identity upon her. John and Tom’s inability to accept Teena and Lana’s homosexual relationship shows their bias against anything that differs from societal norms. Even the police show some of this same bias because after John and Tom’s assault and rape of Teena is reported, the police still show sympathy and fail to jail them. Their lack of action against John and Tom show that they also disapprove of Brandon’s lies and actions. This injustice towards Brandon Teena or Teena Brandon shows that the community in Falls City possessed a strong rejection from any action deviating from the norm. Their rejection can be described as “homophobic.” (Brym, 2005, p. 302).
Sexuality and gender are both major topics of sociology because it appears in numerous facets of life. Sexuality and gender both affect a person’s identity, which is an essential subject in sociological studies. The movie, Boys Don’t Cry, clearly depict a transgendered individual that society clearly does not accept. Fortunately, the movie highlighted a key problem in society and promoted acceptance of homosexuality.
Brym, R., & Lie, J. (2005). Sociology: Your Compass for a New World. (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.
Gender and Gender Roles. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of American History. Retrieved May 01, 2007, from Answers.com Web site: http://www.answers.com/topic/gender-and-gender-roles