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Conclusion: feminist theories, identities, and bodies

Brandon Teena's story reminds us of the contradictory needs to assert the importance of the female body as a locus of 'unspeakable' pleasures and violent abuse; yet alsoto destabilize conventional understandings of gender identity as innate or expressive. This recalls Denise Riley's invitation to both concentrate on and refuse the identity of 'woman,' and Irigaray's theorization of sexual difference as the question for our times. The very dividedness of this imperative might seem to bode an end to feminist theory, and to doom us to political paralysis rather than feminist praxis. Yet the contradictory move to both complicate conventional understandings of gender identity, and to specify the female body as a particularly explosive site for the production of truth, ultimately enriches the feminist project to navigate between the fractious fictions of 'woman' engendered by the antipodes and margins of representation. I would agree with Butler's position that "it is in the course of engaged political practices that internal divides emerge;" and that the refusal to resolve this dissent into unity (or totalizing narratives of 'female' identity) is precisely what keeps the feminist movement alive. [57] As Teresa de Lauretis contends,

[T]o 'live the contradiction' is the condition of feminism here and now. A 'feminist' theory begins when the feminist critique of ideologies becomes conscious of itself, and turns to question its own body of writing, its basic assumptions, and the practices which they enable. This represents a qualitative shift in political and historical feminist consciousness. This shift implies a dis-placement and a self-displacement: leaving or giving up a place that is 'home' for a place that is unknown and risky...a place of discourse from which speaking and thinking are at best tentative, uncertain and unguaranteed. But the leaving is not a choice: one could not live there in the first place. [58]

MTF transgendered individuals who have completed their sexual transition often discuss the shock of living as a woman in society. As women, they encounter a host of dangers, physical and spatial constraints, and a pervasive sense of male privilege or entitlement. This is an important point; as long as the national imaginary is underwritten by sexist, racist, classist, and heterosexist biases that presume the 'neutrality' of the status quo, any transition from the position of man to woman, or vice versa, will necessarily involve the shock of asymmetry. This 'shock' is precisely what Brandon Teena's murder provokes when apprehended through the intersecting lenses of gender, sexuality, and embodiment.

Transgender violence targets both men and women, but Brandon Teena's case highlights its particularly brutal effects for FTM transgendered individuals. Boys Don't Cry provides a clear political incentive to integrate feminist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender concerns in the analysis of violence against women. It also graphically illustrates the stakes for feminists to forge strategic political alliances with these communities—in order to challenge the mutually-reinforcing discourses that relentlessly pursue the 'truths' of identity, and enforce these truths at both the micro level of the female body and the macro level of national policy. Serious risks accompany any attempt to invest the body with particular 'truths' about gender and sexuality. Yet, while such quests for truth are actively critiqued in Boys Don't Cry, the film also powerfully reminds us that the female body is an especially bloody target for the will to power and truth. [59] An inescapable marker of difference, it is experienced by many women as a 'home' that is virtually unliveable.

Wesleyan University

Middletown, Connecticut