Gender Dysphoria Disorder in the Movie "Boys Don't Cry"

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The movie “Boys Don’t Cry” is a factual-based movie describing the life of Brandon Teena, a young boy that moves to a new town and discovers that his desires and behaviors are conflicting with other individuals’ expectations. Brandon portrays himself as a man despite being born a female, and his behavior, appearance, and mannerisms match this male gender. Throughout the movie, Brandon befriends a group of adolescents that eventually alter the course of his life. Most people in the town falsely believe that Brandon is a man and treats him as such, while others discriminate against him because of his misleading actions. Brandon’s behavior demonstrates the disorder of Gender Dysphoria, which means that one’s identity conflicting with their gender assigned at birth. This paper aims to discuss Brandon’s quality of life as a result of having the Gender Dysphoria disorder, and its causes, treatments, and any additional characteristics.

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At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Brandon after he recently trimmed his hair and dressed like a boy for a night out in the town. He utilizes bandages to tie down his breasts to resemble the size of a male’s chest and creates a bulge in his pants to emphasize the indentation in his pants indicating that he in fact as male genital parts. Not only does Brandon physically change his identity to fit the ideal man, but he also transitions from female to male with his thoughts and beliefs. For example, by switching his name around to where the more masculine name appears first, Brandon illustrates the transition within himself, because thoughts and feelings guide our behaviors. When confronted by his close friends as being a “dyke”, he argumentatively corrected him and proclaimed that he was a man and he should be acknowledged as such.

Despite Brandon’s attraction to the women in the film, he gravitated toward male friends, which also indicates that he represented the male population. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), to be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, one’s expressed gender identity must distinctly be different from his gender assigned at birth. Furthermore, the individual must continue this behavior “for at least six months and the desire to be the other gender must be verbalized”.

Brandon’s appearance and opinions regarding his personality and true self contradicted his initial female sex diagnosis. He meets the criteria for the disorder because for years he was “rebellious” by dressing in clothing that wasn’t socially acceptable for women to wear. In addition, he practiced breast binding daily and constantly dated girls, not because he was gay but because he truly identified with the male gender. The DSM also explains that the individual’s condition must cause “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”.

Socially, Brandon’s condition of Gender Dysphoria caused him to change his outer appearance to match his inner desires and expectations of what it physically looks and feels like to be man. Not only did he cut his hair, but he started wearing baggy clothing, and even balled up socks to put them in his crotch area. These physical changes often resulted in Brandon being bullied and chased down for clandestinely tricking people into believing he was someone he was not. Many people picked fights with him in bars, calling him “faggot” and others followed him home in hopes of beating him. Similarly, when the characters discovered that Brandon was previously a female, their friendship/lover dynamic shifted. Brandon was no longer that fun loving guy his friends enjoyed or the sweet, loving boyfriend that protected his girlfriend. For example, at the start of the movie, Lana Tisdel complemented that Brandon was handsome; however, during one of the last conversations, she states that he is pretty. Addressing Brandon this way may have been intentional; however, our opinions and beliefs towards specific situations tend to show up in the way we talk and act toward other people in society.

Another way in which Gender Dysphoria caused distress and impaired functioning in Brandon’s life is displayed in the car racing scene. When the car was pulled over and the teens were threatened with jail time, Brandon became anxious. He wasn’t nervous because he was possibly receiving a ticket, he was terrified that when the police officer imputed his information into the police department system, they would figure out that not only had he had previous incidents against the law, but that he was also woman. This terror kept Brandon from attending court dates because once the government trialed him, he would be placed in the women jail cells. This disorder caused Brandon to be constantly aware and obsessive of the consequences of every action he makes to ensure that he remains under the radar and that his secrets continue to be confidential. When Brandon became Teena in the eyes of his peers, he was treated differently and eventually was raped and beaten.

Determining the cause of Gender Dysphoria has been a constant battle because of the debate about whether transsexualism is a mental disorder or a social preference and inconclusive experiments with individuals with this disorder. Understanding and comparing the difference between the biological, environmental, and psychological causes is extremely important when discussing this disorder. In this particular case, it is difficult to correctly label the cause of Brandon’s gender change, but he states that he must be going through a “sexual identity crisis”. Although not discussed in the movie, Teena Brandon was raped by a family member when he was younger and this traumatic experience may have contributed to his decision. Some researchers are studying these triggers and record that the persistent longing to “manipulate one’s body must be a sign of devastating trauma, or maladaptive developmental-family process from childhood that has gone terribly wrong”.

In this study, Collier and his colleagues hypothesized that there was a correlation between Gender Dysphoria and life stressors, such as substance abuse, suicide attempts, mental illnesses, and self-mutilation. After completing lengthy clinical interviews and questionnaires such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test, they concluded that there was a causal relationship between those factors, however, the results didn’t align with their initial expectations. The results indicated that overall, in the cases of evidence of substance abuse, physical harm, and mental illness with a person, the “behaviors were attributed to intense frustration and exasperation over gender dysphoric condition”. The experiment illustrated that individuals would participate in self-destructing behavior to help them cope and deal with the distresses that Gender Dysphoria created. In fact, “gender dysphoric individuals appear to be relatively normal in terms of an absence of diagnosable, comorbid psychiatric problems”.

If environmental stressor and life traumas didn’t cause Brandon to have Gender Dysphoria, biological abnormalities may have contributed to the disorder. Often babies born with oversized genitals or congenital adrenal hyperplasia have to be examined to allow doctors and parents to decided which gender the child would be raised and identified as in the world. Once a decision has been made, surgeons eventually perform surgery on the infants to correct the genital areas to match the gender. In most cases, if there is any evidence of female reproductive organs, such as ovaries and a uterus, the professionals decide that the baby must be a girl, however, there is never one-hundred percent certainty that that was the correct diagnosis. As a result, many times later in life, children decide that they would like to identify as the opposite gender than what was assigned to them during the procedure. For example, in a study that examined data regarding gender or sex change and chromosomal females, many of the previous patients underwent gender reassignment because “the child preferred to be a girl and psychological assessments revealed that she was developing a female gender identity”.

In conclusion, many factors can cause Gender Dysphoria such as genetic abnormalities, traumatic experiences, like rape, the presence of mental illnesses, psychological differences, or social influences.Treatments for Gender Dysphoria are not constructed to cure or eliminate the disorder, but they help the individual decrease their distress as a result of dealing with it. Treatments include “changes in gender expression and role by living part time or full time in desired gender role”, injection of hormones, psychotherapy, and surgery that physically change the sex of the person. For example, one may bandage up their body like Brandon in the film, to reduce the appearance of the undesired body part, or some extreme measures include surgically cutting or adding real sex organs to the body. Many cases show that psychotherapy when presented alone, does not effectively treat gender dysphoria and “no randomized controlled studies evaluated the efficacy of psychotherapy intervention to cue gender dysphoria in a systematic way”. This form of treatment is not empirically supported because many individuals entered into remission after talk therapy, displaying the lack of effectiveness.

On the other hand, sex reassignment has been proven to aid individuals with Gender Dysphoria. Surgery to change the out appearance was “not a cure for the pathological condition, but a strategy to diminish the serious suffering of a transsexual person”. This procedure decreased the individuals’ distress because they no longer had to worry about other people outing them because of sexual differences and finally, their outer appearance matched their inner picture of whom they were destined to be. Before patients undergo surgery, medical professionals prefer to conduct extensive assessments to ensure that there are no comorbid disorders, and the individual has carefully considered all of the possible negative and positive consequences to sex reassignment. Brandon Teena was unable to experience any of these treatments because she was killed due to the stigma and discrimination toward individuals who were different from other people. However, understanding the characteristics, causes, symptoms, and treatment options of Gender Dystrophia can aid in the proper care and handling of people like Brandon who suffer from the pain and distress of this disorder.

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