Surpassing Brandon Teena’s sexual identity crisis is the one that reviewers of Boys Don’t Cry have suffered in puzzling out the whole pronoun issue. Is it some sick joke that in the film, after the murderous Cro-Mag fiends rape Brandon, they’re still calling him “little guy,” yet most critics have been referring to Brandon as “she”? Call it as he’d see it: Brandon’s a man with, shall we say, a loophole. He’s a guy who happens to have a vagina. You know, like John Hurt.
A tradition of tubulous men goes back at least as far as Hurt in Alien, is revived every few years with Cronenberg’s orifices, and is invoked on the metaphysical level in two current films that explore the très-très-millennial themes of celebrity-pleb synergy (Being John Malkovich) and corporate-age disaffection (Fight Club). “It’s like he has a penis and a vagina!” Cameron Diaz exclaims in BJM after John Cusack discovers a portal to Malkovich’s brain, and Diaz soon embarks on what she calls her “self-actualization as a man”—the valve to JM’s mind becomes the birth canal
for a new Me. Meanwhile Cusack, Catherine Keener, and a bunch of old folks use the
star for their own ends—respectively, fame/fortune, love/fortune, and eternal life. Malkovich himself is reduced to a vessel; he bears and suckles these grasping hordes and unwittingly fulfills every icky pseudo-feminist portent about motherhood as mental freeze.
He’s wounded, all right, in the truest Freudian terms, and Siggy would sit up and polish his glasses to get a better look at the ritual scars in Fight Club—Brad burns Edward’s hand with nitroglycerin, and as for the resulting wound, you haven’t seen lips like that since Rocky Horror. Tired of suffocating under the blanket of homogenous consumer culture and victimization by Absent Dad, the off-hours pugilists brand their emasculation on their bodies. After all, if you’ve got the castration, you don’t need the anxiety. Fight Club is being seen as another entry in the Masculine Crisis log—along with Stiffed, American Beauty,and Election—and Time‘s Richard Schickel seemed to be suffering some sort of crisis himself when he called the film’s raccoon-eyed, ethereally wasted Helena Bonham Carter a “neurotically gnarly representation of feminism’s failures to create a more sympathetic female.” Those lousy broads again. Boys, don’t make the girls take the rap for your issues—though you can borrow the iconography anytime.