There was a time not so long ago when the people shouting "fuck you bitch" at a gender-fluid gay filmmaker would have been bigoted right-wing conservatives. But because we currently live in the year 2016, the people who heckled Kimberly Peirce—director of Boys Don't Cry, a groundbreaking film about a transgender man—during her recent appearance at Reed College were far-left students.
The students hurled a litany of insults at Peirce, putting up posters that read "fuck your transphobia" and "you don't fucking get it" among other things. Worse, when Peirce ascended to her podium, students had placed a sign there. It read "fuck this cis white bitch." That Peirce is actually gender-fluid is quite beside the point.
The students' unbelievable rudeness crossed the line into a kind of censorship when Peirce tried to speak: the students simply shouted over her. Eventually they let her talk, but some students continued to yell things like "fuck your respectability politics" and "fuck you scared bitch."
You're probably wondering why the social justice left hates Peirce so much. Bear with me. She had come to campus to do a Q and A following the screening of her 1999 film, Boys Don't Cry. The film is an adaptation of the true story of Brandon Teena, who was born a woman but chose to identify and present as a man, and was murdered because of it. It's a heartbreaking love story that undoubtedly introduced countless Americans to the reality of anti-trans violence.
You're probably still wondering why the social justice left hates Peirce so much. Well, the film was ahead of its time in 1999, but in 2016 it's problematic. That's because the main character, Brandon, was played by Hilary Swank, a non-trans person. Students were also incensed at the idea of Peirce having profited from violence against trans people, which isn't a remotely accurate way to characterize things, but there it is.
Jack Halberstam, a University of Southern California professor who writes about queer issues and is friendly with Peirce, blogged about the uproar for Bully Bloggers, publishing pictures of the posters. Halberstam also made note of the students' criticisms of the film, but suggested that at the time Boys Don't Cry was released, trans people were often portrayed as "monsters, killers, sociopaths, or isolated misfits." It was revolutionary for audiences to see a trans person who was otherwise a typical twenty-something. Halberstam also pointed out that it would have been much harder to cast a trans person to play Brandon in 1999 than it is today.
But whether the criticisms of Peirce are legitimate is a separate matter. Her movie is important, and was worth screening on campus.
A spokesperson for Reed College confirmed the posters and the heckling, which he attributed to a handful of students.
"It has sparked a lot of debate on campus," the spokesperson told Reason.
Dean of Faculty Nigel Nicholson, to his credit, penned a strongly-worded statement in the campus paper:
The actions that I saw were not animated by the spirit of inquiry or the desire to learn that usually animates Reed audiences. The students had already decided what they thought, and came to the Question-and-Answer session to make their judgments known, not to listen and engage. Some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. Others asked questions, that, while grammatically questions (that is, they ended with question marks), were not animated by a genuine desire to explore a question, but rather sought to indict the speaker. It felt like a courtroom, not a college.
Some students sought to dominate the space, and to take control of the space away from the speaker.
I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of our conduct, and I hope that as a community we can reflect on what happened and make a determination not to repeat it.
Would anyone deny that the students' actions amounted to harassment, at least under the current Title IX understanding of the term? Was this not, at the very least, a bias incident? For a group of students who were ostensibly concerned about hatred directed at trans people, their own language was remarkably hateful.
Reed College, by the way charges, $50,000 a year for tuition. The opportunity to scream insults at a queer film director whose perspective is mildly different from today's leftist students is certainly an expensive privilege.