Towards the end of second semester in our Honors College Writing Studio course, KHC ST112, Sarah Madsen Hardy asked us to write research papers on any topic we wanted concerning any of the texts we had worked with. As a Film & TV major, I knew I wanted to write about the film we watched (Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion), but as a writer with the dangerous habit of trying to tackle huge concepts in very limited spaces, the freedom I had was terrifying. We could write about anything. I eventually decided I wanted to better understand the intentions behind and implications of Renoir’s presentation of cross-dressing in the film and what that might say about Europe’s concept of masculinity during the World War I era. With some coaching from Sarah I found success after paring down my scope and spending a lot of time on a single moment—a moment of silence, at that—that I could use research to interpret and explain.
Thus, what would become my final paper was born, and what I found was incredibly exciting. In reading both scholarship about the film and historical studies of the period, I had my eyes opened to the rich history of Europe’s queer subculture of the early twentieth century and the extent to which cross-dressing was a part of it. Nontraditional gender expression, even as we know it today, isn’t new; what’s new is the vocabulary that’s continuing to become socially accepted that allows us to talk about it. Many thanks to Sarah for being there every step of the way and for encouraging me to listen to the silence.
TOM LAVERRIERE is a member of the College of Communication and Kilachand Honors College classes of 2017 and is majoring in Film & Television. He comes from Biddeford, Maine, but now spends his time in Boston writing for butv10’s “Bay State” and working on independent projects with BU Filmmakers. He would like to thank Dr. Sarah Madsen Hardy for her continued support as they learned together through this paper and his friends and classmates, whose editorial eyes were immensely helpful.