The shocking and unforgettable murder of transgender boy Brandon Teena

He had to lie in order to survive. In the late 1993, Brandon Teena’s neighbors and friends discovered his real identity. Brandon’s real name was Teena. She was not a boy but a girl. On New Year’s Eve, John Lotter and his friend Tom Nissen murdered the 20 years old transgender boy for hidding the truth. Decades after Brandon’s tragedy, watching the documentary « The Brandon Teena Story » shows that hatred towards homosexuals and transgenders always been a social issue.

Brandon Teena’s face in 1993 © INMagazine

On December 1993, three people were killed in a rural farmhouse in southeastern Nebraska. Among the victims, Teena Brandon, a young girl who presented herself as a man, Brandon Teena. « The Brandon Teena Story » is a documentary about homosexuality and transidentity in American society. Made in 1998 by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, it explains the last few weeks Brandon was alive with real footages of himself denouncing his rapists to the police, the crime scene or again, interviews of his close friends. From the start, sexuality is one of the main subject. Popular and funny, Brandon had success with every girls he met. All along the documentary, Brandon’s former girlfriends and neighboors are talking about how gentle and charming he was. They talk about his hidden life and the troubles Brandon faced after people discovered he was not honest about his gender.

Brandon on the left with his former girlfriend Lana on the right. © TheAtlantic

Living in Lincoln, Nebraska was not safe anymore. Homophobia pushed Brandon to run away in Falls City, Nebraska where he wanted to live freely as a man. In Falls City, he made new friends and felt in love with Lana M. Tisdel. He had to steal to provide for himself and people he loved. One day, it led to his arrest and the end of his happiness. Rumors in the calm city revealed Brandon was a girl named Teena. Curiosity and angryness started arising in his neighborhood. To prove everyone that Brandon had female genitals, Lana’s ex boyfriend, John Lotter and his friend Tom Nissen have beat and raped him. He was humiliated and murdered after he denounced them to the police. Brandon Teena was only 20 years old.

In the documentary, the hardest part to watch is the moment Brandon explains his rape to County Sheriff, Charles Laux who is being rude to him.

County Sheriff: After he pulled your pants down and seen you was a girl, what did he do? Did he fondle you any?

Brandon: No.

County Sheriff: He didn’t fondle you any, huh. Didn’t that kind of amaze you?…Doesn’t that kind of, ah, get your attention somehow that he would’ve put his hands in your pants and play with you a little bit?

Brandon: …

County Sheriff: You were all half-ass drunk….I can’t believe that if he pulled your pants down and you are a female that he didn’t stick his hand in you or his finger in you.

Afraid to reveal their transidentity and be rejected by others, the people part of the LGBTQ+ community may lie about their identity or conceal their sexual orientation. Brandon’s case happens everyday around the world. To raise awareness and share Brandon’s story to the world, Kimberley Peirce directed in 1999 the movie « Boys Don’t Cry », a film which illustrates the boy’s life, influenced by the interviews in « The Brandon Teena Story ». Hilary Swank plays Brandon Teena’s character.

Hilary Swank playing the role of Brandon Teena who made sure to conceal every details of her feminine body. © FilmGrab

Brandon’s life adaptation on screen is a success. The director tried to mention every elements the documentary addresses. However, to understand the circumstances of the crime the documentary provides more details than the movie for instance the motives of the murderers. In addition, hearing Brandon’s voice and his close friends talk about their bond is very emotional. Watching both « The Brandon Teena Story » and « Boys Don’t Cry » will change your way of thinking. Brandon Teena’s case will never be forgotten.

Watch the documentary « The Brandon Teena Story » here.

Soukaïna Ghanimi

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