The harrowing story of Brandon Teena, the transgender man who inspired Boys Don’t Cry

Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry © Fox Searchlight Pictures

Today, many people know the story of Brandon Tina from the Oscar-winning film. Boys don’t cry. The rape and murder of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old transgender man, was presented as a curiosity at the time, even as a joke.

Youth Brandon Tina

Brandon Tina was born in 1972 as Tina Brandon in Lincoln, Nebraska. When he was still very young, his father died in a car accident. His mother then raised two children alone. It is later revealed that Brandon and his sister are being sexually abused by their uncle. Growing up, Brandon quickly identified with the male gender. Also referred to as a “tomboy”, he prefers men’s clothing, also copying his attitude towards male figures from his high school. In addition, during this period, Brandon meets with many girls. Each describes him as the perfect, sweet and considerate boyfriend. Therefore, he was very popular among the girls in his city, some of whom did not know about his biological gender.

However, Brandon Tina suffers a lot. Indeed, his mother refuses him to continue to explore his gender identity. But Brandon is really a man. Despite the fact that many thought that Brandon was just a lesbian, trans identity was still very little known, even accepted, at 90. In addition, Brandon had many difficulties in high school, he could not concentrate, often skipped school and was eventually expelled. To support himself, the young man works odd jobs and commits petty crimes, such as forging checks.

Gender Identity and a New Beginning

Around this time, Brandon contacted David Bolkovac, director of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center at the University of Nebraska, supposedly to inquire about a sex change. The latter will also say that “Brandon saw himself as a man trapped in a woman’s body… [Brandon] didn’t identify as a lesbian… He was a man. »

Thus, in 1992, Brandon Tina decided to leave his hometown to start a new life. So he leaves for Humboldt, still in Nebraska, where no one knows he’s a transgender. It was there that he moved in with a young single mother named Lisa Lambert, even made friends with many of the locals, and began dating a 19-year-old woman, Lana Tisdel. He also interacts with two former prisoners, Lotter and Nissen.

However, in December 1993, Brandon Tina’s whole life will change. Indeed, his petty crimes caught up with him and he was arrested for forging checks. That’s when his girlfriend Lana Tisdel learns the truth about his biological field. Indeed, on her way to take Brandon to prison, she was surprised to find him in the section reserved for women. Thus, Brandon confessed everything to Lana, telling her that he intended to change sex. If you have seen the movie Boys don’t cry with Hilary Swank, you may remember that in the film, Lana’s character is completely accepting of Brandon. Which didn’t happen in real life, as Lana Tisdel claims to have left Brandon. However, they still remained in touch.

Truth, humiliation and rape

Lana Tisdel wasn’t the only one who learned the truth about Brandon Teena’s biological gender. The whole story was published in the local newspaper: the reason for his arrest, as well as his birth name. Thus, everyone around Brandon found out that he was born a girl. Nothing could be worse for Brandon, until the night of Christmas Eve. Indeed, when Lotter and Nissen learned that Brandon was a transsexual, the latter were completely furious, outraged and disgusted. So, on the evening of December 24, completely drunk, they went in search of Brandon. They then forcibly grabbed Brandon, pulled down his pants to prove that he was biologically a woman, and this in front of all the guests. After this episode of humiliation, Lotter and Nissen kidnapped Brandon, brutally raped him, and threatened to kill him if he betrayed them.

© Fox Searchlight Pictures – Boys Don’t Cry / Allocine

Brandon Tina nevertheless decided to file a complaint against Lotter and Nissen. However, Sheriff Charles Law did not take Brandon seriously. The Richardson County Sheriff asked more about Brandon’s gender identity than his assault. “Do you sometimes run around with a sock in your pants to look like a boy? », “Why are you chasing girls and not boys when you are a girl yourself? » Or, when he came to the rape case, Charles Law’s questions were humiliating. Although the sheriff eventually interrogated Lotter and Nissen, the latter was released. They killed Brandon on December 31, 1993 by repeatedly stabbing him. Lotter and Nissen also killed Lisa Lambert and Philip Devine, leaving Lisa’s eight-month-old baby alone.

Consequences of this transphobic crime

Lotter and Nissen were quickly arrested and convicted of the murders. The former was sentenced to death, but since Nebraska has abolished the death penalty, he is currently in prison for life. As for Nissen, he was sentenced to life in prison for testifying against Lotter. After this incident, Brandon’s mother Tina filed a complaint against Sheriff Law for failing to protect Brandon’s privacy and indirect complicity in his murder. She won the case. Moreover, the then press presented this case as a joke, and Brandon even passed off as a curiosity.

We’ll have to wait a few years for the documentary to come out. The story of Brandon Tina and what from the movie Boys don’t cry with Hilary Swank to get the general public to change their minds about Brandon’s story. It even started a nationwide conversation about transgender people and transgender people.

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