"Brandon Teena lived and loved as a man. For that, she paid with her life."
December 31, 2003 12:07 AM   Subscribe

"Brandon Teena lived and loved as a man. For that, she paid with her life." Exactly ten years ago today , John Lotter and Tom Nissen hunted down Teena Brandon on a quiet farm near Humboldt, Nebraska (just west of Falls City) and brutally murdered her along with two of her friends (Lisa Lambert and Phillip DeVine), leaving only an eight-month old baby at the bloody crime scene. They had raped her that Christmas and when she reported it to Richardson County Sheriff, Charles Laux (currently working at the Tecumseh prison, where Lotter is ironically housed), she was subjected to a humiliating line of questioning that the Nebraska State Supreme Court would later call "beyond all possible bounds of decency". No action was taken to apprehend the cowardly pair until it was too late. [more inside]
posted by RavinDave (13 comments total)
As anyone who's seen the award winning movie "Boys Don't Cry" (effective, but overly simplified) or the moving and grittier (though somewhat slanted) documentary "The Brandon Teena Story" (the filmmakers were interviewed by Salon), Teena Brandon was a 21 year old biological female who lived (and dated) as a man, even dating a close friend of her future murderers, Lana Tisdel. She was discovered after being busted on check forgery and the local police released her information to "The Falls City Journal". Two weeks later, she was raped. A week after that, she was murdered. She's buried at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery.

To what extent her sexual orientation influenced the events is a hotbutton issue guaranteed to spark passionate debate (which inflamed the murderous rage more? her sexual identity or her deception?), but no one can deny that Teena became a positive icon -- the cenozure of the transgender rights discussions and a spark for the national hate crime debate.

A very nice site: "brandonteena.net" seems to be down at the moment -- perhaps from anniversary traffic. They link to an interesting series of FAQs that are still available, though.

Locally, here in Nebraska, the "Lincoln Journal Star" ran a series of articles on lingering questions about the role of the murderers (Lotter, on death row, still claims innocence saying he's the victim of a frame motivated to get Nissen a life sentence), an update on JoAnn Brandon (Teena's mother), a look at the community of Humboldt, and how the senseless tragedy united and galvanized the National Transgender Community,

(Disclaimer: This issue rightfully evokes strong feelings. I'm well aware that some people have strong feelings about the "proper" way to refer to trangendered individuals, but let's not get sidetracked by squabbling over pronouns and surnames. Use whichever form you please.)
posted by RavinDave at 12:10 AM on December 31, 2003 [1 favorite]

These are great links. Thank you for remembering.
posted by jennyb at 5:44 AM on December 31, 2003

Thanks for posting this. Nebraska is a scary, scary place to be any kind of queer.
posted by eilatan at 5:50 AM on December 31, 2003

It's not just a Nebraska thing...transgender and gender-variant people are at enormous risk everywhere. and I was really surprised at Lincoln's openness and amount of gay bars for such a tiny place--I drank at one of them with a state senator back in 98
posted by amberglow at 6:01 AM on December 31, 2003

True enough, amberglow. It's not geography but mindset that determines homophobia (or bigotry of any kind for that matter). Hell, just not being homophobic enough can make some people nervous. The stoner crowd I ran with in high school didn't go out fag-bashing or anything, but they made lotsa "faggot" jokes and comments and many made it plain they didn't care for gayfolk. When I was very young I went along out of ignorance, and when I got older I did my best to ignore it. As a young adult, I got to know a number of gay people and disavowed the whole shooting match. About a year ago I ran into one of my old high school buddies (an otherwise nice and open-mided guy, it's amazing how persistent this blind spot is with people), and we shot the breeze for a while about old classmates. When I brought up one name, my freind looked stunned and said "Dude! He came out of the closet! He's gay!" It didn't faze me much. I said "I worked in bookstores and record shops for 5 years and went to college in New York. You get used to that." He seemed a little irked that I wasn't more stunned.

Too bad he wasn't at my folks house for Thanksgiving when my brother-in-law brought his gay Mormon co-worker over. That would've been broadening for him I guess.
posted by jonmc at 6:39 AM on December 31, 2003

Yeah, for TG awareness. Violence happens all over. It sucks. Here is another example of people acting badly.

I swear I don't want to derail: It isn't really squabbling to ask that people call you by the gender you present as. It is a matter of respect to them.
posted by tcaleb at 7:00 AM on December 31, 2003 [2 favorites]

I know it's not just a Nebraska thing--not by any stretch of the imagination, but Nebraska is the scariest place that I've ever lived in terms of that sort of thinking. I lost a job in part because of my sexual orientation--and that was in Lincoln.
posted by eilatan at 7:06 AM on December 31, 2003

I lost a job in part because of my sexual orientation--and that was in Lincoln.
That's happened to me, here, in manhattan, eliatan--it's happened to most of us i think--sucks bigtime (and still isn't illegal in most parts of the country)
posted by amberglow at 7:16 AM on December 31, 2003

teena brandon was a few grades behind me in high school. and this sad story has been a difficult one i havent found comfort with. never will, especially considering the commercial treatment and hollywood-ization of the story.

i don't recall any direct experience with her, but i always thought it was strange that she didn't gravitate toward the punk and queer kids i hung out with, instead heading to falls city, a very small town an hour or so away from Lincoln.

naive? it seems to be either that, or cast her as the villian as Aphrodite Jones does - which is reprehensible.

ultimately, i think the Boys Don't Cry film further exploited her in death. i cringed when i heard Hillary Swank's oscar speech (something about "courage" and "individuality"). I feel that the film is opportunistic of this trajedy and the controversy surrounding it. Maybe i am jaded beyond hope, but i feel that the filmmakers cynically manufactured a transgendered hero/heroine in bandon teena/teena brandon.

One person in my group of friends, now a post-op transexual, was cross dressing back in high school (1986-88). beat up for being queer and disowned by his family - he stayed true to himself, and never waivered, though it was obviously an indescribably painful experience. It is a story which isn't going to sell many movie tickets, but i very much respect their true courage and individuality.

i'll stop here. i hope i don't set fire to this thread with my comment.
posted by bluno at 8:17 AM on December 31, 2003

Why worry about it? Soon, the Bush administration will ensure that any non-heterosexual behavior will be illegal, and it'll just go away.

The fact that non-heterosexuals are murdered for their beliefs is horrifying, but it isn't news anymore. That's the disgusting part.
posted by FormlessOne at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2003

The movie may have been over-simplified and exploitative, but it was the only film, ever, I couldn't finish watching because I knew how it turned out. It was the anticipation of the horror that did it: that electric heartbeat, the rising hackles, the danger instinct.

Thanks for a good post. It's good to remember this event in the proper way: rather than being memorialized, such deaths are best used as lessons on what right and wrong and good and bad really are, what being different really takes to accomplish, and why identity springs--or should spring--primarily from internal sources, not external ones.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2003

Thanks for a good post

I'll second that, and add that it's not only good in itself but so well presented that a potentially inflammatory subject has so far escaped the flames. Well done.

To those who object to the movie: I respect your concern for the details of Brandon's life and death, but I urge you to reflect that no life is ever accurately rendered even in a documentary, let alone in a regular feature film, and that surely the good done by exposing large numbers of people to such an unforgettable portrayal of how difference can arouse murderous fear and hatred far outweighs the harm done to the facts of the case, or the bad taste left in the mouths of those who actually knew Brandon. I've rarely seen a more powerful movie and performance, and it's affected me in ways that movies, however good, rarely do.
posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on December 31, 2003 [1 favorite]

but I urge you to reflect that no life is ever accurately rendered even in a documentary, let alone in a regular feature film

exactly. it's interesting how, say, Ben Bradlee is still angry at the fact that people will remember Jason Robards and not him as the Watergate era WaPo editor-in-chief. and Mike Wallace hates Christopher Plummer's guts because of The Insider (some even gossip that Wallace delayed his retirement just to avoid retiring as "the Insider guy" and add more years to his loooooong career)

posted by matteo at 12:44 PM on January 1, 2004

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