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Brandon Teena
Born Teena Renae Brandon
December 12, 1972(1972-12-12)
Lincoln, Nebraska
Died December 31, 1993(1993-12-31) (aged 21)
Humboldt, Nebraska
Cause of death Murder by gunshot
Resting place Lincoln Memorial Park[1]
Nationality American
Other names Billy Brinson
Teena Ray
Parents Patrick and JoAnn Brandon

Brandon Teena (December 12, 1972 – December 31, 1993) was an American trans man who was raped and murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska in December 1993.[2][3][4] His life and death were the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1999 film Boys Don't Cry, which was based on the documentary film The Brandon Teena Story.[5]


Born Teena Renae Brandon in Lincoln, Nebraska, the youngest of two children to Patrick and JoAnn Brandon. His father died in a car accident eight months before he was born, and he was raised by his mother.[6] JoAnn named her second child after their German shepherd dog, Tina Marie, altering the name to Teena because she wanted the name to be more original.[6] Teena lived with his mother and older sister at Pine Acre Mobile Home Park in northeast Lincoln between ages 3 and 18, after their mother was employed as a clerk in a women's retail store in Lincoln. As young children, Teena and Tammy were sexually molested by a male relative for several years,[7] and Teena and his mother JoAnn sought counselling for this in 1991.[8] JoAnn remarried once from 1975 to 1980, with the marriage having failed due to her husband's alcoholism.[6] Teena's family described him as being a tomboy since early childhood; Teena began identifying as male during adolescence and dated a female student during this period. His mother rejected his male identity and continued referring to him as her "daughter". Teena claimed to be intersex several times, with this later being proven to be false.[9]

Teena and his sister attended St. Mary's Elementary and Pius X High School in Lincoln, where Teena was remembered as being socially awkward.[6] During his sophomore year, Teena rejected Christianity after he protested to a priest regarding Christian views on abstinence and homosexuality.[6] He also began rebelling at school by violating the school dress-code policy to dress more masculine. During the first semester of his senior year, a U.S. Army recruiter visited the high school, encouraging students to enlist in the armed forces. Teena enlisted in the United States Army shortly after his eighteenth birthday, and hoped to serve a tour of duty in Operation Desert Shield. However, he failed the written entrance exam by claiming to be male.[6]

In December 1990, 18-year-old Teena went to Holiday Skate Park with his friends, binding his breasts in order to pass as a boy. He went on a date with a 13-year old girl, and they shared a passionate kiss. He also met the girl's 14-year-old friend, Heather,[6] and began cross-dressing regularly in an attempt to attract teenage women. In the months nearing his high school graduation, Teena became unusually outgoing and was remembered by fellow classmates as a "class clown".[6] Teena also began skipping school and receiving failing grades, and was expelled from Pius X High School in June 1991, three days prior to graduation.[6]

In the summer of 1991, Teena began his first major relationship, with Heather. Shortly after, Teena was first employed as a gas station attendant in an attempt to purchase a trailer home for himself and his girlfriend. His mother, however, did not approve of the relationship, and convinced her daughter to follow Teena in order to know if the relationship was platonic or sexual.[6]

In January 1992 Teena underwent a psychiatric evaluation, which concluded that Teena was suffering from a severe sexual identity crisis.[6] He was later taken to the Lancaster County Crisis Center to ensure that he was not suicidal. Teena later confessed to his mother that he had been raped by a male relative as a young child. He was released from the center three days later and began attending therapy sessions with his mother four times per week, which ended two weeks later.[6]

In 1993, after some legal trouble, Teena moved to the Falls City region of Richardson County, Nebraska, where he identified solely as a man. He became friends with several local residents. After moving into the home of Lisa Lambert, Teena began dating his friend 19-year-old Lana Tisdel, and began associating with ex-convicts John L. Lotter (born May 31, 1971) and Marvin Thomas "Tom" Nissen (born October 22, 1971).

On December 19, 1993, Teena was arrested for forging checks; Tisdel paid his bail. Because Teena was in the female section of the jail, Tisdel learned that he was transgender. When Tisdel later questioned Teena about his gender, he told her he was a hermaphrodite pursuing a sex change operation, and they continued dating.[9] In a lawsuit regarding the film adaptation Boys Don't Cry, this was disputed by Tisdel.[10][11] Teena's arrest was posted in the local paper under his birth name and his acquaintances subsequently learned that he was biologically female.

Sexual assault and murder

During a Christmas Eve party, Nissen and Lotter grabbed Teena and forced him to remove his pants, proving to Tisdel that Teena was biologically female. Tisdel said nothing and looked only when they forced her to. Lotter and Nissen later assaulted Teena, and forced him into a car. They drove to an area by a meat-packing plant in Richardson County, where they assaulted and raped him. They then returned to Nissen's home. Teena escaped from Nissen's bathroom by climbing out the window, and went to Tisdel's house. He was convinced by Tisdel to file a police report, though Nissen and Lotter had warned Teena not to tell the police about the rape or they would "silence him permanently". Teena also went to the emergency room where a standard rape kit was assembled, and later lost. Sheriff Charles B. Laux questioned Teena about the rape; reportedly, he seemed especially interested in Teena's transsexuality, to the point that Teena found his questions rude and unnecessary, and refused to answer. Nissen and Lotter learned of the report, and they began to search for Teena. They did not find him, and three days later the police questioned them. The sheriff declined to have them arrested due to lack of evidence.

Nissen and Lotter drove to Lambert’s house and broke in. They found Lambert in bed and demanded to know where Teena was. Lambert refused to tell them. Nissen searched and found Teena under the bed. The men asked Lambert if there was anyone else in the house, and she replied that Phillip DeVine, who at the time was dating Tisdel's sister,[9] was staying with her. They shot and killed DeVine, Lambert, and Teena, in front of Lambert's toddler. Nissen and Lotter then left, later being arrested and charged with murder.[12]


Nissen accused Lotter of committing the murders. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Nissen admitted to being an accessory to the rape and murder. Nissen testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Lotter proceeded to deny the veracity of Nissen’s testimony, and his testimony was discredited. The jury found Lotter guilty of murder and he received the death penalty. Lotter and Nissen both appealed their convictions, and their cases have gone to review. In September 2007, Nissen recanted his testimony against Lotter. He claimed that he was the only one to shoot Teena and that Lotter was not involved. Lotter is currently appealing and is using Nissen's new testimony to assert his claims of innocence.[13]


Because Teena had neither commenced hormone replacement therapy nor had sex reassignment surgery, he has sometimes been identified as a lesbian by media reporters.[14] However, some reported that Teena had stated that he planned to have sex reassignment surgery.[15]

JoAnn Brandon sued Richardson County and Sheriff Laux for failing to prevent Teena's death, as well as being an indirect cause. She won the case, and was awarded $80,000. District court judge Orville Coady reduced the amount by 85 percent based on the responsibility of Nissen and Lotter, and by one percent for JoAnn's alleged contributory negligence. This led to a remaining judgment of responsibility against Richardson County and Laux of $17,360.97.[16] In 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the reductions of the earlier award reinstating the full $80,000 award for "mental suffering", plus $6,223.20 for funeral costs. In October 2001, the same judge awarded the plaintiff an additional $12,000: $5,000 for wrongful death, and $7,000 for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.[16][17] Laux was also criticized after the murder for his attitude — at one point Laux referred to Teena as "it".[18]

In 1999, Teena became the subject of a biopic entitled Boys Don't Cry, starring Hilary Swank as Teena and Chloë Sevigny as Tisdel. For their performances, Swank won and Sevigny was nominated for an Academy Award. Tisdel sued the producers of the film for unauthorized use of her name and likeness before the film's release. She claimed the film depicted her as "lazy, white trash, and a skanky snake". Tisdel also claimed that the film falsely portrayed that she continued the relationship with Teena after she discovered Teena was not anatomically male. She eventually settled her lawsuit against the movie's distributor for an undisclosed sum.[10][11]

The British duo Pet Shop Boys released a song called "Girls Don't Cry" (a bonus track on U.K. issue of I'm with Stupid) about Teena in 2006.

Brandon Teena is buried in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, his headstone inscribed with his birth name and the epitaph daughter, sister, & friend.[1]

Teena's violent death, along with the murder of Matthew Shepard, led to increased lobbying for hate crime laws in the United States.[citation needed]

JoAnn Brandon also publicly objected to the media referring to her child as "he" and "Brandon". Following Hillary Swank's Oscar acceptance speech, JoAnn Brandon was reportedly "infuriated" by Swank's comments concerning her child.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Teena R. "Brandon Teena" Brandon". Find A Grave. August 28, 2000. Retrieved 2007-05-14.
  2. Note: - as Brandon Teena was never his legal name, it is uncertain the extent to which this name was used prior to his death. It is the name most commonly used by the press and other media. Other names may include his legal name, as well as "Billy Brenson" and "Teena Ray"
  3. "U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals — JoAnn Brandon v Charles B. Laux". FindLaw. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
  4. Howey, Noelle (2000-03-22). "Boys Do Cry". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
  5. "The Brandon Teena Story". IMDB. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 Death of a Deceiver from January 1995 edition of Playboy
  7. Sloop, John Rhetorics of sex identity in contemporary U.S. culture, page 77 at Google Books
  8. Chasing the
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ramsland, Katherine. "Teena Brandon". TruTV. Retrieved 2009-02-22. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "trutv" defined multiple times with different content
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Brandon film lawsuit settled". Chicago Sun-Times. 2000-03-11. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2009-02-22.[dead link]
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hawker, Philippa (2002-03-01). "Seeing doubles". Melbourne: The Age. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  12. Ramsland, Katherine. "Teena Brandon". TruTV. pp. 5. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  13. Jenkins, Nate (2007-09-20). "Inmate Recants Teena Brandon Story". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-03-01.
  14. "Brandon Teena Gets Dunne Wrong". Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. January 24, 1997. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-07. "A New Yorker writer does not understand Brandon Teena's transgender identity, and describes him as a "predatory" butch lesbian, referring to him as "her" for most of the piece."
  15. Griffy, Anna M. (July 4, 2004). "The Brandon Teena Story: Chapter 2: Brandon". The Brandon Teena Story. Justice Junction. pp. 2. Retrieved 2006-12-07. "Teena made her decision for good: she was going to live as a man and began to tell people she was having a sex change operation."
  16. 16.0 16.1 Friedman, Herbert J.. "Brandon - An American Tragedy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
  17. The victims of prejudice, B.B.C. News, 26 December 2003
  18. Gabriel, Davina Anne (May 15, 1996). "Activists Protest Violence As Lotter Trial Begins". Retrieved 2006-12-07. "Laux has also been quoted as saying "you can call it 'it' as far as I'm concerned" when describing Brandon."

External links

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