Identity, invisibility, and violence: boys don't cry

To assess media portrayals of Brandon Teena, it is useful to review the legal history of his case. After Brandon Teena's murder on New Year's Eve 1994, his mother sued the perpetrators as well as Charles Laux, the County Sheriff. The prosecution argued that Brandon's murder was the culmination of a conspiracy to rape him, and that both crimes were motivated by "hatred for a female who dressed like a male." [5] Furthermore, prosecutors claimed that because Sheriff Laux did not intervene in the week between Brandon's rape and murder—despite incriminating evidence—he breached his official duty to protect Brandon Teena.

In September 1997, Judge Richard Kopf disagreed with the prosecution. On behalf of the Nebraska District Court, he opined that Sheriff Laux did not have a duty to protect Brandon Teena. According to Judge Kopf, Laux had no reason to believe that Brandon's rape was motivated by disdain for a female-to-male (FTM) transgender individual, or that such hatred—even if documented—could lead to murder. Four years later, on April 20, 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court overruled the lower court's decision. Chief Justice John Hendry held that "based upon the undisputed facts in this case, we determine that Laux's conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community." [6] Judge Hendry remanded the case to district court for a new determination of damages.

The viewpoint expressed in Boys Don't Cry sheds some light on the State Supreme Court's ruling. The film presents Brandon Teena's murder as intelligible only as part of a continuum of sexual violence that begins with dehumanizing hate speech and finds its logical conclusion in murder. In order to think about sexual violence as a continuum, I will first explore discourses of sex, truth, transgression, and transgender identity.