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Introduction

Teena Brandon [Brandon Teena] was a twenty-one-year-old woman who dressed 'like a male.' On December 24, 1993, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen raped and brutally assaulted Brandon. The incident began at a gathering in Richardson County, Nebraska...After Brandon refused Lotter's advances, Lotter grabbed Brandon's hands while Nissen pulled her pants and underwear to the floor. Later, the two men cornered Brandon in the bathroom and Lotter held the door closed while Nissen hit Brandon in the head, kicked her in the ribs, and stepped on her. The men then dragged Brandon out to their car and drove to a remote location where they each raped her. After the rape, Nissen again brutally beat Brandon and threatened her not to tell anyone about the incident.

The following day, Brandon went to the authorities and was interviewed by Deputy Olberding and Charles Laux, the then-duly elected sheriff of Richardson County. Brandon gave a three-page written statement detailing the rape and assault. Laux asked Brandon crude questions about the incident, telling Brandon that they were necessary in order to present the case to the County Attorney. Laux also questioned Brandon why she dressed "like a male" and why she socialized with females instead of males. Brandon cancelled two follow-up appointments with Laux because she feared his abusive treatment.

On December 31, 1993, Lotter and Nissen broke into the home of Lisa Lambert where Brandon was staying and fatally shot and stabbed Brandon and two others who were present in the home. The plaintiff asserts that the conspiracy to kill Brandon was simply an extension of the conspiracy to rape Brandon because she was a female who dressed like a male. [1]

To become acquainted with the facts of Brandon Teena's case is to be implicated in a crime that overpowers with its brutality. Brandon's murder—by close range shots to the head followed with numerous stab wounds—amounted to an execution. [2] And execution is not easily expressed, represented, or analyzed in our culture; words fall short. Yet this paper will attempt to make sense of Brandon's execution by viewing it through the intentionally mixed lenses of the film Boys Don't Cry; [3] the documentary, The Brandon Teena Story; [4] legal case documents; police reports; journalistic accounts; and contemporary feminist theoretical debates. I hope to use the powerful vision of Boys Don't Cry to spark a broader conversation about gender identity, sexuality, and violence against women.

Brandon Teena's story—especially its representation in American popular culture—raises several important questions for feminist and queer theory and praxis. First, how does this case challenge us to re-conceptualize violence against women? Do sex crimes play out differently—i.e., with different dynamics and according to alternative 'logics'— when they target transgendered individuals? If so, does transgender violence call for new strategies of feminist intervention? Does the case of Brandon Teena necessitate a new emphasis on the body within feminist politics, or a reassessment of the social meanings ascribed to female bodies?

Brandon Teena's story troubles conventional feminist understandings of the body, sexual difference, and violence against women. Especially, it points to a need for intersectional political alliances between feminist, queer, and transgender communities. Such alliances would foster nuanced approaches toward violence against women that might more effectively promote legislative change. As narrated in Boys Don't Cry and The Brandon Teena Story, Brandon Teena's storyhighlights the need to address intersecting facets of oppression. Yet it also locates the female body as the site of particularly brutal inscriptions of power, 'truth,' and difference.