Brandon's Gender Expression
Brandon didn't like wearing dresses to school. When her mother asked the reason for this, Brandon told her that dresses were cold (this was Nebraska) and that the boys could look up them when the girls climbed the stairs. Because she attended a school that required uniforms, she wore the pants and ties that were standard for the boys, but that girls were also allowed to wear. According to her best friend Sara Gapp, "People kept saying she dressed like a guy. She didn't… She dressed in clothes that she felt comfortable in. She didn't go to the guys' section to buy those clothes. Those were women's clothes she was wearing. She just liked baggy clothes. She wore short hair. Does that make her a guy?" (Jones, 55)
The choice to wear baggy clothes is consistent with the choices of many survivors of sexual abuse. Brandon's "passing" as a man began later as a practical joke on a teenaged girl who dialed Brandon's number by accident and mistook her for a boy on the phone. According to Sarah, "Up until Liz Delano [the mistaken caller], if you had called her a boy, Teena would be offended. She didn't want to be recognized as a guy. She didn't feel like a guy." (Jones, 54)
Brandon has also been described as indulging in male role-playing. According to her sister Tammy,
The church was really significant to her. We went to Catholic school, and I think they kind of brainwash you in kindergarten on being priests and nuns. They always bring in priests and nuns to talk about how they got the calling and how you'll know if you have the calling… Teena never wanted to be a nun; she always wanted to be a priest, and I thought it was funny because I had to participate in her masses, and I'd get really bored half the time, 'cause she'd read from the Bible and make us sing. I thought it was just a game she played; then every once in a while she'd say, 'Oh, I want to be a priest someday.' (Jones, 34)
Was Brandon identifying with the power to officiate or with the gender? In light of the Church's ban against women priests, which denies women the prestige, ceremonial office, and opportunity for leadership associated with the priesthood, it would be irresponsible to attribute Brandon's desire to be a priest to "gender dysphoria"—a term that, when applied to females, could as well be defined as "sex-caste resistance." Identification with gender roles in a male dominant culture cannot be separated from identification with the privileges that accompany those roles. As pioneer psychoanalyst Karen Horney notes, "We live… in a male culture, i.e. state, economy, art and science are creations of man and thus filled with his spirit." (Horney, 152)
Brandon's discomfort with her developing body has been documented. In her book, Aphrodite Jones reports that Brandon hated the pain caused by her developing breasts, and that she also complained of the pain of menstrual cramps and the inconvenience of having to deal with a monthly flow of blood. Were these the objections of a "male trapped in a female body," or of a particularly self-assertive and articulate girlchild appalled by the inconvenience, embarrassment, and pain of the adult female body?
Brandon's discomfort ran deeper than annoyance. She reported that it would "make her feel sick" (Jones, 47) to have anyone stare at her chest. Again, a girl need not be an incest survivor to register disgust at the sexual objectification of her developing body at puberty, but the female incest survivor who has internalized a masculine ideal faces a different set of obstacles:
While puberty represents a painful time for many adolescent girls, for daughters in incest families this transition into female adulthood may be especially difficult and confusing as her body signals not only the passage into female adulthood but the recognition that the internalized masculine ideal is truly a fantasy of other and can never be the real self. (Jacobs, 86)
The rejection of the female self can offer an explanation for the prevalence of eating disorders at puberty among incest survivors. Brandon, at the time of her attempted suicide, was reported as manifesting serious eating disorders.
For the incest survivor, her body becomes the symbol of her victimization and thus the focus of her desire for control. Further, the obsession with a thin, boyish body, rather than an expression of femininity, may represent an unconscious rejection of the female self through which the daughter attempts to integrate the internalized male ego ideal with an external image of a masculinized child's body. (Jacobs, 88)