December 31, 1993: Transgender Rape and Murder Spawn a Movie!

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A Brief History

On December 31, 1993, transgender person Brandon Teena was raped and murdered, the inspiration for the 1999 major motion picture Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hillary Swank.

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find 21-year-old biologically female Brandon Teena living as a man in Nebraska.

Having been born a girl and named Teena Brandon, Brandon exhibited transgender tendencies as an adolescent and despite her mother’s denial and consternation continued to progress that way through high school, ending up expelled only 3 days before graduation.

Living as a man under the transposed name, Brandon Teena, Teena moved out of her mother’s house and went to live with other friends.  Establishing a relationship with a 19-year-old woman, her world became undone when she was arrested for forging checks.  Being jailed with the female detainees, it became apparent to her friends that Teena was probably not a biological man, and the newspaper police blotter account confirmed it for all Teena’s acquaintances to see.

Confronted by a pair of ex-cons at a Christmas party, Teena’s pants were pulled down to reveal her biological nature to her girlfriend.  Teena was dragged off by the ex-cons and taken into a car where Teena was raped and beaten. Ordered to clean up in a shower, Teena escaped through a bathroom window.

After Teena filed a police report the rapists found out, and true to their threats about filing a report, tracked down Teena and shot Teena along with two other victims, and then stabbed Teena to ensure their grisly work concluded her life.  The two murderous criminals were convicted of the murders and given a life sentence for one and a death sentence for the other.

This shocking case resulted in an uproar of protest against hate crimes directed against people merely for their sexual orientation or practices.  Widespread publicity of this incident includes a book by Aphrodite Jones, All She Wanted, as well as the hit movie Boys Don’t Cry, other documentary films, books, and articles.  Teena’s mother sued the local sherrif’s department for failing to properly handle the case, especially for losing the rape kit taken at the hospital and for failing to protect Teena in light of the threats made.  Teena’s real life girlfriend sued the movie production for portraying her as “white trash and a skanky snake.”  Both lawsuits were successful.

The bit of good that came from this tragedy and others of the same nature is that the publicity has spurred lawmakers to pass legislation in many jurisdictions making crimes against people because of their sexuality considered “hate crimes” with increased criminal ramifications.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you think “hate crimes” are still a major problem in America today?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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 Historical Evidence

The obvious recommendations for more on this incident are of course:

Jones, Aphrodite.  All She Wanted.  Gallery Books, 2008.

Peirce, Kimberly, dir.  Boys Don’t Cry.  1999; 20th Century Fox, 2009.  DVD.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.