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Boys Donít Cry
by Robert White

Brandon Teena turned up on the front door of his girlfriendís home at 6.00 am Christmas morning in 1993, bruised and bloodied. He had been exposed, earlier that morning, as a woman. He had also been raped by his two closest friends, including the man he regarded as a role model, and as a type of father figure. Three days later, at the age of 21, Brandon Teena was shot dead by the men who had raped him, and then he was stabbed, and then shot again. An unspent bullet was found on the floor, between Brandon Teenaís legs, a testament to the small-minded hate that prematurely snuffed out a life.

Brandon Teena was born Teena Brandon, a boy trapped in a girlís body. The events leading to Brandonís death tell the story of a confused young person, scared and alone. When I first heard Brandonís story I was struck by how unnecessary his suffering was, by how it all could have been avoided had the course of his life, and the lives of those around him, been influenced by better ideas.

Brandon wanted to blank-out the fact that he had a female body. In the movie Boys Donít Cry, which is based on Brandonís life, he tells a friend that heís going to ask someone to marry him. The friend asks, "Before or after your sex change operation? Before or after you tell her that youíre a girl?" Brandon tells him to shut up. But while Brandon could shut out his friend, he could not shut out reality.

It was the evening Brandon first met Lana Tisdel, the woman who was to become his one true love. Imagine what itís like to be Brandon, for a moment. You have fallen for a beautiful woman. Youíre on a mental and physical high. Youíre a boy in love. Then you have your period. Snap back to reality. In the movie we watch, helpless, as Brandon stands in a bathroom desperately scrubbing menstrual blood from his trousers.

Brandon was weaving a web of lies that eventually had to snap. He was lying to his girlfriend, to his mates, to the people he worked with, and above all to himself. And others fed his fantasy. Brandon, for instance, would claim that he had kids, and girls would claim that Brandon had got them pregnant.

One evening Brandon was goaded into a car chase with the Police. He used a false driverís licence to avoid having his real identity exposed in front of his friends, but the Police checked his licence the next day. When Brandon went to pay the speeding fine he was arrested as Teena Brandon, on an outstanding charge, and was jailed with the female prisoners. The gig was up.

Lana Tisdel is often asked, "When did you first realise that Brandon was a girl?" What confused Ė and, no doubt, intrigued Ė many people was how a sexually experienced young woman, such as Lana, could have intercourse with another woman, and believe she was having sex with a man.

Lana has never been clear about when she realised that Brandon was female, because she knew the facts that indicated he was biologically a woman well before she allowed herself to make that connection. Each time Lana was confronted with a fact that indicated the truth she would pull back mentally, lower her focus, and blank-out the conclusion she eventually was unable to avoid.

In the movie, when Lana visits Brandon in jail, she asks him whatís going on. He says, "You want the truth donít you?" She nods her head. He tells her, speaking in the third person, "Brandonís real name is Teena Brandon. Only, you see, Brandon is not quite a he. Brandon is more like a Ö" Lana stops him, "Shut up. Itís your business. I donít care if youíre half monkey or half ape, Iím getting you out of here." But back at Lanaís house, when Brandon tries once more to tell her that he has a female body, she stops him again, and says, "I know youíre a guy."

Brandonís closest mates were John Lotter and Tom Nissen, the men who were to rape and murder him. Both were ex-cons. Brandon looked up to John as a role model, and John was attracted to the intimacy Brandon offered and represented, but which had been missing from his own life.

The state prosecutor at Tom Nissenís trial claimed that John and Tom were motivated by a hatred of Brandonís "lifestyle." Peter Sarsgaard, who plays John in the movie, offers a more probing analysis: "Johnís trapped not only in the physical sense [of not being able to leave a small town], but in the sense that his perspective is limited. He hasnít seen much, heís hung out with the same friends all his life and his moral sense of right and wrong is defined by the people in his group."

John and Tom raped and then murdered Brandon not because of a disagreement over "lifestyles," but because he was a threat to their world, a world that didnít extend beyond the borders of Falls City, Nebraska. Brandon was like an unstable element, a fact of reality they were confronted with, but couldnít integrate. Brandonís rape and murder was their pathetic attempt at self-protection; two acts of violence that destroyed their own lives at the same time as it ended Brandonís.

Kimberly Peirce, who directed the movie Boys Donít Cry, reminds us that beneath the Brandon persona was a 21 year old girl, scared and alone. One wishes one could have taken that scared girl by the hand, and armed her with the philosophic principles necessary to reconcile her inner self with her outer self, and necessary to protect her from a hostile world. One wishes Brandon had found Objectivism.

(July/August 2000)



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