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The Tragic Story Of Brandon Teena, Whose Case Inspired 'Boys Don't Cry'

Updated 1 Aug 2019 1.2m views16 items

The assault and homicide of 21-year-old Brandon Teena in 1993 was one of the most shocking hate crimes in living memory. Hilary Swank won her first Best Actress Oscar in 2000 for portraying the transgender young adult whose life was tragically cut short, but the true story behind Boys Don't Cry is more complicated and detailed than the Hollywood version audiences saw.

Brandon Teena was designated female at birth, born to an extremely impoverished single teen mother in Lincoln, NE, in 1972. As a high schooler, he began identifying as male, dressing in traditionally male clothing, binding his breasts, dating women, and assuming the alpha/provider status in his relationships.

When Teena dropped out of high school, his love life eventually drew him into a social sphere that included the two offenders who eventually ended his life, his girlfriend, and another mutual friend because of Teena's identity. Though the men had attacked Teena previously, the sheriff refused to arrest them, and the next time, it proved lethal. Because of the lack of legal protection and understanding surrounding trans people at the time, the law did very little to advocate justice on behalf of Teena. His story continued to be misunderstood and simplified long after his slaying - even by the most well-meaning parties, including the journalist who wrote the original story on which Boys Don't Cry was based.

Although dialogue and education about trans people and issues are slowly being elevated, there is still a long way to go in creating legal protections and de-stigmatized conversation around those who identify as trans or simply don't identify on the traditional gender binary. Brandon Teena's story is a tragic, but important, cornerstone to starting that conversation. 

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