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Teena Brandon: Transgender Tragedy

By Edited Jul 26, 2016 3 12

You Look Like a Boy

The heartland of America is a breeding ground for bigotry and ugliness.

It is in this geophysical area from which “patriots” come, knee-jerk reactionaries who think “Merka” was made by some fictitious god, that people such as “queer-o-sexuals” are that god’s mistakes, and “towel heads”—people who might be Islamic or of Arabic descent—are suspect infidels.

It is from here that some of the worst that humanity offers grows.

An incident involving only the last three weeks of a Nebraskan’s life immortalized her in a way not necessarily intended.

A few days after being brutally raped by two homophobes, Teena Brandon, a young woman living as a young man, was murdered by her attackers.


The Great Plains States in America are both fruitful and bleak.

They form the literal breadbasket to the world with hundreds of thousands of arable acres of farmlands, miles and miles of open fields, and a people who, until recently, were culturally disenfranchised.

There may be something to the isolation of the Plains’ openness—anyone standing in its vast emptiness cannot help but feel alone.  In the pocketed communities that sprung up in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska people lived their lives in a relative cultural void for decades.  Norms of behavior were established that carried over into the modern era, and the jingoistic ethos of “God, guns, and country” was perhaps nowhere stronger than in the Plains States. 

Among the famous people who trod Nebraska’s soil was Pulitzer-prize winning author and “butch” lesbian, Willa Cather (1875-1947).  She was not born in Nebraska but came there with her family

Willa Cather, author (1875-1947)
when she was nine.

When she enrolled at the University of Nebraska, she arrived on her first day in the mid 1890s dressed as a man (her imaginary, opposite-sex twin, “William Cather”).

She lived the life of a literary light as a lesbian.  She had three major loves during her lifetime, all female, and she spent the last forty years in New York City with a female partner, Edith Lewis.

Markers and other informational material at her Nebraska childhood home just north of Red Cloud, Nebraska, never mention her lesbianism, however, although it was a major influence in her life and writing.

Not so literate Nebraskans were Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate. 

The 19-year-old Starkweather, a bandy-legged, red-haired, myopic, strutting rooster and a runt, went on a classic murderous rampage that began on December 1, 1957, and ended with their capture on January 29, 1958.

The pair traveled throughout Nebraska starting in their hometown of Lincoln, making it as far as Wyoming.  Starkweather gunned down everyone in their path in his desperation to find escape before getting caught for the murder of a gas-station attendant and Caril Ann Fugate’s entire family (mother, father, and 2-year-old sibling).  In all, eleven people died during their two months on the run.  Starkweather went to the Big Chair on June 15, 1959.  Caril Anne Fugate, though sentenced to life as an accessory, served only 17 years.  She was released, moved to Lansing, Michigan, changed her name, found a menial job, and married in 2007.

Lincoln, Nebraska, occupies a place in the southeastern part of the state.

It also occupies a dark place in the minds of America.

It is here the tragedy of the transgender young woman, Teena Brandon, played out.

“It’s a Girl!”
Teena Renae Brandon was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on December 12, 1972, to JoAnn Brandon.  Patrick, her father, had died in a car wreck eight months before Teena was

Teena Renae Brandon (1972-1993)
born.  Her mother named Teena after the family’s dog (a German Shepherd named Tina Marie). 

Much like serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Teena and her sister Tammy were abandoned to the care of their grandparents by JoAnn.  The girls lived with them until Teena was three and Tammy was six.  JoAnn remarried in 1975, and she came for them.  The new family moved into a trailer park in Lincoln.

JoAnn had a job as a clerk in a women’s store, leaving the girls in the care of whoever was available to babysit.  One of these was an uncle whom Teena later alleged had molested both girls over a several year period.  JoAnn’s new husband was an alcoholic, and by 1980 the two were divorced.

Teena Renae Brandon (teenager)

Teena’s demeanor had always leaned toward the tomboyish.  However, as she grew older she began to more readily identify herself as being more boy than girl, at least mentally.  This, according to some, was a self-defense mechanism—by not appearing feminine she would not attract the unwanted attentions of men.

Teena reported to her few friends her biggest fear was being raped.

Gender confusion is itself a confusing term.

The term is applied to transgender people.  It is certain the person to whom the label is applied (a man who feels as if he is female and therefore attracted to things women would find attractive) is not confused about his or her feelings.

It is society that is confused by such a person: he or she does not fit the expected mold of behavior for one possessing his/her naturally endowed sex organs.  Therefore, a label must be applied.  The more politically correct, clinical term, gender identity disorder, is also misleading, as if the person’s inclinations are somehow abnormal, a disease or malfunction.  None of that is true—gender identity lies within the person, and only he or she can say whether he or she is confused.

Most recently, the world has watched as celebrity child Chastity Bono over the years has gone from being an “out” lesbian to a transgender person, undergoing hormone treatments and surgeries to become fully male.  Chastity Bono, now using the name “Chas”, had perhaps never thought of herself as a lesbian.  Although she was attracted to women, Chas Bono felt the same attractions to women as a heterosexual male does—she was simply born with the “wrong” body.  [This is clearly differentiable from the lesbian who relishes being female but enjoys, and is sexually attracted to, other women.]

So, too, Teena Brandon harbored the same feelings at an early age.  She began dressing more masculine and even dated a female student while in school.  However, her behavior drew a lot of unwarranted and negative attention, and she was an easy mark for bullies.

Teena was not ambivalent about her sexuality—she was, in her mind, a man trapped inside a woman’s body.  The torments in her life stemmed from that unfortunate circumstance.  Her mother, JoAnn, ridiculed this change in persona in her daughter.  Although Teena had tried to make her understand, JoAnn insisted on calling Teena her “daughter” and using feminine pronouns in reference to her.

Billy Brinson (Teena Brandon)

Teena and her sister attended Catholic schools in Lincoln.  By the time she entered high school, Teena had adopted the name “Billy Brinson” for her male self.  She started dating girls from other schools (who did not know she was female).  During her sophomore year in Catholic high school she renounced Christianity because of its mediaeval views on homosexuality.  She continually violated the school’s dress code with her manly attire.

Wanting to plan for a future, shortly after her 18th birthday and during her first semester of her senior year, Teena enlisted in the US Army after a recruiter had been round to the school. However, the Army rejected her when, on a written exam, she identified herself as male (perjury under contract).

That same month, December 1990, Teena went to a skate park with friends.  Before going to the park she had bound her breasts with an Ace bandage and put on her most butch clothing.  With her close-cropped hair, she looked like a boy, albeit a scrawny one.   Teena’s date for this event was a 13-year-old girl whom Teena kissed as intimates do.  Teena met this girl’s 14-year-old friend Heather, and Teena was taken by her.  As Heather had only seen Teena dressed as a boy, Teena adopted the drag look from then on as a means of attracting teen girls. 

Apparently happy with her newfound charisma, Teena was reportedly buoyant the last few months of high school.  But she also began skipping out of school; her failing grades led to her expulsion in June 1991 just three days before graduation.

Girls Want to be With the Girls
Summer of 1991 found Teena floating without anything on her agenda except the girl, Heather.  She did find a job as a gas station attendant, though.  She wanted to save up enough to buy or rent a

Teena Brandon (w/ unknown girl)
trailer for herself and Heather to set up housekeeping.

JoAnn, suspicious of Teena’s relationship with the underage Heather, set Teena’s older sister, Tammy, on her trail. Tammy was supposed to report back to JoAnn if anything untoward was happening between the girls. 

Teena, meanwhile, developed some of the neuroses that could be expected of one living in a mental storm.  She was bulimic, and she abused drugs and alcohol.  She had once overdosed in a suicide attempt.

She finally told JoAnn about the sexual molestation at the hands of the uncle when she was younger.  At a psychiatric evaluation, part of general therapy, Teena was diagnosed as suffering from a severe sexual identity crisis.  Further examination insured Teena was not suicidal, and she was released from psychiatric care with instructions to attend therapy sessions.  Teena and her mother went four times a week to these sessions for two weeks.

Teena had lived in the home of her underage girlfriend Heather (to whom she had given a promissory ring, a pre-engagement token) and Heather’s mother, Ruth.  Ruth put Teena out in 1992, however, after JoAnn called explaining that Teena (who was using the name “Brandon”) was really a girl.  [To illustrate just how ignorant these people were, Teena had told the naïve Heather she had once been female but was “now a hermaphrodite”.] 

Teena’s older sister Tammy no longer lived at home, crashing with a friend named Reanna.  Teena moved in for a place to stay.

Teena and the Law
Teena had been cadging personal checks and stealing from those she lived with.  She forged these checks for cash and pilfered from her roommates’ ATM accounts when the opportunity presented itself.

Heather’s mother Ruth had been bilked out of a few dollars by Teena (through check kiting), and she swore out a criminal complaint.  Teena was found and charged with second-degree forgery.  She was put on probation.

Teena tried to make up with the girl Heather by sending her letters of apology for having deceived her.  Meanwhile, she struck up a relationship with another girl named Gina Bartu.  Gina did not know Teena was female, and apparently any intimate physical contact between them was severely restricted.  Teena, however, continued forging checks and stealing credit cards to buy gifts for her new-found love, Gina.

Their mother, JoAnn, learned her daughters were living with Tammy’s old high school friend Reanna.  JoAnn made enough of a fuss with this woman that Reanna asked Teena to leave. Teena Brandon returned to her mother’s home but continued her petty thieving.

She was again charged with forgery in May 1993 (along with some other related charges) and was jailed. Her girlfriend, Gina, was going to post bail.  It was upon going to the jail to seek Teena’s release that Gina Bartu learned that “Brandon Teena”, her boyfriend, was really Teena Brandon, a female.  Teena begged Gina’s forgiveness, claiming she was saving for a sex change operation and to not break up with her.  To avert a split, Teena asked Gina to marry her (bizarrely, Gina said “yes”). 

By September 1993, Teena was back in jail again for having stolen a credit card and racking up charges of over $450 on it fraudulently.  The card was connected to Gina somehow, because Gina threatened to press charges.  Teena advised she would reimburse her, and the matter was dropped.

JoAnn and Teena argued incessantly in the wake of this latest arrest.  Teena had been more mannish in her activates, lifting weights and acting more macho, and it upset JoAnn.  After a fierce argument in late November 1993, Teena Brandon left Lincoln, Nebraska.

Humboldt, Nebraska, is about 20 miles northwest of Randolph County’s seat, Falls City.  Randolph County is at the absolute southeast corner of Nebraska where it meets Missouri and Kansas.  It has

Lisa Lambert (murdered Dec. 31, 1993)
been described as “The Land of the Pick-Up Truck”, and its redneck reality could not possibly be foreseen by such a conniving transgender gadabout like Teena Brandon.  However, she felt the walls of Lincoln closing in, and after meeting a new friend named Daphne, the pair took off for Humboldt, about 80 miles SSE of Lincoln.

Teena already had assumed the male guise of Brandon Teena and wore it effectively.  She looked like a “soft” boy—kind of scrawny (5’5” tall weighing 112 pounds) and shy, but clearly and decidedly unfeminine.  Here, in a new place, she thought she could simply start all over again with her new, preferred male persona.

The girl Daphne had a friend named Lisa Lambert who rented a rundown farmhouse just outside Humboldt.  Lisa was 24 years old, had an eight-month old son, and she was alone.  Perhaps interested in finding a husband and a father for her baby, Lisa took a shine to “Brandon”, and Teena was invited to stay with her temporarily.  Almost immediately, though (during the first week of December), Teena met Lana Tisdel, a 19-year-old strawberry blond to whom she was attracted.  Lana lived at home with her mother Linda and a sister.


Teena Brandon & Lana Tisdel (Dec. 1993)

In turn, Lana Tisdel introduced Teena to her circle of friends.  One of her friends was dating Lana’s sister.  This was a black 19-year-old with a prosthetic leg named Phillip DeVine.  Another person to whom Teena was introduced was a young man named John Lotter.

Lotter had once been Lana’s boyfriend.  He was described as of low intelligence.  Born in 1971, this Falls City native had done almost nothing with his life.  He was balding prematurely at the age of 22, and he was not terribly self-directed.  He drank most of the time and got into trouble.

His best friend was another man similar in temperament to himself, also born in 1971, a loser named Marvin Thomas Nissen.  He preferred the name Thomas or Tom.  Nissen was married to a woman named Kandi, and he had two children with her.

Teena’s relationship with Lana Tisdel blossomed quickly.  There is no clear evidence about the nature of their intimacy.  Allegedly, Lana purportedly told one of her friends that Teena had a small penis.  The friend allegedly replied that Teena was so good a boyfriend that Lana should just forget about the size of his manhood.  [This seems ridiculous on its face—either Lana had never seen or handled a penis (unlikely since her ex-boyfriend was John Lotter who no doubt had sex with her), or Teena Brandon had an outsized clitoris and Lana was too stupid to know the difference.  Perhaps Lana bought the “hermaphrodite” story.  Finally, since Teena packed her pants with two pairs of socks to give a bulge, there is no reason to presume she might not have taken the extra step to tuck a dildo into her pants as well.  Lana never said she had intercourse with the “small penis” just that Teena had one.]

Teena Brandon was happy with Lana and her running buddies, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen.  But since Teena was broke, she reverted to her forging activities for cash.  On December 15, 1993, Teena Brandon was arrested for attempting to cash a forged check at a bank.  On December 19, 1993, Lana went to the jail to post Teena’s bail.  Teena was housed in the women’s unit, and like Gina Bartu before her, Lana learned “Brandon” was a girl named Teena.  Lana, in addition to her shock, found she was not legally old enough to post bail for Teena.  She contacted the legal-aged John Lotter to come and complete the transaction on December 22, 1993.  At that time, without having anything confirmed, Lotter got a whiff of the truth that “Brandon” might be a girl.

To a person of limited life experience and of low IQ, such a revelation would be a blow to his fragile ego.  Homophobes live on the edge of denial as it is, and not only was his ex-girlfriend hanging around with another guy, the “guy” was really a dyke putting the moves on her through deceit!

Lotter obsessed about this and as soon as Teena was out on bond, he told Marvin Nissen what he had found out: their little drinking buddy, Brandon, was a girl.

Revelations & Rape
Teena Brandon had smoothed things over enough with Lana for the two to at least be still on speaking terms.  However, because Teena’s arrest had been reported in the paper, it was soon all over town that Teena was a woman.  Lana’s mother, Linda, was furious at the charade, and forbade Teena from seeing her daughter.  Teena, not realizing the depth of the furor stirred up by recent events, went to a Christmas Eve party where Lana, John Lotter, Marvin Nissen, and others were in attendance.

Lotter’s upset over Teena had spilled over onto his little drunken friend Marvin.  Between the two of them they absolutely had to know if Teena was a male or female.  Lana was of no help as she refused to discuss it.  At the party, Teena was dragged off and punched repeatedly by Lotter.  He and Nissen stripped Teena’s pants off and confirmed she had a vagina.  Others present reported Lana merely stood by and watched this happen. 

The two homophobes decided, however, that humiliating Teena was not enough punishment for her deception.  They hustled her off in their car to a quiet spot near a meat-packing plant.  There, Lotter and Nissen beat and brutally raped Teena Brandon.  Lotter used her vaginally and anally; Nissen would lie later and claim that although he tried to rape her vaginally, he instead ejaculated into a condom.  [It seems absurd to believe any rapists on the spur of the moment would thoughtfully have a condom on hand.]

Nissen and Lottery took the battered and bloody Teena Brandon back to Nissen’s house.  It is believed his wife, Kandi, was home then (she later appeared as a prosecution witness).  They took her to the bathroom and insisted she take a shower and clean up.  This was now the wee hours of Christmas Day.  They left her alone in the bathroom; Teena managed to climb out a window and made her way in the cold, barefoot and without a jacket, to Lana’s house.

Death Comes Calling
Lana convinced Teena to file a police report for the rape.  Both Nissen and Lotter had warned her not to tell anyone, especially the police, upon threat of death. 

Teena was afraid and had every right to be, but she went ahead to the sheriff’s department anyway.  She was taken to an ER for a standard rape kit (which was later lost by the local police), and then uncomfortably questioned by the typically closed-minded sheriff of the county, a man named Charles B. Laux.

Rather than ask about the specifics of the assault and who did it, he was more interested in her peculiar (to his way of thinking) choice of garb and demeanor.  His line of questioning was ridiculous.  Did either of the men fondle her vagina?  When she replied they had not, he scoffed in disbelief, claiming something must be amiss as all men would want to touch and fondle a vagina.  She finally found his questioning to be both prurient and pointless, and she stopped talking. 

Lotter and Nissen, terrified of going to prison for rape and not trusting Teena to be silent about it, decided to kill her.  They equipped themselves with a rope, a hatchet, and extra clothing. 

They started looking for Teena in the places they thought she might be.  They first went to her old home in Lincoln, Nebraska, and then they went to three other places they had uncovered from her address book (assuming it was taken during her rape; otherwise it is unknown how the pair came to have it).

They gave up their search, having exhausted their meager brains, and spent the rest of the day drinking and talking of murder.  It was the pair’s intent to kill Teena and cut off her head and hands to prevent identifying her corpse.  [This almost certainly would have failed.  Discovery of a female torso with an Ace bandage bound around her breasts and two pairs of socks stuffed into the crotch of her jeans would have been more than enough to identify the unknown as Teena Brandon.] 

Lotter and Nissen were finally called in for questioning by the sheriff on December 28.  [This was three days after the rape.  It is unclear why they were not immediately brought in.]  Lotter’s excuse for assaulting Teena (stripping off her pants at the Christmas Eve party) was that Lana Tisdel (Teena’s girlfriend) had asked him to determine Teena’s sex.  Lotter said neither he nor Nissen had sexual contact with Teena, but he refused to supply semen or hair samples.  

Marvin Nissen volunteered to give samples (whether he actually did is unknown).  Nissen claimed, however, that he had stood by while Lotter had consensual sex with Teena.  He was asked to come in for a follow-up interview; Nissen advised Lotter of what he had told the sheriff and also added he was due for more interrogation later.  Both felt a sense of urgency to find Teena and silence her.

Meanwhile, Lana’s mother had called her ex-husband, a man named Lindell, and explained what was going on with Lana and Teena.  This man then took it upon himself to go find John Lotter, and incited Lotter’s sense of wounded machismo even further.  Teena, scheduled to go back for a follow-up interview on December 30 with the sheriff, went to the department as appointed.  When she arrived she saw Marvin Nissen there for his follow-up interview, and she turned around and left instead.  She called JoAnn, her mother, who asked her to come home to Lincoln; Teena advised the situation would be over soon and she would probably see her on or around January 3 [1994].

Lotter and Nissen met up after Nissen’s interview, and they hatched another murder plot.  This time, Lotter said they needed to be better armed.  Both men’s movements afterwards were purely premeditated toward murder as they had been a few days earlier.  They drank heavily.  They stopped off at Lotter’s mother’s house where they picked up a pair of gloves and a heavy knife in a sheath with Lotter’s name embossed on it.  They visited a friend’s house that they knew owned a gun.  While there, Lotter excused himself to use the friend’s bathroom.  He knew where the man stashed a pistol, and he took it.  He and Nissen departed soon afterward.

The drunken pair drove to Lana Tisdel’s house late that night.  Although their plan called for kidnapping Teena and killing her elsewhere, both were committed to killing her on sight (and anyone else if necessary). 

Teena was not at Lana’s, however; Lana’s mother gave them directions to Lisa Lambert’s rented farmhouse in Humboldt.  The men took off.  [Lana later advised police that Lotter had made it abundantly clear that he and Nissen were out to kill someone—magically, however, neither she nor anyone else in

Lisa Lambert's rented farmhouse (Humboldt, NE)
the Tisdel house had enough caring to ring Lisa Lambert and warn her.]

The killers arrived at Lisa’s farmhouse and broke in.

On the couch was Lana’s sister’s boyfriend, Phillip DeVine.  He was sleeping over because he and his girlfriend (Lana’s sister) were on the outs.  Lotter and Nissen did not notice him immediately.

The pair moved to Lisa’s bedroom and found her in bed.  They awakened her and demanded to known where Teena was.  Lisa said she had no idea; when asked if anyone else was in the house Lisa told them of Phillip DeVine’s presence in her living room.

A quick search of Lisa’s bedroom revealed Teena huddled under a blanket on the floor near the foot of the bed.  She was jerked to her feet and shot.  She collapsed on the bed.  Nissen asked Lotter for the knife—he raised Teena’s shirt and stabbed her in the abdomen.

Phillip DeVine, hearing the noise, hobbled into the room and found the gory scene—they had also shot Lisa Lambert where she sat on her bed., and she was lying dead on it next to Teena where she had collapsed.  Phillip backed out of the room, with Lotter and Nissen edging toward him.  He went so far as to get on his knees and begged for his life (according to Nissen’s testimony later).

Phillip was told to have a seat on the sofa—Lotter shot him at close range.

Too Quiet
An emergency call was placed to the Humboldt Rescue Squad at 10:20 AM on December 31, 1993.

Emergency personnel arrived to find Lisa Lambert’s mother, Anna Mae Lambert, sitting in the dining room feeding Lisa’s eight-month-old son.  She was the person who phoned in the emergency.  She had arrived that morning and found the carnage police would discover soon; she had enough presence of mind to disturb nothing except to retrieve the baby from the bedroom. 

In the living room splayed out on the floor against the couch was Phillip DeVine.  He had been shot, an entrance wound in his jaw with an exit wound in the right side of his head.  He had a second gunshot wound in the neck (police identified him from his wallet found at the scene). 

Anna Mae directed police to the bedroom.  The floor was flooded—the waterbed upon which two bodies lay was leaking.  Police saw the blond young woman, Lisa, and what they first thought was a baby-faced young man on the bed.  No one had any idea who the man was.

Lisa Lambert had been shot in the stomach and once in the right eye.  Police surmised she had sat up when first shot and had fallen prone onto the bed afterward.  The young man had a close-range gunshot wound under the chin (powder residue and stippling indicated a near-contact shot).  They noted the jagged knife wound to the abdomen and also observed evidence of blunt force trauma to the head (probably struck with the butt of the gun before shooting).

The sheriff, Charles Laux, was one of the respondents to the scene, and he immediately recognized the dead “young man” on the bed as Teena Brandon.  He also immediately knew who probably had killed her and advised all present of his suspicions.  Because the sheriff, grudgingly, already had the pair of Lotter and Nissen already in his sights for Teena’s rape  arrest warrants for the outstanding sexual assault were issued. 

Evidence linking Lotter to the crime was found quickly enough.  The pair—true criminal masterminds—had tried to throw the knife and gloves into a nearby river.  It was frozen over solid, and the evidence sat right there on the

John Lotter & Marvin Thomas Nissen
surface, the knife sheath having Lotter’s name stitched on it.  The two were picked up quickly, and questioned; they both told different stories, each implicating the other. 

Finally, Marvin Nissen was the first to cut a deal with the state—in exchange for his testimony, the death penalty would be taken off the table for him.  At his trial he was convicted of one count of first-degree murder (for Teena), and two counts of second-degree murder (for Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert).  He was sentenced to life imprisonment with two other 10-year-minimum sentences for the second-degree charges.  His current prison record shows a scheduled parole review hearing for March 2016.

John Lotter, the man whose pride was so wounded by his ex-girlfriend’s fling with a “lesbian”, was sentenced to death (but for his bargaining, Nissen’s fate would have been the same).  He was charged with three first-degree murder counts; a burglary count (for stealing the gun from his friend); and three counts of using a deadly weapon in the commission of a felony.

He and Nissen have changed their stories many times since each was imprisoned in 1996.  The state of Nebraska finds both complicit, and Lotter’s appeals have been exhausted.  Following a brief moratorium in Nebraska on executions, he is—deservedly—back on schedule for death.

The collateral damage in this murder, Lisa Lambert and Phillip DeVine (certainly both innocent bystanders in this drama), are never recalled in discussions of the events.  They should be remembered, too.
Teena Brandon?
Who was Teena Renae Brandon?

Despite her perceived martyrdom within the gay community, she was not a model citizen.  Nor was she a champion of gay rights or a revolutionary working on behalf of gays and transgender people everywhere.

She was a self-absorbed narcissist who was also a petty criminal.

Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena (last known photo)
It is almost certain that Teena Brandon felt some secret glee in fooling the impressionable young girls she courted.  These were mostly unworldly and naïve teens used to ill-treatment in their little corner of Nebraska.

Teena Brandon, as a girl who knew how to treat a girl, was probably looked upon as a knight in shining armor by these girls who had such diminished expectations.  With men like Lotter and Nissen as their choices, Teena Brandon was quite a catch comparatively.

In addition to that, she was not a good model for the transgender community—whatever anyone’s opinion of transgender people happens to be, liars and deceivers in any group are not worthy representatives of that group.

Chas Bono, during the earlier years as Chastity Bono (a “lesbian”), dressed mannishly, etc., but to the best of anyone’s knowledge Chastity never tried to deceive any woman into believing she was anything other than female (who wanted to be a man, but female nonetheless).  Now that the process of gender reassignment has been executed, Chas Bono is as honest about that change as about the earlier lifestyle.  Chas Bono, the “he”, does not try to fool women into liking him.  They either do or they don’t, and he is not actively engaged in deceiving anyone.

The imposture seemed to be part of Teena’s raison d’être, though.  She seemed to enjoy the disguise and the fooling.  Every time she was “outed” she gave excuses: she was gearing up for a sex change operation or she was a hermaphrodite.  She never told anyone the truth: “I feel like a man, and I would like to be a man, but right now I can’t afford to complete the process.  Will you still love me, anyway?”

Teena’s lies about saving for a sex change operation are laughable to anyone of even average intelligence—such operations, not covered by health care insurance as they are considered “cosmetic”—cost tens of thousands of dollars, and Teena Brandon did not even have a steady job.  Her petty forgery netted her very little, all of which she generally spent on her current girlfriend of the moment. 

Teena Brandon was not a confused girl as many would believe.  She felt male, and she acted as a male would (albeit a very selfish, self-centered one).  She was a conniving dreamer and a user. 

She categorically and emphatically did not, however, deserve to be violently raped and murdered by anyone, least of all by two homophobic rednecks.  Her downfall was her lack of honesty with those around her.

Imposters rarely get away with it in the long run.  Unfortunately, for Teena Brandon, neither did she.

Teena Brandon's headstone


Author’s notes:  Teena Brandon’s story was brought to the big screen in 1999 in the Academy Award-winning Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank.

It is clearly understood that Teena Brandon thought of herself as male.  The gender-correct method of referring to Teena throughout this piece would have been to use the masculine pronouns “he” or “him”.  It is for the sake of clarity and consistency that the feminine was used and not because the author does not understand the difference or wishes to disparage transgender people by maliciously refusing to use proper language. 

The real story here is about Teena Brandon, not the two homophobic killers who murdered her.

However, there is some unresolved information about Lotter’s and Nissen’s backgrounds, none of it worth resolving.

Most sources report without qualification that these two were ex-convicts.  Another source reports they had met each other in the Army.

Both seem unlikely.

Completing hitches in the armed forces and stints in prison would require them to be older than they were.  Similarly, it seems unlikely the 22-year-old Marvin Nissen had enough time in life to be an adult in prison, complete an army hitch, be married, and have two children.  The “ex-con” story is probably a rumor started to make themselves seem more menacing to the locals.  It is possible one or both had been in and out of local jails for petty offenses, but neither probably had ever been inside a real prison.

If anyone bothers to uncover past criminal history for these two and wishes to correct this assumption, please do.  [And as a further indicator of character, as a boy John Lotter was summarily refused admission to the iconic Boys Town—about 10 miles west of Omaha—for incorrigible and homeless youths.  He was considered too “bad” even for that institution.]

There is an interesting observation no one has ever mentioned about either of the two macho men, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen: the homosexual nature of their sexual assault on Teena. 

First, it reeks of homoeroticism, the same as any gang rape does.  One man standing and watching as another commits a rape is engaging in homoerotic sexual behavior (as are boys and men who “circle jerk”).

Secondly, both men knew Teena Brandon acted and thought of herself as a man.  This meant that, despite the fact they were raping a person with a vagina, the act was symbolically homosexual.  It is particularly noteworthy that in addition to raping her vaginally she was also raped anally; had they wanted to merely punish her womanhood all they had to do was vaginally rape her.  The anal rape was a homosexual act psychologically for these two, both of whom could then kid themselves that it was heterosexual sex because Teena had a vagina.

To their twisted way of thinking there is no doubt both believed they had surely taught that “queer” a lesson!

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Feb 16, 2012 5:49pm
Quite simply one of the best reads ever VD. Keep going you have a forever fan :-)
Feb 16, 2012 11:52pm
I try -- thanks for reading.
Feb 20, 2012 6:08pm
i had to recommend this on reddit
Feb 27, 2012 3:05am
Thanks for the promo.
Mar 27, 2012 9:08pm
I have spent way too much time reading articles today! This one was definitely worth the read. It is terribly sad. Sad that Teena's family never gave her resources to be a contributing member of society and never accepted him as he was. Sad that any person is capable of the rapes and murder...
Mar 28, 2012 12:40am
The people inovlved in this crime were maggots with no redeeming qualities at all. Teena was no saint, but she sure didn't deserve what happeend to her.

Maggot A is still on Death Row -- his little buddy, Maggot B, is in the joint without parole for life (I'm sure both have been made into good prison wives by now).

Thanks for reading, and it's good for peopel to remember just how awful we can be as a species!
Oct 15, 2012 10:16pm
"Imposters rarely get away with it in the long run. Unfortunately, for Teena Brandon, neither did she."

Okay, that was pretty chilling. Once cannot say "this person didn't deserve to be killed" and then contradict oneself sentences later. When non-transgender and or non-gay people talk about LGBT issues, there almost always seems to be a very hateful undercurrent, no matter how positive they seem at first.
Oct 18, 2012 3:03pm
There is NO contradiction in the statements I have made.

Teena Brandon did NOT deserve to die. HOWEVER, her imposture was a LIE, willfully contrived to deceive no matter how you slice it, and it has nothing to do with being gay or non-gay, it has to do with being a liar.

Teena Brandon was a liar, but she did NOT -- REAPEAT! -- NOT deserve what happened to her at the hands of two raping redneck homophobes.

Thanks for reading.
Oct 20, 2012 3:14am
Dude. Brandon Teena told his girlfriend that he had female genitalia, he just said that he was a hermaphrodite. His girlfriend knew what he looked like naked. Transgender people usually reserve information about their gentiles for intimate partners.

Because there is a difference between a male and a female brain, and science suggests that transgenders suffer an abnormality which causes the brain to be sexed differently than the gentiles, Brandon wasn't exactly lying by calling himself a boy. Maybe you should actually go do some reading (not a blog, but real books) on the subject. I suggest neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran. Or, simply look up "causes of transsexualism" on wikipedia.

Transgender people shouldn't have to wear a badge saying that they are transgender at all times. I they did, they would probably become the daily victims of hate crime. Remember what happened in Germany, when Jews were ordered to identify themselves immediately? Being Jewish is definitely something you would want to let a romantic partner know before marrying them or engaging in a relationship, because it has a profound effect on lifestyle. However, if a Jewish person were to announce their religion every second of the day especially in a world that does not welcome Jews, people would not only think him odd, but he would be opening himself up to violent attacks.

Not only would transgender people risk violence by being constantly "out," out to everyone, not just sexual partners, but they would risk being misgendered. To a transgender person, being called the opposite sex feels like a stab to the soul, the gut, the emotions are ripped apart when this happens, because the transgender person knows that in the minds of others they will always be something they are not; no one will ever see their true souls. This is a lonely notion, for a human being. Lonely, and humiliating; if you thought of yourself as a man, would you want everyone to mock you by calling you a woman?

Can't you see what you're asking?
Oct 20, 2012 12:23pm

There is no issue here. I appreciate what you're saying. No, I don't need to do any additional reading as this tragedy is long over. My point is simply that in a world filled with scumbags, deception can get one in trouble whether one likes it or not.

I hate what happened here. Again, thanks for reading.
Aug 21, 2014 7:19am
With feminine feelings locked inside and having no way to share them socially many would be transgenders had preferred to undergo the humiliating transformation. They live their life miserably , not able to suppress their inside feelings and also not able to express them outwardly. I am one such being tormented by this problem
Aug 21, 2014 7:26am
There are others. One of IBs more prolific writers on this topic (from a VERY personal perspective) writes under the name "m_spicer" (here's her home-page URL: http://www.infobarrel.com/Users/m_spicer) I think you should get in touch with her, and from my understanding, while she has faced many issues (discrimination, hatred, etc.) she feels better as she is now. Thanks for reading.
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  1. Katherine Ramsland "Teena Brandon." trutv.com. 18/01/2012 <Web >
  2. Aphrodite Jones "All She Wanted." readitherenow.blogspot.com. 19/01/2012 <Web >
  3. "Questioning the Story." chasingthefrog.com. 19/01/2012 <Web >
  4. "Teena Brandon gravesite." death2ur.com. 19/01/2012 <Web >
  5. "Teena Brandon's Inconvenient Truth: Incest and Gender Dissonance." carolyngage.weebly.com. 19/01/2012 <Web >
  6. "Brandon Teena." en.wikipedia.org. 18/01/2012 <Web >
  7. James W. Loewen Lies Across America. New York City, NY: The New Press, 1999.
  8. "Charles Starkweather." en.wikipedia.org. 13/02/2012 <Web >
  9. "Caril Ann Fugate." en.wikipedia.org. 13/02/2012 <Web >
  10. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services "Thomas Nissen - inmate record." dcs-inmatesearch.ne.gov. 14/02/2012 <Web >
  11. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services "John Lotter - inmate record." dcs-inmatesearch.ne.gov. 14/02/2012 <Web >
  12. "Willa Sibert Cather." American Peoples Encyclopedia. 1963.

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