Downtown: Brandon Teena's Tragic Story

ByABC News
August 24, 2000, 11:49 AM

Aug. 24 -- Brandon Teena lived and loved as a man. For that, she paid with her life.

Brandon was born female, but felt male inside. Her story outraged many and captured headlines, and it has been powerfully re-told in the film Boys Dont Cry and in the award-winning documentary The Brandon Teena Story. But to a few people in Nebraska, it is simply the sad tale of the child, sibling and friend they loved and lost.

Brandon Teena was born Teena Brandon in Lincoln, Neb., on December 12, 1972. Her mother, Joann, remembers she was handful at an early age. As she was growing up, she was ornery and full of life, she says. She was a prankster, and she was a tomboy.

But as Brandon became a teenager, her tomboyishness evolved into something more complicated. Feeling like a boy but living in a girls body, Brandon began stuffing a sock in her pants, something that triggered a transformation in her. She switched her name, calling herself Brandon Teena, and started to date local girls, using her bulge to convince them that she was a boy.

Although Brandon carried out life publicly as a boy, her mother says she refused to acknowledge her daughters new persona at home. Brandons growing frustration as she tried to date other women, coupled with the humiliation and name-calling she faced in town, led her to attempt suicide. Her best friend, Sarah Lyons, says she took Brandon to a crisis center.

Identity CrisisBrandon Teenas identity crisis stemmed from the clash between her feelings about who she was and the reality of her biological condition. Individuals like her are described as transgendered. According to the Gender Identity Project, a program sponsored by the New York City Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center, transgender is an umbrella term encompassing the diversity of gender expression.

People who consider themselves transgender find their gender identity at odds with their anatomy. The criticism and rejection that transgender people face often result in feelings of shame, depression, secrecy and fear, and could lead to compulsive behavior.