Teena Brandon [Brandon Teena] was a twenty-one-year-old woman who dressed ‘like a male.’ On December 24, 1993, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen raped and brutally assaulted Brandon. The incident began at a gathering in Richardson County, Nebraska…After Brandon refused Lotter’s advances, Lotter grabbed Brandon’s hands while Nissen pulled her pants and underwear to the floor. Later, the two men cornered Brandon in the bathroom and Lotter held the door closed while Nissen hit Brandon in the head, kicked her in the ribs, and stepped on her. The men then dragged Brandon out to their car and drove to a remote location where they each raped her. After the rape, Nissen again brutally beat Brandon and threatened her not to tell anyone about the incident.
The following day, Brandon went to the authorities and was interviewed by Deputy Olberding and Charles Laux, the then-duly elected sheriff of Richardson County. Brandon gave a three-page written statement detailing the rape and assault. Laux asked Brandon crude questions about the incident, telling Brandon that they were necessary in order to present the case to the County Attorney. Laux also questioned Brandon why she dressed “like a male” and why she socialized with females instead of males. Brandon cancelled two follow-up appointments with Laux because she feared his abusive treatment.
On December 31, 1993, Lotter and Nissen broke into the home of Lisa Lambert where Brandon was staying and fatally shot and stabbed Brandon and two others who were present in the home. The plaintiff asserts that the conspiracy to kill Brandon was simply an extension of the conspiracy to rape Brandon because she was a female who dressed like a male. 
To become acquainted with the facts of Brandon Teena’s case is to be implicated in a crime that overpowers with its brutality. Brandon’s murder—by close range shots to the head followed with numerous stab wounds—amounted to an execution.  And execution is not easily expressed, represented, or analyzed in our culture; words fall short. Yet this paper will attempt to make sense of Brandon’s execution by viewing it through the intentionally mixed lenses of the film Boys Don’t Cry;  the documentary, The Brandon Teena Story;  legal case documents; police reports; journalistic accounts; and contemporary feminist theoretical debates. I hope to use the powerful vision of Boys Don’t Cry to spark a broader conversation about gender identity, sexuality, and violence against women.
Brandon Teena’s story—especially its representation in American popular culture—raises several important questions for feminist and queer theory and praxis. First, how does this case challenge us to re-conceptualize violence against women? Do sex crimes play out differently—i.e., with different dynamics and according to alternative ‘logics’— when they target transgendered individuals? If so, does transgender violence call for new strategies of feminist intervention? Does the case of Brandon Teena necessitate a new emphasis on the body within feminist politics, or a reassessment of the social meanings ascribed to female bodies?
Brandon Teena’s story troubles conventional feminist understandings of the body, sexual difference, and violence against women. Especially, it points to a need for intersectional political alliances between feminist, queer, and transgender communities. Such alliances would foster nuanced approaches toward violence against women that might more effectively promote legislative change. As narrated in Boys Don’t Cry and The Brandon Teena Story, Brandon Teena’s storyhighlights the need to address intersecting facets of oppression. Yet it also locates the female body as the site of particularly brutal inscriptions of power, ‘truth,’ and difference.
Identity, invisibility, and violence: boys don’t cry
To assess media portrayals of Brandon Teena, it is useful to review the legal history of his case. After Brandon Teena’s murder on New Year’s Eve 1994, his mother sued the perpetrators as well as Charles Laux, the County Sheriff. The prosecution argued that Brandon’s murder was the culmination of a conspiracy to rape him, and that both crimes were motivated by “hatred for a female who dressed like a male.”  Furthermore, prosecutors claimed that because Sheriff Laux did not intervene in the week between Brandon’s rape and murder—despite incriminating evidence—he breached his official duty to protect Brandon Teena.
In September 1997, Judge Richard Kopf disagreed with the prosecution. On behalf of the Nebraska District Court, he opined that Sheriff Laux did not have a duty to protect Brandon Teena. According to Judge Kopf, Laux had no reason to believe that Brandon’s rape was motivated by disdain for a female-to-male (FTM) transgender individual, or that such hatred—even if documented—could lead to murder. Four years later, on April 20, 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court overruled the lower court’s decision. Chief Justice John Hendry held that “based upon the undisputed facts in this case, we determine that Laux’s conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”  Judge Hendry remanded the case to district court for a new determination of damages.
The viewpoint expressed in Boys Don’t Cry sheds some light on the State Supreme Court’s ruling. The film presents Brandon Teena’s murder as intelligible only as part of a continuum of sexual violence that begins with dehumanizing hate speech and finds its logical conclusion in murder. In order to think about sexual violence as a continuum, I will first explore discourses of sex, truth, transgression, and transgender identity.
Sex, truth and transgression
By and large, media coverage of Brandon Teena’s murder portrays it as the inevitable consequence of sexual deviance and deceit. Newspaper headlines routinely address Brandon Teena’s ambiguous gender identity as the true ’cause’ of his murder. Such headlines include: “Death of a deceiver”; “Deadly Deception: Teena Brandon’s Double Life May Have Led to a Triple Murder”; “Man Who Killed Cross-Dressing Rape Accuser Gets Death Penalty”; “Cross-Dresser Killed Two Weeks After Town Learned Her True Identity.” These headlines mirror the sentiment of Sheriff Laux, to whom Brandon Teena issued an oral and written statement regarding his rape by John Lotter and Marvin Nissen. When asked why he didn’t arrest the two suspects after Brandon’s rape accusation, Laux stated that he did not trust Brandon because she had lied about her gender. 
Media portrayals of Brandon Teena’s behavior as ‘deceitful’ typically equate gender identity with biological sex and genitalia, such that any expression of gender identity that does not correlate to biological sex is construed as trickery or cunning. Journalist Eric Konigsberg asserts journalistic authority over Brandon Teena by evoking the ‘truth’ of her dead body in the opening sentence of his article. In his assessment, “Teena Renee Brandon’s mystery was over the moment her body was discovered, facedown on a bed in a farmhouse in Humboldt, Nebraska.”  Konigsberg’s account persistently blames Brandon for deceit and, implicitly, for his own death. He uses judgment-laden terms to evoke the “double life of Teena Brandon: uneasy tomboy by day, cool lady-killer by night. Teena didn’t seem to have trouble finding new people to con, new women to woo.” 
Given the prevalence of public anxieties to know the ‘truth’ about one’s sex, it is important to inquire into the stakes of a discourse that posits sexual ‘deceit’ as the cause of, and justification for, execution. The notion that there might be a truth of sex is produced by “regulatory practices”  underlying the binary construction of sexual difference, through which masculinity and femininity are constituted as the only possible avenues for gender identification. As Judith Butler notes,
This matrix produces non-binary sexual identification as invisible, impossible, deviant, and/or deceitful. When medical practitioners assign a gender to intersexed infants, for example, their decisions ensure that the gender expressions of such children will conform to the ‘truths’ of their genitalia. Similarly, sex education that construes the female body as rapeable helps to construct ‘true’ masculinity as aggressively sexual, and to ensure that ‘good’ girls will conform to the passive sexual practices associated with ‘true’ femininity. The net effect of these regulatory discourses is to prohibit and punish any gender identifications that upset the sexual status quo.
Transgendered identity is especially perceived as a threat to binary sexual difference. Many theorists regard transgenderism as a challenge to the purported truths of sexual identity. For example, Marjorie Garber interprets the cross-dresser as a transgressive embodiment of ambiguity, or a “figure that disrupts.”  Similarly, Judith Butler maintains that cross-dressing “provides critical opportunities to expose the limits and regulatory aims of the [binary] matrix of intelligibility, and to open up […] rival and subversive matrices of gender disorder.” 
Although it is crucial to imagine the subversive potential of ‘gender disorder,’ it is also important to recall that with such potential come certain limits. As Butler acknowledges with respect to drag, the practice of parodying dominant gender norms does not necessarily displace them.  While some people celebrate the disruptive potential of transgenderism, others respond to transgendered individuals with a hatred that manifests itself as an obsessive will to truth and power. 
In Boys Don’t Cry, the will to power is most brutally portrayed in an episode of forced bodily exposure. In this filmic scene, Lotter and Nissen expose Brandon’s body for everyone to see. The act of revealing produces in the perpetrators an effect of absolute power and orgasmic pleasure. Later, when Lotter and Nissen beat and rape Brandon, they effectively carve their initials onto the surface of his body. Their actions reassert male dominance over a woman (or, in their words, a “lying bitch”), and violently engrave her body with their power and authority as a theoria of knowers and truth-tellers. Lotter and Nissen delight in forcefully exposing Brandon Teena’s genitals, which they equate with her ‘true’ gender identity. Through this incident, it becomes possible to read Brandon Teena’s murder as the acting-out of hatred for a woman who rejects binary sexual difference. Brandon’s genital exposure involves a gruesome performance of patriarchal, heterosexist power that brands enforceable limits and truths about gender identity onto the female body. These limits are enforceable in the sense that they can be upheld at whim, at the very moment that someone decides to punish perceived transgression of the sexual status quo.
The ‘question’ of identity: brandon teena
Apart from media portrayals and the personal testimony of friends and family, who was Brandon Teena? Many journalists evoke Brandon in terms of monstrosity and deviance, most notably as a “cross-dressing rape accuser.”  In his description of Brandon Teena and his adolescent girlfriends, Eric Konigsberg observes that “almost everyone that knew Teena as a boy still refers to her with masculine pronouns.” Since Konigsberg frames his article as a tale of cunning deceit and vengeance, his own usage of the male pronoun throughout the article discursively serves to produce an effect of truth. Although Teena’s girlfriends were duped, Konigsberg has gotten to the ‘bottom’ of this mystery and has been disabused.
At the most basic level, Brandon was a female cross-dresser: a woman who dressed like a man. Teena Brandon, a teen-aged girl, was a tomboy from an early age: she refused to wear dresses, played pranks in school, and longed to join the army. Feminists might contend that Teena, like other female-to-male (FTM) transgendered people, resisted the conventional scripts of femininity by employing the mask of masculinity. Because she felt trapped by her female body, Brandon dressed like a man and adopted various disciplinary practices to coax her body into virtual maleness. She strapped an Ace bandage around her chest, shaved her face, and stuffed a sock into her jeans. She cross-dressed in order to accede to the privileges of masculinity, and possibly to express her sexual preference for women in a homophobic society. Some feminists have understood Brandon as a transgressive woman who performed gender and sexuality as a continuum of practices and behaviors rather than a fixed identity. From this perspective, Brandon Teena radically questioned gender norms, heteronormative society, and the family. 
Other feminist theorists would argue that cross-dressers like Brandon Teena merely reinscribe essentialist conceptions of gender identity. In their view, Brandon’s desire to be a man is problematic or, at best, ambivalent. If Brandon feels uncomfortable as a ‘woman,’ how does she know that what she really wants is to be a ‘man’? Although Brandon is unhappy with conventional femininity, she does not contest its hegemony. Rather than questioning femininity or binary sexual difference per se, she desires conventional masculinity. As a result, although her cross-dressing complicates conventional gender roles, it ultimately leaves them intact as opposed to upsetting the status quo.
Yet the latter view rests on some reductive assumptions about transgendered identity. The transgender community encompasses a wide variety of people: cross-dressers; drag queens; individuals who do not feel that they belong to either ‘sex’; people who are in the process of transitioning from one gender identity to another; people who are able to ‘pass’ as their preferred gender with little or no medical intervention; and those who have already completed their transition via hormonal treatment and/or sexual reassignment surgery. Given the diverse and fluid expressions of gender ambiguity and sexual identity within this group, it is reductive to conclude that transgenderism reinscribes conventional masculinity and femininity. This standpoint erases the complicated nexus of desire and gender incongruity expressed, for example, by Brandon Teena.
From another perspective, Teena Brandon might be considered a repressed or homophobic lesbian, “a young woman struggling to come to terms with being a lesbian in an unyielding environment.”  Yet she often made homophobic remarks and actively denied that she was a lesbian. In the following exchange, Brandon tried to allay her mother’s fears about Brandon’s sexual identity:
Based on these and other comments, many activists in the GLBTQ community would resist identifying Brandon as a closeted lesbian. Some gay and lesbian organizers do not take an interest in Brandon’s case on the grounds that transgender issues do not concern sexual orientation but, rather, identity. Within the transgender community, Brandon’s purported homophobia initially presented an obstacle to political mobilization. Immediately following Brandon’s death, the local community debated whether Brandon was an ‘authentic’ transsexual or simply a homophobic lesbian. Ultimately, however, a core group of transgendered activists agreed that it was crucial to protest and publicize Brandon’s murder. Members of Transsexual Menace held vigils on the courthouse steps in Nebraska during Brandon’s murder trial, and later organized rallies in Kansas City. 
Within the medical community, Brandon would most likely be understood in the pathologizing terms of gender dysphoria or sexual identity crisis. Contemporary case management for transgendered individuals is based on standards of care first proposed by endocrinologist Harry Benjamin in 1966. Until about ten years ago, these standards required that a transgendered  individual spend a trial year living according to the conventions of his or her desired gender, without benefit of hormonal treatment or surgery and without disclosing the details of his ‘experiment’ to anyone. During this trial year, the individual was expected to quit his or her job, move to a new town, and find a new, ‘gender-appropriate’ profession (such as law for FTM transgendered persons or secretarial work for MTF individuals). After this trial year, doctors routinely reinforced sexist and heterosexist biases by refusing to perform surgery on MTF transsexuals who refused to assume the conventional props of femininity (such as makeup and dresses), or those who did not plan to pursue heterosexual relationships post-transition. Although these standards of care have been modified somewhat in the last few years, a diagnosis of gender identity disorder followed by a trial year is still required by most physicians before a transgendered individual can undergo sex reassignment surgery.  Furthermore, the prohibitive cost of this surgery causes most transsexuals to wait several years in order to procure sufficient funds to complete their transition. 
In January 1992, Brandon’s mother tricked him into visiting a psychiatrist at Lincoln General Hospital, who diagnosed Brandon with a sexual identity crisis.  The psychiatrist admitted Brandon to a county crisis center, from which he was released three days later on the premise that he did not exhibit suicidal tendencies.  The medical community’s handling of Brandon’s identity as a form of pathology conforms to its broader objectives to manage or cure that which it deems abnormal.
Amidst this flurry of voices, how did Brandon identify himself? Brandon alternately described himself as either a hermaphrodite, an individual with a sexual identity crisis, or simply a male. He professed to several friends and family members that he had received counseling and was required to live as a man before obtaining sex reassignment surgery—which he expressed as his ultimate goal. David Bolkovac, director of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center at the University of Nebraska who counseled Brandon in 1992, acknowledged that “[Brandon] believed she was a man trapped in a woman’s body. She did not identify herself as a lesbian. She believed she was a man.”  In light of the war over gender pronouns that play out in media reports of Brandon Teena’s murder and psychological assessments of his gender identity,  I see a need to align my own account with Brandon’s chosen identification. Yet it is important to remember that Brandon’s identity is, ultimately, a site of contest. Its undecidability attests to both the inadequacy of a binary model of sexual difference and to the limits of our contemporary sexual imagination.
Rereading sex, identity, and violence: police sensitivity or brutality?
When he pulled your pants down, did he fondle you?
No? Doesn’t that amaze you? Doesn’t that get your attention, doesn’t it seem like he would put his hands inside you and play with you a little bit? I can’t believe that.
Well he didn’t.
Huh. I can’t believe that he pulled your pants down and you are a female that he didn’t stick his hand in you or his finger in you.
Well he didn’t.
Can’t believe he didn’t. 
Brandon Teena was murdered on New Year’s Eve 1994 in Falls City, Nebraska. Deputy Sheriff Jon Larson describes Falls City as a small town with a high degree of intolerance for difference and a disproportionately high incidence of domestic violence. Within this town, John Lotter and Tom Nissen were well known among law enforcement officials; both had previously served time in prison on various criminal charges. On December 24, 1993, one week before murdering Brandon Teena, Lotter and Nissen raped and assaulted her, and then threatened to ‘permanently silence’ her if she disclosed the incident to anyone.
For Sheriff Laux, Brandon Teena was a depraved, pathological, and dehumanized ‘other.’ On one level, Brandon was, for Laux, female; hence the questions that he asked during Brandon’s oral statement: why did she dress like a man? Why did she pull her pants down for those boys? Why didn’t Lotter and Nissen stick anything inside of her when they pulled down her pants and exposed her genitals? Why did she kiss girls?  From Laux’s perspective, Brandon was ultimately a liar who “pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.” Why should he take her rape accusation seriously? Laux asks this question implicitly, by failing to promptly issue arrest warrants for Nissen and Lotter on suspicion of rape and battery. And he asks this question even though he was apparently unable to conceive of Brandon’s female genitals without something stuck inside of them, without some attempt at male penetration. I want to focus here on the female genitals, particularly as they are evoked in the above-referenced exchange between Brandon and Sheriff Laux. As I hope to show, conflicting versions of this exchange lead to significantly different conclusions about police sensitivity to rape allegations and to their duty to protect the lives of endangered citizens.
In Boys Don’t Cry, the above-mentioned exchange between Brandon and Sheriff Laux is presented as part of a spliced, hence discontinuous, chronology. When the film first depicts Brandon’s oral statement to Sheriff Laux, the audience knows only that Brandon has been beaten by Lotter and Nissen. Within Boys Don’t Cry, Sheriff Laux’s questions (cited above) imply a suspicion that Brandon has not only been beaten, but raped as well. His words seem to solicit testimony to this effect. As audience members, we slowly learn, through the filmic devices of flashback and decoupage, that Brandon has indeed been both beaten and raped. The film’s jump cut techniques lead us to believe that it is Sheriff Laux’s questioning that compels Brandon to report his rape.
Case documents from the trial in the US District Court for the District of Nebraska show the course of events in a slightly different light. The judges’ summary of facts in the case indicates that when Brandon spoke with Sheriff Laux at approximately 3:40 PM on December 25, 1993, he had already provided a three-page written statement of the rape and battery to another police officer, Deputy Sheriff Tom Olberding, earlier that day. The judicial account of Brandon’s discussion with Sheriff Laux—culled from Brandon’s written and oral police statements—indicates no time lapse between Brandon’s report of the genital exposure, battery, and rape. Instead, case documents indicate that Brandon verbally relayed to the sheriff the entire series of events, including the forced exposure of his genitals and his subsequent rape and battery.  Furthermore, legal documents show that before he filed his report at the Falls City Police Station, Brandon visited the Falls City Hospital emergency room. There, an on-duty nurse discussed the assault with Brandon and collected fingernail samples as evidence for a state-mandated rape kit. In connection with the rape and Brandon’s willingness to report it to the police, the hospital forwarded their medical report to the police station. 
In The Brandon Teena Story‘s account of this incident, Brandon visited the county hospital on the morning of December 25, 1993, in order to receive medical treatment for injuries sustained during battery and assault. Hospital authorities contacted Police Chief Hammerling about the assault, and Hammerling arrived at the hospital shortly thereafter with an evidence collection kit. After questioning Brandon about the assault, Hammerling confirmed with attending physicians that Brandon’s injuries were consistent with rape, and he decided to launch an investigation rather than to immediately apprehend Lotter and Nissen. Later that day, Brandon Teena filed written and oral statements about the assault with Sheriffs Laux and Olberding. The sheriffs knew the identities and whereabouts of both suspects, yet failed to issue a warrant for their arrest.
During Brandon’s murder trial, Sheriff Olberding testified that he had believed Brandon Teena’s allegations. Based on his belief in the credibility of Brandon’s testimony, he and Laux called the suspects in to the police station for questioning on December 28, 1993. At the station, Nissen confessed that Lotter had raped Brandon, although Lotter denied this allegation. Both suspects were subsequently released. Later that day, Olberding communicated to his boss, Sheriff Laux, that he had decided to issue an arrest warrant for the two suspects based on corroborating evidence. Laux advised him against this course of action, and urged him to file a police report instead. A few days later, when Brandon’s sister called Laux to ask why he had not arrested the two suspects, Laux replied that the investigation was ‘under his control’ and quickly ended their conversation. During his brief investigation, Sheriff Laux called Brandon’s girlfriend’s mother into the police station for questioning. When she fumbled over the appropriate usage of gender pronouns (he/she) with which to describe Brandon, Laux advised her to “just call it an it.” 
The Brandon Teena Story follows Brandon’s oral testimony with an interview of suspect John Lotter, who admits that his friend, Nissen, placed his finger inside Brandon’s vagina after pulling down her pants. By juxtaposing Laux’s line of inquiry with Lotter’s account of what ‘really’ happened, the documentary sheds new light on Laux’s tactics. The Sheriff’s questions express disbelief that a male quest to determine Brandon’s true identity would be satisfied by simply seeing Brandon’s genitals. Instead, Laux insinuates that Lotter and Nissen would need to touch or otherwise penetrate the female genitals to fully verify the ‘truth’ of Brandon’s sexual identity. In this respect, the documentary allows us to read Laux’s line of questioning as something other than a ‘sensitive’ attempt to extract testimony from a hesitant rape victim. Instead, the documentary situates Laux’s questions within a Freudian psychoanalytical context that equates the body with the ‘truth’ of gender identity; constructs the female genitals as ‘nothing to see’; and imagines female sexuality as a ‘dark continent’ whose depths must be plumbed by male exploration and expertise.
As evidenced below in an excerpt from The Brandon Teena Story, Laux’s questions betray several assumptions about the sexual identity of Brandon Teena:
Did he have trouble getting it in you? You say that you’re 21 and you’ve never had sex. Is that true? Was he able to get all the way inside you? [repeats several times]…Did Lotter seem to take awhile? Did he have a hard time getting it up? Did you work it up for him?
In this exchange, Laux assumes that Brandon is lying about his virginity. As a result, he expresses disbelief that the rapists would have experienced any ‘barriers’ to penetration (such as Brandon’s intact hymen). Even more strikingly, Laux suggests that this was not rape at all; instead, it could only have been a consensual sex act in which Brandon freely participated.  His comments echo those expressed by several of the men interviewed in Timothy Beneke’s study of male attitudes toward rape. In Beneke’s study, many rapists believed that women enjoy rape because “all sex is pleasurable.” According to this formulation, the male-defined pleasurability of sex renders female consent irrelevant. Similarly, Laux’s questions construe Brandon’s consent as negligible. For Sheriff Laux, Brandon’s identity is simultaneously woman-and-not-woman; ‘it’ is inhuman, debased and sexually depraved. Because Brandon is an ‘it’ with deviant sexual predilections, his consent to any sexual act is unimportant to Sheriff Laux.
By insisting on differences between the filmic representations and legal accounts of Brandon’s story, I do not mean to suggest that the underreporting of rape and sexual assault is not a widespread phenomenon. Nor would I deny that Brandon was most likely hesitant to report his rape, especially in light of his ‘closeted’ sexual identity. But a close reading of these divergent representations of Brandon’s police statement makes possible a more sophisticated analysis of the intersections between sexuality, violence, and gender identity in this case.
Violence against women: erasures, feminist perspectives
In light of divergent film portrayals, what sense can we make of Sheriff Laux’s refusal to believe that Lotter and Nissen would pull Brandon’s pants down without sticking something inside of her? Does this line of questioning betray Laux’s internalization of cultural constructions of the female genitals as ‘nothing-to-see’—a void, a hole, an envelope for the male penis—and/or of female sexuality as violability? Or, rather, is it a statement of Laux’s certainty about the criminal intent and capabilities of Lotter and Nissen? Or, as Boys Don’t Cry suggests, was Laux simply trying to get Brandon to admit that he was raped? And do these different interpretations matter? If, as the film suggests, Sheriff Laux encouraged Brandon to report his sexual assault—if in fact his questions were motivated by a sensitivity to the underreporting of sexual assault among female survivors—then why did he make no attempt to apprehend Lotter and Nissen on rape and battery charges after taking Brandon’s oral statement?
What explains Laux’s inability to imagine that a man could see female genitals without penetrating them? How does this relate to his disdain for lesbian (or female-to-female) desire, and his unwillingness to trust a woman who ‘lied’ about her sexual identity? How does all of this intersect with Laux’s relative silence and inaction with regard to Brandon’s rape accusation and, ultimately, his failure to intervene in a crime that culminated with Brandon’s murder?  There are important connections between the sheriff’s assumptions about Brandon’s sexual identity and the murder of Brandon Teena. Beliefs about the body, truth, sexuality, and pathology always intervene in apprehensions of identity, and help to construct normative discourse about the ‘truth’ of sexual identity. Why didn’t Sheriff Laux act? Because to him, Brandon’s body and identity were female, invisible, depraved or pathological, dehumanized, monstrous, and other: “Brandon was an it”; “I don’t want it in my house.” 
Discursive constructions of sexual pathology and deviance, coupled with symbolic erasures of the female body and sexuality, exist on a continuum with hatred and physical violence. What I want to demonstrate in this case is a slippery slope between misogynist hatred and murder. Sheriff Laux’s inability to imagine that Brandon’s assailants would accept the ‘truth’ of his genitals at face value—without penetrating the vagina with a finger or other object—is informed by a cultural imaginary that posits female genitalia as a hole, gaping wound, or abyss. The Sheriff’s incredulity also disturbingly correlates to the misogynist and homophobic hatred and will to truth that Lotter and Nissen enacted while exposing Brandon Teena’s genitals. Laux’s characterization of Brandon Teena as an ‘it’ dehumanizes Brandon based on his inability to be neatly classified as either male or female, either gay or straight. Laux perceives Brandon’s relationships with other women as a sign of monstrosity, perversion, and pathology. Because Sheriff Laux regards Brandon’s gender identity crisis as a willful act of deceit, he discredits his police statement and ultimately unfounds  Brandon’s rape charges. As a result, Laux discounts the threat made by Brandon’s assailants to silence him permanently should he publicly disclose the crime.
Sheriff Laux’s (in)action demands an inquiry into the nature of law enforcement officials’ duty to protect endangered citizens. At what point along the continuum of violence are law enforcement officials obliged to intervene in order to protect a life? When can someone’s life be defined as ‘endangered’? As a general rule, law enforcement officers may not be held liable for a failure to protect individual citizens from criminal acts. On appeal of Brandon’s case, however, the Supreme Court of Nebraska noted an exception to this rule. The Supreme Court found that Laux did have a duty to protect Brandon because of a ‘special relationship’ that existed between him (in his role of law enforcement officer) and Brandon. This relationship was created on the basis of Brandon’s willingness to aid law enforcement officials in the performance of their duties. 
Because Brandon’s murder was enabled by an entire spectrum of violence exercised by Nissen, Lotter, and Laux, I would second the prosecution’s argument that Brandon was raped and ultimately murdered “because he was a female who dressed like a male.” In other words, Brandon’s rape and murder can be appropriately construed as extreme forms of gender- and sexuality-based discrimination, domination, and violence. By virtue of his dehumanization of Brandon, coupled with inaction, Sheriff Laux breached his duty to protect Brandon from known assailants.  He did so in the wake of both a brutal assault and an explicit threat to Brandon’s person. Because he breached the duty to protect Brandon, dehumanized him, and invalidated his testimony, Sheriff Laux served, in effect, as an accomplice to murder.
Laux’s behavior in Boys Don’t Cry points to a need to reassess what constitutes “violence against women.” Does violence against women mean something different when it is perpetrated against a FTM cross-dresser? In Brandon’s case, violence was used to punish a biological female for violating gender norms. Rape is often fueled by a desire to put women ‘back in their places’ through physical domination. As one man in Beneke’s study explains:
Since tomboys, lesbians, and other butch women are often ridiculed and abused for similar acts of gender transgression, one might conclude that violence against transgendered people does not require any novel feminist approaches to the problem of violence against women.
Indeed, existing feminist analyses of violence against women provide us with a useful starting point for understanding the rape of transgendered individuals. For example, feminist criticism has shed light on the popular practice of blaming the victim in and out of the courtroom. To this end, feminists have contested the admissibility of evidence that purports to convey incriminating ‘truths’ about a woman’s sexual practices, history, or orientation, or about her style of dress at the time of the attack. Feminist analyses of sexual violence have also highlighted widespread insensitivity on the part of police personnel to the emotional needs of rape survivors. Because of this insensitivity, many women feel raped a second time by law enforcement personnel and the criminal justice system.
Prominent feminist scholars including Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, Sharon Marcus, and Susan Estrich have explored the complex dynamics between sex and violence as they play out in a rape culture. In their view, most cultures equate masculinity with aggression, and promote an understanding of the female body as weak and vulnerable to attack. To illuminate the intense emotional and psychological struggles faced by rape survivors, feminists have established the psychological concept of rape trauma syndrome. Feminist perspectives on sexual violence have also alerted news media to the need to protect the privacy rights of rape survivors. As a result, the news media routinely maintain victims’ confidentiality in matters of public record, unless a woman chooses to be identified as a rape survivor.
Ultimately, feminist efforts to challenge violence against women have helped to establish more sensitive practices, institutional responses, and legal remedies for rape survivors. These include rape hotlines and victim advocacy organizations, dedicated health centers for rape survivors, institutional training to raise sensitivity levels among police and medical personnel, court advocacy, and greater attentiveness to the emotional, medical, and psychological needs of rape survivors in the aftermath of sexual assault. These fruits of feminist research and activism directly benefit victims of transgender violence and help to ensure that they will not suffer the same fate as Brandon Teena.
Violence against ‘other’ women: feminist exclusions
Yet mainstream feminist understandings of sexual violence often erase important differences among women. As Kimberle Crenshaw points out, such analyses have typically failed to engage with the complex intersections of oppression in women’s lives by assuming the primacy of gender identity as the motivating factor in all acts of sexual abuse.  As Crenshaw argues, “the elision of difference in identity politics is problematic because the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other [non-gender] dimensions of their identities such as race and class.”  Similarly, Sharon Allard critiques the feminist legal model of ‘battered woman’s syndrome’ as reliant upon essentialist conceptions of women’s reactions to domestic assault. 
Courts often reinforce essentialist views of the ‘appropriate’ behavior of the female victim. For example, the use of the ‘reasonable person’ standard in cases of violence against women denies the subtle operations of power and the complexities of women’s responses to the violent experiences of rape and sexual assault. Yet as studies of rape trauma syndrome indicate, many women experience rape as a shocking, disarming, and ultimately disabling crisis. Some women freeze in response to this trauma, and are therefore unable to take the ‘reasonable’ action of voicing dissent or physically resisting their assailant’s behavior. Similarly, the legal definition of force discounts the subtle power dynamics that often accompany sexual assault. The legal assumption that all sex is consensual unless proven otherwise assumes a certain positioning of men and women as equals, or as similarly situated within all social and professional contexts. Yet this perspective denies the reality of pervasive sexual inequality.
Reductive feminist analyses of sexual violence overlook crimes whose primary motivation is not gender, such as abuse in lesbian relationships and among people of color. They also invalidate women whose responses to violence do not conform to conventionally ‘feminine’ behaviors. Their net effect is to deny the various levels of identity-based oppression that are interwoven in women’s lives and to enforce particular exclusions in the interest of feminist politics.
Eve Sedgwick understands the trend toward reductive narratives of violence against women as an effect of the dynamic links between sex and power. In her multi-dimensional analysis of sexual violence in Gone With the Wind, Sedgwick explores the ways in which rape is either assumed or erased in the novel according to a complex interplay of sexual and racial politics. She points out that when Scarlett O’Hara is physically attacked by a black man in an encounter that does not include actual sex, for example, this act nonetheless “fully means rape, both to her and to all the forces in her culture that produce and circulate powerful meanings. It makes no difference that one constituent element of rape is missing: but the missing constituent is simply sex.”  On the other hand, when Rhett (a white man) rapes his wife Scarlett (a white woman), the violent encounter is not constituted as such; instead, it is portrayed and widely understood as a hallmark of marital bliss. Finally, when white men rape black women in the novel, “the issue of force vs. consent is never raised”  because black women are positioned as ‘unrapeable’ within the larger culture.
Feminist theorists including Sedgwick, Allard and Crenshaw emphasize the need to consider the specific intersectionalities of violence against women, and what they enable at the levels of the female body and identity. Drawing on their insights, I would argue that violence against women does mean something different when it is perpetrated against a transgendered individual. In this sense, feminist analysis has everything to gain by engaging with difference as it impacts women’s multifaceted experiences of sexual violence. A failure to address the dynamics of intersectionality threatens to efface those acts of violence in which gender is not the only, or the primary, motivating factor. Such a failure would relegate the identity of ‘other’ women like Brandon Teenato “a location that resists telling.” 
Of course, criticism of mainstream feminist thought abounds within contemporary feminist discourse—which means that it is neither fair nor relevant to distinguish between mainstream feminism and its contemporary critiques. To construe feminism as exclusively focused on gender “denies the emergence of a feminism specific to women of color in the U.S. who have sought to complicatethe feminist framework to take account of relations of power that help to constitute and yet exceed gender—including race and racialization, as well as geopolitical positionality in colonial and postcolonial contexts.”  Feminist theory remains a dynamic and viable field of inquiry because it has carved out a critical space for internal debate—and by its willingness to remain self-critical with respect to an evolving body of theoretical assumptions.
Gender, sexuality, violence, and intersectionality
A particular confluence of ‘truths’ about the body, gender identity, and sexuality erupts in transgender violence. Such violence largely derives from dehumanization: individuals whose gender cannot be classified according to the parameters of binary sexual difference are often regarded as inhuman. Yet gender dynamics are by no means irrelevant to transgender violence. The fact that Brandon Teena was a biological woman matters; he was not murdered solely on the basis of transgender identity. Violence against FTM transgendered individuals depends on particular expectations about the limits of the female body, identity and sexuality. Consequently, a failure to incorporate transgender concerns into broader feminist efforts to address sexual violence would deny the specific and particularly brutal patterns of abuse to which women’s bodies are subjected through acts of violence and domination. 
To ensure the visibility of transgender violence within feminist politics, we need to couple feminist efforts to increase legal recourse for victims of sex crimes with an awareness of the specific manifestations and implications of gender-based hate crimes. In 1994, the Justice Department reported 5,852 bias-motivated incidents under the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, ranging from verbal harassment to murder. Of these occurrences, 780 were motivated by homophobia. As Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, testified before the Senate, “Hate crimes against lesbian and gay people and other communities continue to be a national epidemic.”  Furthermore, the widespread problem of underreporting sex-based crimes impedes the collection of accurate data. A feminist commitment to increasing the visibility of hate crimes would constitute a vital attempt “to expand the very meaning of what counts as a valued and valuable body in the world,”  and, conversely, an important challenge to mainstream assessments of sexual abjection and deviance.
Identity politics, feminist legal reform, and intersectional alliances
In an essay entitled “Against Proper Objects,” Judith Butler discusses the border wars that often play out between feminist and queer scholars.  Typically, queer theorists maintain that sexuality ‘belongs’ to their field of study, whereas gender identity is the ‘proper’ object of feminist theory. Naturally, feminist theorists disagree. In Butler’s view, the attempt to distinguish acts from identities in this battle over intellectual turf generates reductive versions of both discourses—and limits their political potentialities. A radical theory and politics of sexuality cannot be separated from an analysis of gender roles; politically, the costs would be too great. Feminist, queer, and transgender theory all share the imperative to ‘unfound’ and dislodge the putative truths that ‘follow from’ the body, gender identity, and sexuality.
One of the key obstacles for identity politics stems from the complicated way in which the law gets ‘stuck’ on group-based identity in its attempt to promote equality. Identity is no less contested within legal debate and strategy than it is within post-structuralist and deconstructionist theory. Transgender identity is a particularly intense source of legal anxiety because it explores the “murky interface” between individual pleasures, “unruly” bodies, and the constraints of public law.  The transgendered subject is unavoidably a subject of the law, but he or she also haunts or exceeds the law by questioning its operating premise of binary sexual identity.
Although the law is our most powerful tool for social change, it is also a fully human endeavor. As such, it often reflects and reinscribes, rather than challenges, the sociocultural biases and economies of its time. The reflective or specular nature of the law is compounded by its commitment to putatively ‘universal’ values, which serve to protect a status quo rife with sexist, racist, and heteronormative inflections. As a result, identity-based claims for legal redress bear the battle scars of daily and violent skirmishes with a legal system that cannot escape a stultifying and internally contradictory framework of ‘equality’ versus difference. Because of its commitment to upholding the status quo, the law manifests a certain illiteracy and inarticulacy with regard to difference—as is especially apparent in the law’s reluctance to extend identity-based protection to minority groups. Many changes in women’s legal status, for example, have relied upon essentialist or paternalistic notions of female identity, whereas other efforts to promote sexual equality have emphasized the legal ideal of neutrality. This legal stalemate between equality and difference points out a need for new forms of feminist politics that can exceed the identity of ‘woman’ in order to promote social change.
Identity politics has reached a limit of sorts, one that demands new feminist strategies for organizing. All too often, identity-based movements reinscribe reductive and exclusionary fictions of group identity. Furthermore, these fictions impede political efficacy. As Devon Carbado points out, “part of what renders current civil rights activism ineffective is its compartmentalization. Black civil rights efforts often are not connected to women’s civil rights efforts, which often are not connected to gay and lesbian civil rights efforts.”  Fragmented and mutually exclusive discourses of identity artificially pry apart the interwoven components of women’s oppression. They necessitate an impossible prioritization of the various aspects of identity for purposes of political activism. Such discourses ensure that individuals who are defined by intersecting ‘subject-effects’  or strands of identity will experience themselves as fractured and, ultimately, disabled subjects under the law.
What seems politically necessary at this juncture is a form of coalition politics to unite groups across the boundaries of race, gender and sexuality. To dismantle one form of oppression, we must attack all forms of oppression—precisely because they are interrelated and mutually sustaining.  To this end, coalition politics might more effectively address race, gender and sexuality not as identities, but as civil rights. A contemporary American human rights group, Gender PAC, seems to embody this approach.  Gender PAC is a national advocacy organization fighting for “the basic right to express one’s gender, free from stereotypes, discrimination, and violence, regardless of how others perceive his or her sex or sexual orientation.” The group offers a promising model of coalition politics by addressing gender as a civil and human rights issue. Yet its emphasis on civil rather than group rights also supports feminist efforts to specify the female body as a particularly brutal site of struggle.
Intersectional politics, universality and the ‘human’
Intersectional alliances promise to yield alternatives to the reductive narratives of identity that inform both identity politics and the legal ideal of neutrality. Such alternatives might include an ethics that does not ‘follow’ from sexual difference, but that questions the very terms with which difference and deviance are described and ascribed to particular bodies in society. Intersectional alliances have the capacity to force the formal principle of universality into an unsettling confrontation with its ‘other’, the ‘inhuman’—all that is defined in opposition to humanity, and all that universality excludes by way of its purported neutrality. In this way, intersectional political alliances might create ‘troubling’ new grammars for speaking about difference, asymmetry, and violation within the legal system. Even more importantly, a transformed legal vocabulary would have salient effects for personal identity. To allow previously excluded or inadmissible bodies, identities, and sexualities to infiltrate the realm of the ‘universal’ would put universality itself into disturbing contact with the porosity of its borders, and with the excluded or abject on which its existence depends. Ultimately, this contact might disable exclusive narratives of the ‘human’ that authorize brutal forms of dehumanization. It might allow us to “imagine the human beyond its conventional limits…The human must become strange to itself, even monstrous, to reachieve the human on another plane.” 
Conclusion: feminist theories, identities, and bodies
Brandon Teena’s story reminds us of the contradictory needs to assert the importance of the female body as a locus of ‘unspeakable’ pleasures and violent abuse; yet alsoto destabilize conventional understandings of gender identity as innate or expressive. This recalls Denise Riley’s invitation to both concentrate on and refuse the identity of ‘woman,’ and Irigaray’s theorization of sexual difference as the question for our times. The very dividedness of this imperative might seem to bode an end to feminist theory, and to doom us to political paralysis rather than feminist praxis. Yet the contradictory move to both complicate conventional understandings of gender identity, and to specify the female body as a particularly explosive site for the production of truth, ultimately enriches the feminist project to navigate between the fractious fictions of ‘woman’ engendered by the antipodes and margins of representation. I would agree with Butler’s position that “it is in the course of engaged political practices that internal divides emerge;” and that the refusal to resolve this dissent into unity (or totalizing narratives of ‘female’ identity) is precisely what keeps the feminist movement alive.  As Teresa de Lauretis contends,
MTF transgendered individuals who have completed their sexual transition often discuss the shock of living as a woman in society. As women, they encounter a host of dangers, physical and spatial constraints, and a pervasive sense of male privilege or entitlement. This is an important point; as long as the national imaginary is underwritten by sexist, racist, classist, and heterosexist biases that presume the ‘neutrality’ of the status quo, any transition from the position of man to woman, or vice versa, will necessarily involve the shock of asymmetry. This ‘shock’ is precisely what Brandon Teena’s murder provokes when apprehended through the intersecting lenses of gender, sexuality, and embodiment.
Transgender violence targets both men and women, but Brandon Teena’s case highlights its particularly brutal effects for FTM transgendered individuals. Boys Don’t Cry provides a clear political incentive to integrate feminist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender concerns in the analysis of violence against women. It also graphically illustrates the stakes for feminists to forge strategic political alliances with these communities—in order to challenge the mutually-reinforcing discourses that relentlessly pursue the ‘truths’ of identity, and enforce these truths at both the micro level of the female body and the macro level of national policy. Serious risks accompany any attempt to invest the body with particular ‘truths’ about gender and sexuality. Yet, while such quests for truth are actively critiqued in Boys Don’t Cry, the film also powerfully reminds us that the female body is an especially bloody target for the will to power and truth.  An inescapable marker of difference, it is experienced by many women as a ‘home’ that is virtually unliveable.
1. Brandon v. Lotter, Nissen, and Laux (976 F.Supp. 872).
2. Register News Service, “Rapist-killer convicted; victim posed as man,” in The Orange County Register (May 26,1995).
3. Boys Don’t Cry, dir. Kimberly Peirce, 118 min., CBS/Fox Home Video, 1999, videocassette.
4. The Brandon Teena Story, dir. and prod. by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, 89 min., New Video Group, 1998, videocassette.
5. The language used here is significant, in that it articulates the specific forms of hatred and violence that might be manifested toward a female-to-male (FTM) transgendered individual.
6. Jo Ann Brandon v. The County of Richardson, Nebraska, et al. (261 Neb. 636).
7. The Brandon Teena Story.
8. Eric Konigsberg, “Death of a Deceiver: Teena Renee Brandon,” Playboy 42. 1 (January 1995): 92.
10. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990), 17.
12. Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Authority (New York: Routledge, 1992).
13. Butler, 17.
14. Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge, 1993), 125.
15. I use the terms ‘will to power’ and ‘will to truth’ here in order to evoke their Nietzschean and Foucauldian philosophical contexts.
16. The Associated Press, “Man Who Killed Cross-Dressing Rape Accuser Gets Death Penalty” (February 22,1996).
17. See, for example, Cherry Smith, “Queer Notions,” in Lesbians Talk Queer Notions (London: Scarlet Press, 1992); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1990); and Susan Sturgis, “Bisexual Feminisms: Challenging the Splits,” in Bisexual Horizons: Politics, Histories, Lives, eds. Sharon Rose, Cris Stevens, et.al (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1996).
18. Konigsberg, 92.
19. Konigsberg, 92.
20. See Carey Goldberg, “Shunning ‘He’ and ‘She’, They Fight for Respect”, in The New York Times (September 8,1996), A24.
21. Benjamin defined transgendered individuals according to a pathological model of transsexuality.
22. Mary McNamara, “Era of the Gender Crosser,” in the Los Angeles Times (February 27, 2001), A21.
23. Legal precedent may bring an end to the assumption that a transgendered individual should bear the full costs of his or her sexual reassignment surgery. In February 2001, San Francisco passed legislation that mandates at least partial insurance coverage of transition-related medical expenses for city government employees: a maximum of $50,000 per person.
24. According to various press accounts, Brandon’s mother arranged for his best friend to pick him up and drive him to Lincoln General Hospital, under the pretense that they were going to a nearby Hardee’s. Brandon’s mother met the two at the hospital in time for Brandon’s psychiatric evaluation.
25. Konigsberg, 92.
26. Chalmer Thompson, Roger Worthington, Donald Atkinson, “Counselor content orientation, counselor race, and black women’s cultural mistrust and self-disclosures,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 41.2 (Apr 1994): 155.
27. The Associated Press recently adopted a policy of referring to transgendered individuals in the pronoun of their choice.
28. Brandon v. Lotter et.al. (157 F.3d 537).
29. These questions are taken from Sheriff Laux’s interrogation during Brandon’s oral statement to the police department.
30. Statement of facts in the case, Brandon v. Lotter et.al. (976 F. Supp.872).
32. Sequence of events as narrated in The Brandon Teena Story.
33. The Supreme Court of Nebraska also makes this observation on appeal in Jo Ann Brandon v. The County of Richardson, Nebraska, et.al (261 Neb. 636).
34. The Nebraska Supreme Court held that Sheriff Laux ‘could not have reasonably known’ that Brandon’s life was in danger, and also that he had no knowledge of criminal intent. Consequently, he could not be held liable for a breach of duty to protect, because he had no such duty (976 F. Supp.872).
35. In Boys Don’t Cry, Lana Tisdel’s mother says these words (with reference to Brandon) when Brandon appears on her doorstep after Lotter and Nissen have raped him.
36. This refers to the police practice of ‘unfounding’, i.e. the police decision that rape reports are unfounded, hence ineligible to stand trial. See MacKinnon: 2001 (manuscript), 847.
37. 261 Neb. 636
38. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Nebraska opined that Laux dehumanized Brandon via ‘crude language’ and abuse of power at a time at which Brandon was in a particularly vulnerable emotional state. See 262 Neb. 636.
39. Timothy Beneke, Men on Rape (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982).
40. Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” in Dan Danielsen and Karen Engle, eds., After Identity: A Reader in Law and Culture (New York: Routledge, 1995).
41. Crenshaw, 333.
42. Sharon Angella Allard, “Rethinking Battered Woman Syndrome: A Black Feminist Perspective,” in UCLA Women’s Law Journal, vol. 1 (1991): 191.
43. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia UP, 1985), xx.
45. Crenshaw, 333.
46. Judith Butler, “Against Proper Objects,” in Elizabeth Weed and Naomi Schor, eds., Feminism Meets Queer Theory (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997), 20.
47. In the spirit of coalition politics, the Florida chapter of NOW recently adopted a resolution in support of the TG community that decries gender-based violence, and recognizes the transphobia and homophobia at the root of trans-violence. See Gender PAC National News, March 12,2001.
48. Based on testimony by Elizabeth Birch, Executive Director of the Human Rights Campaign, at the Capitol Hill Hearing before the Senate Judiciary to renew the Hate Crimes Statistics Act (Federal Document Clearing House Congressional Testimony, March 19, 1996).
49. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, 22.
50. Judith Butler, “Against Proper Objects,” in Elizabeth Weed and Naomi Schor, eds., Feminism Meets Queer Theory (a differences book) (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997).
51. Elisabeth Bronfen, “Redressing Grievances: Cross-Dressing Pleasure with the Law,” in Bronfen and Misha Kavka, eds., Feminist Consequences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 217.
52. Devon Carbado, “Introduction: Where and When Black Men Enter,” in Black Men on Race, Gender and Sexuality, ed. Devon Carbado (New York: NYU Press, 1999).
53. See Gayatri Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography,” in Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, eds., The Spivak Reader (New York: Routledge, 1996), 213.
54. Mari Matsuda, Where Is Your Body and Other Essays on Race, Gender & the Law(Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 65.
55. For more information on Gender PAC, see <www.gpac.org>.
56. Judith Butler, “The End of Sexual Difference?” in Feminist Consequences , eds. Elisabeth Bronfen and Misha Kavka (New York: Columbia UP, 2001), 431-2.
57. Ibid., 416.
58. Teresa de Lauretis, “Displacing Hegemonic Discourse: Reflections on Feminist Theory in the 1980’s,” Inscriptions 3.4 (1988), 138-9.
59. I mean to say here that the female body is especially ‘blood-stained’ because of the disturbing frequency with which it is singled out for abuse. Note for example the pervasiveness of rape as a military strategy and tool of genocide, throughout history and across a wide range of cultures.