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Battles to Claim the Martyr Disrespectful

ten years after his death, Brandon's gender is still fought over

Forum: WMST-L
Date: 09/25/2003

On 9/25/03 4:40 AM, "Carolyn Gage" wrote:

I have a conference paper, "Teena Brandon: The Unmaking of a Lesbian"

My paper explores the life and choices of Teena Brandon (who never went by the name "Brandon Teena"), in light of her status as a traumatized survivor of prolonged child sexual abuse. The connection between gender identity dysphoria and complex post-traumatic stress disorder is also explored. The paper makes a case that, in the case of Brandon, the diagnosis of gender identity dysphoria served to reinforce internalized homophobia and misogyny and to downplay the seriousness of her syndromes of child sexual abuse. Further, the recommendation of transsexual surgery in Brandon's case constituted the imposition of a dissociated identity on a survivor whose body was already the site of massive, invasive trauma.


I have not read your paper (and yes, please do send a copy to me), but it appears, based on your synopsis, that its "facts" leading up to Brandon's death (and "Brandon" is the name he went by around the time of his death) are heavily informed by the "true crime" paperback "All She Wanted" written by Aphrodite Jones (in fact, the sole citation you have in this synopsis is the one for Jones).

Many consider "All She Wanted" to be sensationalistic and devoid of awareness around transgender experiences that in 1998, when there was a project underway to produce a film based on this book, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) expressed concerns about it, urging the producers to consult with them. (The film was abandoned since.)

Jones was interviewed by Statewide, a "Nebraska's weekly news journal," on January 14, 2000. In this program, she blames Brandon--not the two convicted murderers--as the central "villain" of the story. "Why was this person such an obsessive compulsive liar? What about this person fed into this crime itself? If this person had not been so pathological in her lying, his lying, would this triple homicide never have occurred? Probably wouldn't have." You can watch the interview online at:

Overall, I find Jones' telling of Brandon's story sensationalistic and biased. Further, I find her writing not only transphobic, but also anti-lesbian, as it portrays Brandon as the stereotypical predatory lesbian who gets what's coming.

Personally I feel pained that years after his death his gender and sexuality are still fought over in an effort to claim the famous martyr. I do not know for certain how he came to call himself "Brandon" or "Billy" or other male-sounding names, or why he chose to pass as a man. But I do know that, at the time of his death, he went by the name "Brandon" and lived as a man. I hope that we can respect that, at the very least, if we were to talk about his life and death.

It was disrespectful when a sheriff said, referring to Brandon, "you can call it 'it' as far as I am concerned," and it is disrespectful to continue to refer to him by the name or gender he did not call himself at the time of his death. It's not even about what his "true" gender was--we cannot know this conclusively--but it's about what is respectful.

Emi K.

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.