The Boys are Not Crying

Topics: Gender Identity

Boys Don’t Cry is a 1999 film directed by Kimberly Peirce telling the story of Brandon Teena (born Teena Brandon) a transgender man who was brutally killed in Fall City, Nebraska. Teena Brandon was born December 12, 1972, in Lincoln, Nebraska to be raised by her single mother because her father died in a car accident before her being born (Sloop, 2000) After suffering from years of sexual molestation by a male family member Teena began taking on a male role. By senior year in high school, Teena Brandon switched her name around, going by Brandon Teena, adopting male habits and only dating women.

Brandon Teena was expelled from high school due to failing classes and too many absences. Brandon Teena began working odd jobs to support himself but found forging checks and stealing credit cards to be more lucrative (Sloop, 2000) By 21 Brandon Teena had numerous warrants for theft and forgery so he decided to move to a place where no one knew he was biologically born female.

Moving to Humboldt, Nebraska, Brandon Teena met new friends John Lotter and Marvin Thomas Nissen; and fell in love with 19-year-old Lana Tisdel. While Brandon Teena tried to make money the legal way he resorts back to forging checks. By December of 1993, Brandon Teena was arrested. When his girlfriend Tisdel bails him out she was surprised to learn that he was placed in the women’s section of the jailhouse. Brandon Teena explains to Tisdel he was born a hermaphrodite and they continue the relationship (Sloop, 2000).

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When Brandon Teena’s arrest details surfaced in the town’s local paper everyone learned he was biologically born female. A short time after at a Christmas Eve party, Brandon Teena was confronted by Lotter and Nissen who forced him into a car taking him to a remote area of town. There Lotter and Nissen raped Brandon Teena and threaten to kill him if he reports the rape.

Brandon Teena had a raped kit performed and filed with the police department which began an official investigation. Not only did the sheriff in charge Charles Laughton blame Brandon Teena for the assault, but he also informed Lotter and Nissan that Brandon Teena reported the rape (Sloop, 2000). A week later Lotter and Nissan both shot and killed Brandon Teena and two other adults in the home. Arrested and charged the same day both Lotter and Nissan were found guilty. Nissen received a life sentence for testifying against Lotter; while Lotter was given the death penalty (Sloop, 2000).

Symptoms & Diagnosis

From the opening scene of Boys Don’t Cry we see Teena transform into Brandon Teena, showing her cross-dressing into what she believed to be her true self. Teena’s desire to be seen as a man is her way of normalizing society’s homophobia rather than accepting the fact she can be a lesbian (Rigney, 2004). Teena’s female cousin even suggests to her that she needs to leave girls alone and know the fact that she’s homosexual. Throughout the movie, Teena expresses the need to cross-dress as a result of a “gender identity crisis” (Rigney, 2004). Teena wears a low haircut, is very secretive about having a menstrual cycle, and refuses to be touched sexually by her girlfriends. Teena even goes as far as to wear dildos and tape down her breast to mast her femininity. Instead, Teena often refers to herself as a hermaphrodite than a female.

Based on Teena’s symptoms the most accurate diagnosis for her condition will be Gender Dysphoria (formerly known as gender identity disorder). The term gender identity disorder first appeared in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd Edition) (DSM-III) in 1980 (Mallon & DeCrescenzo, 2006). The term was replaced during the DSM-V update after advocates lobbied the American Psychological Association; stating not all trans individuals have a mental illness (Johnson, 2010). According to the DSM-V gender dysphoria is the strong, persistent feelings of identification with the opposite gender and discomfort with one’s own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment (Johnson, 2010). People with gender dysphoria desire to live as members of the opposite sex and often dress and use m, mannerisms associated with the other gender (Mallon & DeCrescenzo, 2006).

Nature or nurture

Throughout the film, Boys Don’t cry we watch Teena struggle with her natal sex. On one hand, she thinks and feels as if she was born in the wrong body, and on the other hand for her to feel like a man she must become a depiction of what society deems as normal male behavior. When biological and cultural extremes are pitted against each other, discussions about female-male differences often turn into debates over ‘nature vs. nurture,’ (Baldwin & Baldwin, 1997). Although the film doesn’t offer much content about Teena’s childhood; I would say Teena’s actions were based purely on biological factors. By age two children become more conscious of what makes boys and girls different. By the age of three, most children can label themselves as either boy or girl (Zucker, 2005). Zucker (2005) states exposure to opposite-gender hormones such as testosterone sometimes relates to cross-gender behavior (Zucker, 2005). Hormonal functions or chromosomes can also aid in creating brain changes associated with gender identity (Zucker, 2005). Brandon Teena identifies and saw himself as male, throughout the film we are constantly reminded that Teena does not want to be associated with anything that labels her a woman or lesbian. Leading back to Teena’s need for everyone to see how she vision herself. Teena often told others she was born a hermaphrodite so the reality of Brandon having an actual penis was genuine (Sloop, 2000).


When it comes to gender dysphoria treatment is designed to confirm validate and reinforce the individual sex identification (Colin, 2009). A beneficial treatment I would’ve offered to Teena is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy would’ve to help Teena reduce the stigmas she held and build same-gender friendships (Kearney & Trull, 2016). Teena could’ve also been placed on a hormone blocker to suppress physical changes. In the film, Teena express wanting to have reassignment surgery. Placing Teena on testosterone hormones for the development of male characteristics would’ve been an option as well (Kearney & Trull, 2016). The last course of treatment would’ve been a constellation to disguise sex reassignment surgery.


Individuals who identify as the opposite sex often face abuse, no justice for being victimized, and are deemed as the wrongdoer in any situation (Johnson, 2010). Many advocates are still currently lobbying for change within the judicial sanction towards gaining acceptance and enacting transgender-specific anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation (Johnson, 2010). The prognosis for gender dysphoria can be viewed as a beneficial and positive one. The Obama administration has placed executive orders and guidance for those with identity dysphoria in the workplace and educational settings. The ideal is with proper treatment and sex reassignment the individual can and will feel whole.


Teena Brandon was killed based on their unfamiliarity with her current state of being. Therefore the general population must have a basic understanding of gender dysphoria. Even if you are living in an economically depressed rural town. The film Boys don’t cry is an intense emotional rollercoaster ride that gives us human tragedy in its rawness. Though based on a true story the film sheds light on the everyday struggle of those facing identity dysphoria. As an adolescent I remember watching Boys Don’t Cry with my mother; finding it extremely hard to digest that based on one’s sexual identity they can be treated so cruel. As an adult now I still share that same notion, only now with a broad understanding. Boys Don’t cry taught me it is important to be kind and open to those who don’t share the same mindset as me. Although transgenders rather not be classified as having identity dysphoria the treatment by society is the same (Johnson. 2010). Brandon Teena was brutally murdered at 21-years old because from the start he never had a chance to be his true self.

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The Boys are Not Crying. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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