The Trail to Brandon Teena
One transman's pilgrimage to Brandon Teena's resting place.
Beck visiting Brandon Teena's grave
When I think of Brandon Teena, the words “brave,” “misunderstood,” and “gone too soon” come to mind. The story of this transgender man is known around the world, and if he were with us today, I am sure he would be thrilled at the progress that the transgender community has made. Many are familiar with the Academy Award–winning movie Boys Don’t Cry, starring Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny. But it is the documentary The Brandon Teena Story, which traces his life, and gives an account of his rape and murder, along with the murders of two other people on Dec. 31, 1993. The men responsible for those lost lives—John Lotter and Tom Nissen—are still sitting on death row today.
Brandon’s story touched the lives of many, and since I share something in common with him, I made it my mission to try to connect with him, however I could. I am a transgender male, born female in 1997; I started my gender transition in 2010 with the goal of living a happier and more fulfilling life. All my life, I’ve felt like a boy. Now, I know there is a difference between being a tomboy and being transgender. Even at a young age, I knew I wasn’t just a tomboy.
For years, I struggled to figure myself out. Why did I not like being referred to by female pronouns? Why did I have such a dislike for my body? Most people will argue that when men and women make the decision to transition, it must be because of major issues stemming from their past. I think it’s easier for people to accept the idea if the decision is linked to some tragic event. To me, this is the same mind-set that can’t wrap itself around why someone is a lesbian. I lived a normal childhood, raised by two loving parents along with my identical twin sister. If I hadn’t been born female, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I am a proud transgender man now, a brother and a son.
Back in 2012, I had an amazing opportunity to take a cross-country road trip from Florida to Washington State. Before I began my trip, I asked myself what I wanted to see in each state I’d be driving through. Brandon Teena’s resting place was at the top of my list. Now, anyone can look this up. It’s online. What wasn’t easy to find was the home of the late Lisa Lambert, where the triple homicide took place.
When I arrived in Humboldt, Nebraska, it was late, and very dark. All I had for light was the flashlight on my cell phone. I entered Lincoln Memorial Cemetery and knew which section I had to find, but with no map, and with the grounds being very large, I was not positive that I would find his headstone. I walked around for what seemed like hours, and I have to admit that strolling around a cemetery at night did startle me. I remember shining my flashlight on every headstone. Finally, I stopped. I couldn’t move my feet. I couldn’t move my body. I just stood there, staring at the name Teena Brandon. Eventually, I sat down right in front of him. Now I know that some might think I was just sitting in front of a cement slab with lettering on it, but I felt that I was truly in his presence. I wish I could say that the emotions I felt were all happy but they weren’t. I felt a great sadness, thinking that there hadn’t been any justice for Brandon since his life was taken. I was very proud to be where I was though, and felt like I was visiting a friend that I never had the chance to meet.
That night, I decided to stay in Humboldt, so that I could attempt to find the home of the late Lisa Lambert where she, Brandon Teena, and Phillip DeVine lost their lives. I cannot tell you how many people I approached to ask if they knew where Lisa’s old house was. With their faces full of concern, some asked why I wanted to know that. Others had no idea who I was talking about, or maybe they were just pretending. I remember a young store clerk telling me that she knew who was occupying the house and proceeded to give me directions. The problem was, her directions were, like, ‘Go past the big tree, turn right, you will see a dirt road, make a left at the fork, and you will see a smaller tree...’ By then, I had spent all afternoon looking, but I wasn’t going to give up. I asked a gentleman who was sitting on his lawn mower if he knew where Lisa Lambert’s old house was. I told him I just wanted to see it as I was passing through Nebraska. What happened next, I never expected. The man gave me a set of directions (a bit clearer this time) and said, “Just remember, there are still some nice people here.” I smiled at him, thanked him, and began trying to locate my destination one last time.
Now, the documentary The Brandon Teena Story shows the very long side road that leads to Lisa Lambert’s house. The night of the murders was New Year’s Eve, so in the documentary all the roads are covered in snow. However, when I saw one particular road, I knew that I had finally found it. As I drove up the road, I didn’t know what to expect. I wondered who occupied the house, or if I could even muster up the courage to knock on the door, or if I knew what to say if someone should open it and realize that I was a stranger. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, but if I screamed, I bet no one would hear me. I studied the shed off to the side (in Boys Don't Cry, Brandon hid in that shed with Lana Tisdel on several occasions). I was in awe and even more speechless when I looked inside one of the windows of the house. There, on a bedroom floor, was a bouquet of fake flowers. The floor was ripped up from where the closet started to about the center of the room, where I imagine the foot of the bed would have been. My heart stopped. I knew the floor was torn up because I was looking at the very room where Brandon and Lisa lost their lives.
Eventually, I realized that the back door was unlocked and that the house was in fact abandoned. I had to walk past huge trash bags in the garage filled with tons of empty beer cans just to get to the back door. Upon entering, I could hear a smoke detector. This to me was a sign that the place had recently been occupied. But it smelled old and moldy and there were cobwebs everywhere. It looked like not much had changed since the 1998 documentary. I remember seeing the three small windows on the front door and instantly thought of the scene in the documentary showing that door with a Santa Claus hanging from the doorknob. I got chills. I peeked in the bathroom and really didn’t want to touch much. I thought to myself, Wow! This is where Brandon stayed. This is where he showered. I didn’t want to stay long, just long enough to capture some photographs and video. Lisa must have been one kind woman to open up her home to Brandon, even after she learned that he was born female. I felt bad for Phillip DeVine, whom they do not even make mention of in Boys Don’t Cry. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and lost his life with the others that tragic night. The movie was not filmed in Nebraska. The close-knit, sparsely populated town was so shaken up after this event that no one could possibly think of filming a movie there.
I get asked a lot about where the house is located, and I have been told that it has since been demolished. I couldn’t even begin to remember where it was, if I had to find it again. However, you can pay your respects to Brandon at his grave in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Section Z. He is buried next to his father. Many in the transgender community are furious that his headstone does not read “son” or “brother,” but his family placed on it what they wanted, and, in my opinion, that is to be respected, even though we may not agree with them. If Brandon were with us today, I am sure he would be amazed at the many resources that are now available to transgender persons. They would have enabled him to live the life that he wanted to live.
Since my experience, I have done a lot of research and found Lana (Brandon’s former girlfriend) online and emailed her with the hope that she would email me back. At the time I emailed her, I was pretty certain that she would not reply since she probably receives so many emails on the past tragedy and I assumed she would be exhausted with having to relive the event both mentally and emotionally but I took my chances. Almost one year since emailing her, I woke up one morning and was shocked and excited to see who I had a new email from…it was Lana. I am not going to disclose our communications but can say that she is doing well. I have also had the pleasure of speaking with JoAnn Brandon, Brandon’s mother via phone. I am hoping in a few months to conduct a phone interview with her and ask her some questions from those who are subscribed to my You Tube channel as well as from those who follow me on my Facebook blogger page. If anyone wishes to subscribe to my You Tube channel to follow my transition and to watch my experience visiting with Brandon, you can do so by subscribing and for media relations, you can contact me via Facebook
I want to thank those of you who are a support system for the transgender community and may my transgender brothers and sisters embark on journeys filled safety, understanding, love and support.
Watch the video of my visit here