Twenty-five Years After Breaking Brandon Teena’s Story: An Apology

Lane Hickenbottom for AP / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Village Voice journalist Donna Minkowitz apologizes 25 years after breaking the story of Brandon Teena, transgender murder victim and subject of the film Boys Don’t Cry. Realizing in hindsight it was “the most insensitive and inaccurate piece of journalism I have ever written,” Minkowitz examines what she recognizes now as her own internalized homophobia and ignorance of trans issues. 

For years, I have wanted to apologize for what I now understand, with some shame, was the article’s implicit anti-trans framing. Without spelling it out, the article cast Brandon as a lesbian who hated “her” body because of prior experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape.

At the time, I was extremely ignorant about trans people. Like many other cis queer people at the time, I didn’t know that there were gay trans men, trans lesbians, bisexual trans folks, that being trans had nothing to do with whether you were straight or gay, and that trans activism was not, as some of us feared, an effort to stave off queerness and lead “easier,” more conventional heterosexual lives.

I was apoplectic with Feinberg for decades because she’d publicly called my article “sleazy, salacious psychosexual babble,” and falsely claimed the “article [let] the cops off the hook for their culpability in instigating the violence against Teena in the first place.” But in many of her criticisms, Feinberg was correct. I shouldn’t ever have suggested that Brandon wanted to be a man because he was sexually abused, and I should have listened to his own wishes as reflected in the memories of his survivors, and called him trans.

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