. headling at Finocchio's, 1961 Fashion Model, 1967 On the stage 1983 Sherry, in The Love God 1969
Buy  now from Amazon.com Read a sample of 'The Woman I WAS born to be
See Aleshia introduce the sequel to her 2001 best selling memoir:
'The Woman I WAS Born to Be'
Buy  now from Amazon.com Read a sample of 'The Woman I WAS born to be
Updated November 14, 2008
Sometimes when I see young transsexuals going proudly about their
daily lives, I think, “Ohh… finally I’m a mother!” It’s what Oprah calls
an “Ah-hah moment”.
But let me back up to where it all started. Tennessee, 1937: I was born to Southern fundamentalist. For those of you unfamiliar with hillbilly culture, that means I grew up on grits, gravy and, “In the beginning, on the sixth day, God created man.” A rough draft always precedes a masterpiece – so it stood to reason He’d be making some ma--jor alterations to me. He didn’t. I was stuck in the body of issue. It didn’t seem fair.
You see, before World War II I’d figured out that having a penis made it impossible to be a girl, at least in public, so I locked myself in a bathroom, draped a white Cannon towel over my head, and I was Veronica Lake. The towel was my peek-a-boo bang. When I mention Veronica Lake these days, I can usually tell from the vacant stares that I’m talking to people who are so disgustingly young they had no earthly idea who I’m talking about. Well, uh, think… Paris Hilton. But with talent. All I’m saying is that there never was enough steel in my ‘southern’ magnolia. A boy in my hometown was considered sissy if he wanted clean clothes. I wanted my sox to match my hair-ribbon.
One frolicsome male or another was crawling on top of me from… well, for almost as long as I can remember. Rough and randy farm boys will fool around. They just don’t want to be queer – and as long as they’re on top… they’re not. It’s a mindset. I grew up knowing I should have been born a girl -- not because I enjoyed having sex with those boys, you understand. I wanted to bear their children.
Then in 1952 George Jorgenson stepped off a Danish Operating table as Christine and transsexual history was made. I transitioned during the late 50’s and early 60’s while working as a ‘female impersonator’ at Finocchio’s in San Francisco. To me it didn’t feel like ‘impersonation’. Being Lee Shaw, the club’s blond ingénue, was the closest I’d ever come to being myself. I wasn’t yet complete -- but ‘Gender Reassignment Surgery’ was a novel idea in the ‘60’s. Hey, I performed my own castration, on my kitchen table, because no doctor would do it for me. We do what we must, don’t we?
It seems to me that my life actually began in 1962. That’s when Doctor Harry Benjamin, my doctor, a true gender guru, sent me to urologist Dr. Elmer Belt in Los Angeles for surgery. That’s what set me free – well, or so I though at the time.
I’d been sashaying around Finocchio’s stage for three years but I still had a lot to learn about being a woman. After surgery one thing I quickly discovered was that unless I got my ‘stuff’ together I was in danger of spending the rest of my new life working for tips in a coffee house – literally across the street from where I’d been earning top dollar as a Finocchio’s headliner. GRS had been successful – so successful that it had legally turned me into a second class citizen of the 60’s -- in other words… a woman. Inequity in pay and glass ceilings aside, I had made the right choice… the only choice. I could return to school as a co-ed – which I did. I could marry a man – which I did – several, in fact. Become a Playboy Bunny – which I also did. I’d been liberated to pursue my dreams, one of which was to become a working actress.
I worked most of the variety shows of the time, Andy Williams, Leslie Uggams -- and spent a year as a regular on The Red Skelton Show. I did sitcoms, film and theatre. Hey, I came out of Dean Martin’s closet … back when “coming out of the closet” required a union affiliation. I was living in deep, deep stealth, of course. It was necessary. If after I got One Life To Live my publicist had broadcast “Transsexual lands day-time soap” … I’d have never worked again. Was it fair to hide my gender past? Yes. I was a working actress, working in my chosen profession.
More importantly, I was a woman competing with other women for available roles. I was succeeding (or failing) based solely on my ability. Having a level playing field was important to me. True story… after years of working in Hollywood as a card-carrying actress, my agent sends me on an audition – this wet-behind-the-ears director looks at my resume’ and squeaks, “Hell, Aleshia, you were there when television was in its infancy.” Statements like that can put an aging actress off her feed! But, yes, I guess I had been… and I’d worked with some of the best: Mickey Rooney, Don Knotts, Audry Meadows, John Carridean, Flip Wilson, Jane Powell, -- even Tiny Tim! I’d been a lucky girl.
I topped off that career by teaching and directing university theater. “Aleshia, how did you do it?” I’ve been asked that question a lot lately. The answer is simple. There was no one telling us, my early sisters and me, that we weren’t worthy of mainstream success. We didn’t have The Maury Show audience yelling “That’s a man!” And it hadn’t yet been suggested we had to be hyphenated women… Oh, I do wish some of today’s sisters could accept that we don’t have to be trans-women!
Didn’t we endure all those transitional indignities in order to live our lives complete… to have honest-to-god choices? Why not choose to be the best women we can be? So – now that I’ve retired and thrived twice as long as a woman as I ever struggled… in that other persona… that incomplete sentence with the ‘dangling participle’, how do I view my journey?
Do I literally believe I was a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’? No. There was nothing wrong with the body I had… other than having a penis attached to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some beautiful penises in my day – they just didn’t belong on my body. It was like wearing a blue hair ribbon when the rest of my outfit was pink – the penis clashed.
Maybe the question of gender is just that simple; a need for everything to match… feeling you’re complete as the person you’ve always known yourself to be. Christine Jorgenson, indeed all the early sisters and brothers, paved the way. The community has been blessed with an opportunity for making wonderful choices.
Why not choose to be proud? By respecting ourselves we’ll insure that future generations will have no need for that ‘T’ before their name, they’ll need no hyphen, there’ll be no stigma. Please allow this crone with a green thumb one final analogy -- we’re all weeds growin’ in a patch. Some are brambles, some dandy-lions, some may even be marijuana – but we’re weeds each and every one -- plain ol’ garden-variety… men and women.
Aleshia Brevard

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