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Aleshia Brevard (December 9, 1937 – July 1, 2017) was an American author and actress of stage, screen, and television. She worked as an entertainer, actress, model, Playboy bunny, professor of theater, and author. She underwent one of the first sex reassignment surgery procedures performed in the United States. Brevard lived her life outside of a wider transgender community and as a result, she was not publicly identified as transgender until publishing her memoirs in her later years.
|Born||Alfred Brevard Crenshaw
December 9, 1937
|Died||July 1, 2017
Scotts Valley, California
|Occupation||Actress, model, professor, author|
|Known for||Early gender transition|
|Notable work||"Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transsexual Journey"|
Brevard was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw in Erwin, Tennessee on December 9, 1937. Growing up as a boy in a religious family in a rural part of central Tennessee, "Buddy" was always close to her mother. Brevard always felt different than other children, like a girl inside, and prayed nightly to wake up a girl. Brevard's teen years were awkward, and after a romantic disappointment in high school, Brevard left right after graduation to the West Coast.
San Francisco and transitionEdit
Ending up in San Francisco, Brevard found a job as a female impersonator at Finocchio's Club in San Francisco under the stage name "Lee Shaw" in the early 1960s, doing Marilyn Monroe impressions, eventually achieving enough renown that Marilyn herself came to a performance.
Brevard began her transition at 21 under the care of famed gender specialist Harry Benjamin in the late 1950s. At Benjamin's recommendation, Brevard underwent the surgical reassignment procedure in Los Angeles's Westlake Clinic under the care of surgeon Elmer Belt.
Brevard later worked as a stripper in Reno, and as a Playboy bunny.
After a year's recovery and adapting post-surgery, she enrolled as a student at Middle Tennessee State University for her undergraduate education and married while still enrolled. It was during this period that she grew into the role of being a woman, in the day-to-day sense, while married and taking classes. She attended graduate school at Marshall University in West Virginia. This was at a time when she was a working actress, touring the country doing theater, working in film or television, and getting married. She gained membership in Hollywood unions. She ultimately got her master's degree in Theater.
Through Dr. Harry Benjamin, Brevard became friends in the late 1950s and 60s with other patients of his, Charlotte McLeod and Kathy Taylor, and they became a support network for each other. Together they had lunches with Dr. Benjamin who, as well as their doctor, they considered paternally as both a kind of mentor and friend. Charlotte was the first American to undergo sex reassignment surgery (or SRS) in Denmark following Christine Jorgensen, and Kathy Taylor transitioned in 1963.
Later in the 1970s, she had breast enhancement surgery.
Attitude towards genderEdit
Brevard's transition was one of the first, and occurred before the term transgender had been coined and before there were enough people for there to be a transsexual or transgender community of people with like experience in San Francisco.
Brevard did not self-identify as trans, nor was she seen that way. She moved through life as a woman undetected in mainstream society. Her husbands were not aware of her former status. Once her memoir came out in 2001, she started to become labeled a "transsexual writer" and "transsexual actress". As she stated in her second book, "I'd been labeled—forced into a transsexual mold.
"Professionally, both as a film/stage actress and, later, as a university professor of theatre, my life was lived outside the gender community. Only after publishing two memoirs, when in my 60’s and 70’s, did I first hear the term "transgender" and become aware of the community’s stated agenda," she said in an interview in 2013. She also said in April 2017 "I did not go through gender reassignment to be labeled transsexual. I look at that as an awkward phase that I went through—sort of like a really painful adolescence. I don't even think of myself now in terms as transsexual. That's something I experienced and [something] I was".
Brevard went on, "For me, as well as for my early sisters, the goal was never to live with a 'T' before our names. Our objective was to blend so thoroughly that the things mixed could not be recognized. It was a choice, made not because we felt any shame about our transsexual history, but because our goal had always been to live fully as the women we’d been born to be."
After her work in television and film, she returned to Tennessee and received her M.A. in Theater Arts from Middle Tennessee State University. She met her first husband there and had other marriages which according to her sister did not work out. She returned to California in the late 1990s, settling outside of Santa Cruz, California with an old friend, finding work as a substitute teacher, and doing some community theater.
Aleshia Brevard died at home in Scotts Valley, California on July 1, 2017.
- Brevard, Aleshia (15 February 2001). Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transsexual Journey. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 978-1-4399-0527-2. OCLC 884015871.
- Brevard, Aleshia (1 March 2015) [1st pub 2010]. The Woman I Was Born to Be. Aleshia Brevard. ISBN 978-0-9961344-2-2. OCLC 710814756.
- Brevard, Aleshia (7 October 2015). Bilbo's Bend. Aleshia Brevard. ISBN 978-0996134446.
Film and televisionEdit
- Ames, Jonathan (2002). "Of Breasts and Transhistories". My Less Than Secret Life: A Diary, Fiction, Essays. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 978-1-56025-375-4. Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- Kowalska, Monika (25 January 2013). "Interview with Aleshia Brevard: Part 1". Retrieved 5 July 2016.
- Brevard, Aleshia (2001). The Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transsexual Journey. Temple University Press. ISBN 1566398401.
- "Finocchio's 1961 Revue One of LaMonte's Best". The Times. San Mateo, California. February 3, 1961. p. 23. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
- Whiting, Sam (April 24, 2017). "Aleshia Brevard, SF drag star and transgender pioneer, dies at 79". SFGate. Jeffrey M. Johnson. Archived from the original on 2017-07-25. Retrieved 2017-07-25.
- Whiting 2017.
- Brevard 2001.
- Waldron, Terri-Lynne (2017-04-05). "Actress reflects on transitioning, Marilyn Monroe connection - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive". Windy City Times. Retrieved 2017-07-20.
- Kowalska 2013.
- Times of San Mateo 1961:Finocchio's new 1961 musical revue, "Showtimes In New York and San Francisco," is a dazzler, an uproarious laughfest, and an-outstanding novelty all rolled into one big fun package. It presents a race for top entertainment achievements of the Broadways of the two cities. ... Among the new faces in the Finocchio's cast is Lee Shaw. This show is a winner and certainly is a triumph of real originality for Producer LaMonte.
- Ames 2002, p. 281.
- Brevard 2015, p. 3.
- Brevard 2015, p. 5.
- Waldron, Terri-Lynne (2017-04-05). "Actress reflects on transitioning, Marilyn Monroe connection - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News Archive". Windy City Times. Retrieved 2017-10-08.