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Aleshia Brevard (December 9, 1937 – July 1, 2017)[1] 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 also underwent one of the first sex reassignment surgery procedures performed in the United States.[2] 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.

Aleshia Brevard
Born(1937-12-09)December 9, 1937
DiedJuly 1, 2017(2017-07-01) (aged 79)
OccupationActress, model, professor, author
Years active1960s–2015
Known forEarly gender transition
Notable work
"Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transsexual Journey"


Early lifeEdit

Brevard was born in Erwin, Tennessee on December 9, 1937.[3] Growing up in a religious family in a rural part of central Tennessee,[1][4] she 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.[4] Brevard's teen years were awkward, and after a romantic disappointment in high school, Brevard left right after graduation to the West Coast.[4]

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,[5] doing Marilyn Monroe impressions,[2] eventually achieving enough renown that Marilyn herself came to a performance.[6]

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.[4]

Brevard later worked as a stripper in Reno and as a Playboy bunny.[2]


After a year's recovery post-surgery,[4] she enrolled as a student at Middle Tennessee State University for her undergraduate education[7] and married while still enrolled.[4] During this period, she became more comfortable with her womanhood, got married, and took classes.[4] She attended graduate school at Marshall University in West Virginia. This was at a time when she was a working actress, touring the U.S. doing theater, and working in film or television. She gained membership in Hollywood unions, [7] and ultimately got her master's degree in Theater.

Through Dr. Harry Benjamin, Brevard became friends in the late 1950s and 1960s with other transgender patients of his, including Charlotte Frances McLeod and Kathy Taylor, and they became a support network for each other. Together they had lunches with Dr. Benjamin who they also considered to be a paternal kind of mentor and friend.

Attitude towards genderEdit

Brevard's was one of the first people to medically transition, and occurred before the term transgender had been coined and before there was a transgender community in San Francisco.[1][8]

Brevard did not identify as trans. Her husbands were not aware that she had transitioned.[1] 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."[8]

"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 60s and 70s, did I first hear the term 'transgender' and become aware of the community's stated agenda," she said in an interview in 2013.[4] 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".[3]

"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."[4]

Later lifeEdit

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 in Tennessee and had other marriages, which according to her sister, did not work out.[citation needed] 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.[1]


  • 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

Film and television roles
Year Title Type Notes
1969 The Red Skelton Show Television Brevard's TV debut was on this show, and they appeared more than once.
1969 The Love God? Film As Sherry.
1969 The Female Bunch Film Bevard played "Sadie".
1970 Big Foot Film
One Life to Live Television ABC soap opera TV series, playing the role of " Tex".
1970 The Partridge Family Television Brevard played a cocktail waitress.
The Dean Martin Show Television
1971 Hitched
1979 Legends of the SuperHeroes
1979 Giganta
1980 The Man with Bogart's Face Film A comedy crime thriller
1980 Mother
1980 Smokey and the Judge Film
1981 Hard Country Film Snoopy Lady
1981 American Pop Film An adult animated musical drama film, "Showgirl #2" voice by Brevard.
2005 Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria Film A documentary film, featuring Brevard as a drag entertainer talking about how drag has opened doors of opportunity.


Year Theater show title Role Location Notes
Move Over Ms. Markham Joanna Markham
Gingerbread Lady Evy Meara
Seven Year Itch The Girl Upstairs
The Shadow Box Beverly
Steel Magnolias Truvy Jones, a salon owner Off-broadway in New York
Night of the Iguana Maxine Faulk
Ruthless! The Musical Emily Green Chicago A one-year long show.
A Midsummer Night's Dream Hyppolyta Globe Theater
Subject to Change Madeline Bassett

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e Whiting 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Brevard 2001.
  3. ^ a b Waldron 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kowalska 2013.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Ames 2002, p. 281.
  7. ^ a b Brevard 2015, p. 3.
  8. ^ a b Brevard 2015, p. 5.

External linksEdit