I have long believed that of all the peoples gathered under the GLBT umbrella, the Ts—the transsexuals—are the one who garner the least respect. Life in today’s world is certainly not a paradise for the gay male, but in many ways he does have it better than the lesbian. Although I have known a number of bisexuals, I’ve never thought that they had it so bad, although it must surely be painful to know that one does not quite fit in either the gay or the straight world, and is likely to be viewed with suspicion, if not hostility, in both.
But, the poor trannies—and I am going to eschew political correctedness here and admit right up front that I am almost certainly not using the correct terminology because, frankly, I don’t know it. So, when I refer to trannies, I mean them all – the drag queens, the sex changes, the cross dressers. I know they see themselves as separate from one another, but one thing they all share—except among their own, they are too often likely to be scorned by all the others of our supposed community. And even among their own, as this book makes clear, they are not always free from attack.
The Woman I Was Born to Be is Aleshia Brevard’s second memoir, following The Woman I was Not Born to Be. I have not read the first book, but in the second she provides a sort of road map of the events covered in the first. In any case, there is little cause for confusion.
Aleshia Brevard was born Alfred Brevard Crenshaw in 1937. Christine Jorgensen’s sex change (as it was generally called then) in 1952 was headline news throughout much of the world. Alfred Brevard Crenshaw had his own gender reassignment surgery in 1962, after stints as a kept boy for a Catholic priest and a female impersonator at the famed Finnochio’s in San Francisco. What followed was a life of some surprising successes—as a Playboy bunny, a Vegas chorine, and a sometimes actress in movies, television and on stage.
The book is slight, in every sense of the word. There isn’t much depth here. It’s mostly of the, “and then I did…” and “then I went…” variety. The Aleshis comes across too often as somewhat self absorbed and at times downright silly, like a caricature of an Auntie Mame type, herself a caricature. On the other hand, she also shows herself repeatedly to be generous and kind, to her peers, her students, even her enemies. And more than once she displays an admirable resilience, even courage, in standing up to adversity. Which is to say, she has her faults, like all of us, but plenty of redeeming qualities. By the time I had finished this book, I felt that I knew her pretty well, and liked her.
The chief interest here, however, is not in reading about the ups and downs of Aleshia’s volatile career or her several marriages, but in watching a self-admitted sissy survive a hazardous childhood and an adulthood punctuated, not surprisingly, with a great deal of bias. This is especially refreshing in the current epidemic of childhood suicides as the result of bullying. Alfred, and later Aleshia, suffers no end of bullying—not only from schoolmates but domestic partners, even from an emotionally hobbled father—but she finds her own kind of triumph and eventually comes to terms with the woman she is. And though she fusses a great deal about aging, if the picture on the back cover is to be believed, the beautiful young starlet turned out to be a handsome septuagenarean.
In short, this is a sort of print version of the “It Gets Better” videos currently going viral. This publisher bills itself as “books by women, for women,” but if I could have my wish, I would personally hand a copy of this to every young person suffering today at the hands of bullies, so they could read this story of how one individual’s life did indeed get better. In the best of all worlds, every one of those unhappy youngsters would benefit from reading Aleshia’s story.
That won’t happen, of course. It seems our society would rather protect them from the positive encouragement they would find here than from the negative discouragement that leads to those suicides we keep reading about with dismaying frequency.
Still, I give this woman a hearty high five and a tip of the cap. She deserves it just for getting through. Lots of others didn’t.