Trans trailblazer Aleshia Brevard, one of the first people to undergo gender-affirmation surgery in the United States, died July 1. She was 79.
After her transition in 1962, Brevard worked as a Hollywood actress in the 1960s, appearing in shows like The Partridge Family, The Red Skelton Show, and The Dean Martin Show, as well as in films like The Love God. She also wrote nine plays, a novel, two memoirs, and had a short stint as a Playboy bunny on the Sunset Strip. She eventually returned to her home state of Tennessee, got a masters degree in Theater Arts from Middle Tennessee State University and taught drama.
During all that time, she lived as a woman, outside of a wider transgender community. As a result, she was not publicly identified as transgender until publishing her memoirs in her later years.
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 (The Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transexual Journey) 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.
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.”
Said her landlord and good friend Joyce Nordqvist to the SFGate:
“She had so many fans that related to what her life was about. She was trying simply to live as a woman even to the point of being married to men who never knew her background. I guess they will be surprised when they find out.”
She is survived by her sister Jeanne Cauble, who said simply:
“She was a lady, and needs to be remembered as one.”
Read more about her fascinating life here.
And watch, below, parts 1 and 2: Aleshia Brevard talks of her life as an actress, showgirl, playboy bunny, wife, stepmother, professor, young boy, and one of the country’s first transsexuals. Filmed in Los Angeles, February 2008
(Image via AleshiaBrevard.com)