The Woman I Was Not Born To Be
by Aleshia Brevard
Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA
For those of us who became acquainted with the transgender experience only recently, this wonderful book is an eye-opener. In the 1950s and 1960s, most of us had never heard of a transsexual. Then there was Christine Jorgenson and the lurid press around her gender-related surgery.
“The Woman I was Not Born to Be” is Aleshia Brevard’s memoir as she travelled from a rural Tennessee “sissy boy” through her female impersonator days to her career as a highly regarded stage, screen, and TV actress and beyond. Honestly written with self-deprecation as well as appreciation and humor, this book shines a bright light on the early years of transsexual surgery and its aftermath.
Have any of my readers realized that a 1950s solution to excessively feminine boys was super-doses of testosterone? Did you know that in the early 1960s a male-bodied individual had to be castrated prior to SRS – else the testicles would be placed inside the body? Do you recall that policy, if not law, required female impersonators/cross dressers to wear at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing or face imprisonment? No wonder so many transsexuals hid their reality and went stealth in their lives!
“The Woman I was Not Born to Be” shows how Aleshia’s low self-esteem in her youth was reinforced by her father and almost every male father or husband figure for many years, leaving her self-consciously striving to reflect the subservient female role required by the mid-1900s society. While quite successful in her theatrical life, her interpersonal relationships with many males – from boyfriends, neighbors, and husbands to various Hollywood agents and actors - also reinforced her lack of self-confidence as a woman. It was largely with the support of her mother, Mozelle, and her close friend Stormy Lee (a fellow transsexual/drag queen) that she eventually realized that she did not need to define herself as a woman based on the misogynistic social customs of the mid-twentieth century.
Reviewed by Dave Parker, PFLAG Transgender Network (TNET)