Brevard, Aleshia 1937-
BREVARD, Aleshia 1937-
PERSONAL: Original name, Alfred Crenshaw; born December 9, 1937, in Erwin, TN; son of James Upshaw (a gentleman farmer and city clerk) and Mozelle Gillentine (a nurse) Crenshaw. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Middle Tennessee State University, B.A. (speech, theater, and education), 1967; Marshall University, M.A. (communication science), 1973. Politics: "Democrat (on a good year), otherwise anything that isn't Republican." Hobbies and other interests: Theatre.
ADDRESSES: Office—521 Tuttle Ave., Watsonville, CA 95076. Agent—Erika Wain, Erika Wain Agency, 3228 Craig Dr., Hollywood, CA 90068. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Actress and teacher. Actress, 1966—; East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, acting professor, 1989-94; Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Watsonville, CA, teacher, 1999-2001.
MEMBER: Screen Actors Guild, Actors Equity Association, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Guild of Variety Artists.
The Woman I Was Not Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.
Also coauthor of plays, including A Grinnich Christmas, Caught Dead in Chattanooga, and RIP and Cancel Your Credit Cards; author of play Everything I Know, I Learned in Heels: A One-Woman Show,
WORK IN PROGRESS: Bilbo's Bend, a fictional examination of a young gay man's life as he struggles to find his place on the gender scale.
SIDELIGHTS: Aleshia Brevard's life story is a tale of broken marriages, B-movie roles, a stint as a Playboy bunny, and the pursuit of a career in theatre. It is also the story of how a young man from a religious family in rural Tennessee decided to castrate himself on a kitchen table after years of feeling that he could not honestly live as the gender into which he had been born. The transformation of Alfred Crenshaw to Aleshia Brevard is only the beginning of her story for social acceptance and finally self acceptance, a story that ends with Brevard setting aside celebrity and enjoying life as "one of the little old ladies out tending their roses."
In her life as a boy, Aleshia was known as Buddy Crenshaw, the son of a Tennessee farmer. Brevard remembers that she never felt comfortable being identified as a boy, that being addressed as a boy felt improper. She moved to San Francisco in her early twenties to work in drag, although state laws at the time prohibited men from dressing as women in public. In order to appear as a woman offstage—to look like the person she felt she was—she had to be biologically female. In 1960 she convinced a veterinarian to tell her how to neuter her cat, then used the instructions, with the help of her lifelong friend Stormy, to remove her testicles (a procedure which was then unlawful for a surgeon). When Stormy had to leave the room and vomit during the procedure, Brevard sat up and finished the job herself. In 1962 she was able to have a surgeon complete the transformation, and subsequently had her birth certificate and name changed to reflect her new identity.
A central insight Brevard achieved early in her life as a woman was that femininity was not as freeing as she had hoped. Eric Nuzum, in the Cleveland Free Times, wrote, "Much to her surprise, Brevard realized that life as a 'sissy' man was preferable to that of an attractive young woman." The reasonably lucrative career of a drag performer was no longer an option, and Brevard faced the struggle of being a single woman in the early 1960s. Brevard later commented that Nusum misinterpreted her statements. "Life as a woman might not have been what I anticipated it would be," she wrote, "but it was a far sight better than the half-life I'd lived before." Her greatest successes as an actress include a role in the Don Knotts film The Love God, regular appearances on TV's Red Skelton Show, and the role of Tex on the soap opera One Life to Live. Brevard relates in her book the realization that what looked like a life of adoration and glamour was really a life of dependence. Nuzum wrote, "[Brevard] did star in several forgettable movies . . . but eventually found—like many women of her generation—that the easiest way to support herself was as someone's wife."
She was married three times, had a series of abusive boyfriends, and fended off advances from her co-stars, including Andy Griffith and Anthony Newley. In most cases, none of the men ever knew Aleshia had been born a man. Brevard embraced feminism in the 1970s and found an ally in her mother in her ongoing quest to accept herself and her history. In the Village Voice, Michael Musto wrote, "Brevard's multiple layers of self-loathing ultimately became even more oppressive than her heels and false lashes, but her loving mother . . . kept her so grounded she might as well have been in flats and glasses. It was when the men finally stopped clutching at her that Brevard found her self-respect." In an interview for the Temple University Press Web site, Brevard said of her relationships with men, "I was not being honest, even with myself. I was trying to be the woman my mate wanted me to be. By trying to live up to someone else's fantasy, I lost myself. I know a lot of married women who are still making that sad mistake."
Brevard published her biography as a host of transsexual stories were released. Reviewers have suggested that what distinguishes Brevard's story is her engaging humor and her intelligence. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly said that The Woman I Was Not Born to Be "adds an entertaining curve to the growing body of literature-academic, scientific, theoretical and literary-on transgender experience, without the selfpity or sentimentality found in many such memoirs." Musto called the book "a cut above" the usual transsexual memoir, noting Brevard's "serious discourse about the restraining roles society makes us play and an intelligent grasp of queer, transsexual, and feminist history." Brevard continues to write about gender and sexuality from her home in California.
Brevard told CA: "My life in film, television, and especially on the dinner-theatre stage, pushed me into my first attempts at writing. I was writing for the stage until my father's death, January 15, 1996. Then, searching for cathartic release from my early transsexual experiences, having had transitional surgery in 1952, I began what became The Woman I Was Not Born to Be. With this venture the writing process was to trot down memory lane with my fingers flying on the keyboard trying to keep pace. I had no thought to editing. That came later when Temple University Press pressured me to trim my prose. The real work then began and I discovered joy in the process of telling my story."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Advocate, March 27, 2002, Etelka Lehoczky, "The Country Girl," p. 65.
Lambda Book Report, February, 2001, review of The Woman I Was Not Born to Be, p. 30.
Library Journal, April 15, 2001, Aaron Jason, review of The Woman I Was Not Born to Be, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, November 20, 2000, review of The Woman I Was Not Born to Be, p. 53.
Wilson Quarterly, spring, 2001, Amy Bloom, "A Transsexual Journey," p. 121.
Cleveland Free Times Online,http://www.freetimes.com/ (June 12, 2002), Eric Nuzum, "Enjoy Being a Girl? One of the Country's First Transsexuals on the Quest for Self."
NTAC Web site,http://www.ntac.org/ (June 12, 2002), Michael Musto, review of The Woman I Was Not Born to Be, from the Village Voice.
Sex in the Twentieth Century (television news segment), American Broadcasting System (ABC).
SFBG Web site,http://www.sfbg.com/ (June 20, 2001), Charles Anders, "Tranny Tales: A Whirlwind Tour of Transsexual Life Stories."
Temple University Press Web site,http://www.temple.edu/tempress/ (June 12, 2002), interview with Aleshia Brevard.