This spring, as we read Hidden Figures and reimagine our country’s history together, we’re reminded that there’s no better place than Nashville Public Library to explore the hidden figures in our own local history.
We have recently been digging through the Library’s collections in search of often-overlooked members of our community who have extraordinary stories to tell. These inspiring stories prove that if we listen closely, hidden figures of all walks can enrich our understanding of our home, neighbors, and ourselves.
A Transgender Trailblazer
Meet Aleshia Brevard, an extraordinary woman who was born in a boy’s body. Raised on a farm in Trousdale County – about an hour northeast of Nashville – Brevard became one of the first people in America to undergo gender confirmation surgery, the procedure which brings a person’s body into alignment with their gender identity.
In the early ‘60s, Brevard moved to San Francisco, where she found a welcoming community who helped with her physical transition. Dr. Harry Benjamin was known for his affirmative work with transgender people – in the early ‘50s, he had performed the gender confirmation surgery of Christine Jorgensen, the first high-profile trans woman in the United States. Brevard met Dr. Benjamin through a mutual friend and asked him for help. “After a physical examination,” Brevard remembers, “he accepted me as his newest transsexual patient.” Finally, after a hard year of preparation, Brevard made her transition in 1962. “I had been reborn woman” she writes. “I was free.”
Over the course of her life, Brevard worked as an actress, model, entertainer, writer, and theater professor, but was not publicly recognized as a transgender pioneer until the publication of her memoir in 2001. Brevard writes in her memoir that, “[when] I reached a point in life when I could publicly acknowledge my gender history, people immediately started telling me that I had a story to tell the world.”
Looking back upon her life in her memoir, Brevard extends a hand to those whose journeys will cross gender lines: “[for] every transsexual woman and man who will follow my path in the future, I wish for all of you the luxury of love, support, and understanding that I have found along my own road.”
You can find her memoir, The Woman I Was Not Born To Be: A Transsexual Journey, here at Nashville Public Library. You can also hear her story in our Special Collections Division through an interview with the Brooks Fund History Project, an oral history archive of Middle Tennessee’s LGBT community.