Imagine waking up feeling trapped in a body that doesn’t match how you feel or what your mind responds to. That is the reality for many—if not all—transgender women who have taken the steps toward transitioning into their true selves. Hailing from the streets of Virginia from Pacific Islander and Black roots, 27-year-old transgender model Shauna Brooks identified with being feminine early on.
“At an early age of like 5 or 6 I already felt like I was a girl, and I had very effeminate behavior and was very androgynous,” she explains. “I was never molested or assaulted in any sexual way,” she adds as a way to deflect a common misconception about why little boys grow up to want to become women. “It was just how I always felt on the inside. Me personally, I literally felt like I was born in the wrong body.”
This is a sentiment Brooks lived with for years, unaware of how to match what she was feeling on the inside to how she appeared outwardly. That is, until a walk home from night school placed her in the path of what she considers to be an angel that changed her life for the better.
For the average transgender woman, the transition from male to female can be a rough process, especially without proper guidance and education. But Shauna was blessed to find a mentor who opened her mind to the possibility of living out what she always felt was her truth.
One night, while walking home from school, Brooks came across a ball in full swing in a house known for its affiliations with gays. There were a few people going in and out of the house, but one man in particular saw something in Shauna that she didn’t yet see in herself.
“The guy that walked up to me thought I was a girl, and at the time I wasn’t a girl or on hormones or anything of that nature. He was like, ‘Are you on hormones?’ and I didn’t know what hormones were.” The stranger asked Shauna if she wanted to be a girl, and she jumped at the chance to do so. “He showed me this girl that was actually in the party that was a transgender. And when I saw her and he told me that she was basically a guy, a light bulb went off in my head where I was like, ‘OMG. If she can do it, I can do it.’ And that’s what inspired me.
“We all have to have inspiration from somebody somewhere, because if you’re ignorant to the fact of transgenders or have never seen a transgender, then it would never cross your mind.” It was in that weekend that Shauna began her transition, and from that moment she chose a path least traveled and even less understood by society as a whole. Her life would never be the same.
Making the decision to go through the transition process isn’t to be taken lightly, and the process can often place strains on the relationships between the lady in transition and her loved ones. This was exactly the case for Shauna, as she began hormone therapy in the midst of puberty, during a time when there was little support for transgender women.
Before going into any type of physical transition, transgender women must undergo psychological evaluation to ensure they are in the right state of mind before making a permanent change. “When I got sent to a doctor, they told my parents that I had a gender identity disorder and that it wasn’t uncommon and it wasn’t anything that they did.” After going through individual and family therapy at the recommendation of her godfather, Shauna and her family had a better understanding of the process, but their relationship still became rocky.
“There were so many shady antics that I had to go through just to be who I wanted to be and become, but people didn’t understand,” Brooks explained. “I actually had to get emancipated. Because when I was going through the rough patch, my mom didn’t understand the chemical imbalances with the hormones and puberty, and I just needed to step away. My godfather said, ‘You need to step away so you can focus on you, and I will take care of you and all of the things.’ ” While Shauna’s godfather helped significantly with her transition, being pushed out of her family home left her to fend for herself, driving her into the streets as a sex worker to make ends meet.
“As a transgender, everything about me is sexual. Like sexy flirtation. Even when I’m not trying, it just comes across as that,” explains Brooks. “So when I found out that I had that much power with just selling sex, I went out walking one night, and a guy offered me something for something. That is how it started.”
Shauna elevated from streetwalking to the status of an international escort being paid anywhere from $2,000 to 50K a client, predominately for discretion. “The money was coming in and it was so good I got trapped and caught in that lifestyle. I was accustomed to making two-to-three grand a day, and I was used to men doing whatever I said,” Brooks admits. “Now that I’ve moved away from escorting, I no longer want to be a part of that lifestyle. But that is where my root is. I can’t knock it, because I have to live in my truth, and that is what got me on my way.”
Turning to sex work is a reality for many transgender women, especially those hailing from families within a lower income status. Since moving away from that lifestyle, Shauna has made a name for herself as the first openly transgender woman in the urban men’s magazine modeling scene, and is currently in negotiations with several networks for placements on television shows interested in her lifestyle. Networks became interested in Brooks’s story after reports surfaced last year of her spending time with singer Chris Brown at a private party at his residence.
The media has recently painted Caitlyn Jenner as the face for transgender women worldwide, labeling her efforts as a brave gesture towards equality, but Shauna doesn’t share the same sentiment. Like many of her sisters who’ve dredged through the struggle to be able to live in an area of peace and understanding of self, Brooks believes there are greater examples of trans women that should be spotlighted, especially in the African-American community.
“I think that this is truly who Caitlyn is, but I don’t think she is brave or the face of transgender,” explains Brooks. “If she was brave, she would have come out when we were having stonewall riots. It’s a slap in the face to other transgender women who have had to bear their cross. I had to go to school as a transgender and face bullying; going to the other side of the school to use the nurse’s bathroom because I couldn’t use the girls or the boys bathroom.
“What’s being brave is living who you are and what you believe in, and at the same time being accepted as who you are and demanding the acceptance of your peers.”
Brooks explains the difference between a transgender woman hailing from a background of privilege and the average African-American trans woman going through the transition. “Caytlin had the money to do what she needed to do,” she explains. “She doesn’t know the struggle of having to get those coins together to get your facial features together and to get your ‘girl’ together and the struggle to find a place to sleep or food to eat. She one day decided that she wanted to be a woman, and the next day was. There was no struggle. Being Black is always going to play a role in your social capitalism.
“As for Ms. Jenner being on Vanity Fair, it’s on social media and everywhere and it’s changing the thought and perception. But at the same time, she didn’t change anything for me. I still have to bear my own crosses.”
During her interview with Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner refers to actress Laverne Cox and media maven Janet Mock as pioneers who have led the way for her to live out her truth. Shauna agrees that these two women would serve as better representatives for the transgender woman, especially those of color. She also believes that the African-America community can do a better job at embracing its own transgender community.
“As Black people, we need to learn how to identify with our own issues within our community,” she implores. “It is always okay to say, ‘I am amazed at Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation,’ but when Charlie comes home with a switch in his step, we try to throw oil on him and beat the ‘man’ into him. This is striking a cord in the trans community where we just aren’t feeling it. We support it, but we don’t view Caitlyn as the face of transgender women or the go-to. When I think of the face of transgender, that woman has to be squeaky clean. Janet Mock would serve as a great go-to face of transgender women.”
Glamazon Tyomi is a freelance writer, model and sex educator with a deeply rooted passion for spreading the message of sex positivity and encouraging the masses to embrace their sexuality. Her website, www.glamerotica101.com, reaches internationally as a source for advice and information for the sexually active/curious. Follow her on Twitter at @glamazontyomi.