Leslie Townsend's Story
Copyright © 2003-06 Leslie Townsend All rights reserved
Model , Comedienne, Author
Having agreed to write a bio for this website was the easy part. Knowing what to write about myself and my experience was another. Even though I have written an autobiography detailing the events of my life, this is different.
After all, this is called the "Success" page and at first, I had to wonder if I fit that description. For me, it has been a challenge to embrace my successes. For years I held onto the shame of being a trans person. I enjoyed my life and pursued my dreams, but there was this nagging thought that I could accomplish more if I didn't have this baggage to contend with. I had a really hard time embracing my "genderality". As we all know, society puts so much pressure on everyone to "fit in". I was always wrestling between society's expectations and the desire to be true to myself. I let society win for a long time.
And here I am, putting myself in the spotlight for the first time. It is time for me to embrace my life, my past and my accomplishments. I used to dream about making a real difference in the world and how society viewed transgender men and women. As a teenager, I was sure that someday I would be the poster girl for transgender people everywhere.
Somewhere along the way, I let that dream become clouded. Following my surgery, I realized that I could fit into society as a woman and no one would ever be the wiser. And until very recently I lived in deep stealth. In fact, I was in so deep that I didn't know there was a name for it. Stealth. Once I was told its meaning and it's use in the transgender community, I realized that it is definitely a word that describes the last twenty years of my life. In all that time I never found it easy or advantageous to reveal the details of my past to anyone.
I'm sure that fear was the motivating factor in keeping my secret. Fear of rejection, loss of friendship, loss of boyfriends. In retrospect, I think I feared the loss of my female persona and validation of that persona that I received from the men in my life. Fear can be such a crippling emotion. For me, the prospect of divulging my secrets went hand in hand with giving up life as I knew it in my seemingly secure little world. Looking back, I have to wonder how secure that world was if one tidbit of information could have brought it tumbling down. It has taken me all of those twenty years to come to terms with the shame I held onto for so long.
It started from the moment I saw the look on my parents faces the night they found out that their eighteen year old son wanted to become a girl. In that instant my world tilted on its axis and was never the same.
I left home soon after to pursue my dream. Although the word dream doesn't really cover what I felt. It was an overwhelming need to right a wrong. My journey to womanhood would take me on a wild ride in an underground world of transsexuals, impersonators, gay boys, hustlers, and men. With stints in Key West, New Orleans and New York, I moved forward in my transition. Each town bringing new people, new experiences and a new me, ever so closer to having my final surgery to make me completely female.
On the way, I encountered other outcasts like myself, all searching for our true identities. Sex and drugs were prevalent. It didn't take long for me to dive head first into that world. And it didn't take long for me to discover early on that there were plenty of men who enjoyed the company of pre-operative transsexuals. And many of them were willing to pay for that company. You might wonder how a naive kid from the suburbs decides that it's O.K. to sell their body in this way. For me, it was a natural progression of being part of this underground world. And I had nothing to lose.
"Normal" society had lost its luster for me soon after leaving home. I began to perceive myself as living on the fringe, never being able to fit back into the society that shunned me. I had little contact with my family during this time. Aside from my Mother, I was estranged from the rest of the family I had loved my whole life. Although I was very grateful for my Mother's support, she had no clue what gutter I was willing to crawl through to reach the other side of my quest. No one knew, only my makeshift family of other outcasts. We were comrades in our search for womanhood. Their friendship was like a band-aid soothing an open wound. We found solace in each other.
It was a difficult time. At the age of twenty one with no college education or work experience to speak of, money was scarce. Living expenses were bad enough, but add hormone shots and a female wardrobe to build and you can see how difficult it could be to make ends meet. If not for the extra income from "admires", everything would have seemed out of reach. I often wondered then, how I would be able to un-walk the path I had chosen to reach my goal. Would I be emotionally scarred for life? Would that gutter I had crawled through haunt me?
Regardless of my choices, I proceeded on my course of action. When all was said and done, at the age of 23, I reached my goal and had my SRS on December 14, 1983. I never had second thoughts. I remember the night before the surgery, lying in that hospital bed, I felt nervous but was totally sure of my decision. All I had gone through had been worth it.
When I look back on my life since my surgery, I can think of many things that I have found joy in accomplishing. So why do I hesitate to glorify the good aspects of my stealth experience? Maybe part of me feels guilty for having had so much fun during those years even though I was hiding a big secret. My days in the modeling industry were great. Although I didnít make it to Cindy Crawford fame, I did quite a few things of merit in my own right. I loved being in front of the camera. I can be a real ham sometimes but I loved playing the role. I acted in a few commercials that gave me the same sense of joy in pursuing a career that I once thought was not possible.
Deep down I knew that part of my motivation was vanity; however, I also believed that I had a real talent for being in show business. That led me to try my hand at stand-up comedy and a stint in Los Angeles working as an extra on many television shows. The bottom line is that even though I had a fear of my past coming to light, I still pursued all the avenues on my dream list, all the while daring myself to breake the boundaries of my past that only I could see. Today I can say with assuredness that I have accomplished so many of the dreams and aspirations I had as a child.
Much has happened in the years since my surgery all leading me to this point; a brief modeling and acting career, jobs in the secretarial pool, bartending and even a brief marriage. When times got tough, I fell back on what I knew best, prostitution. You see, in the years following my surgery, I never was able to break the cycle that was started all those years before. In the years since my surgery, I have flip-flopped between being a part of "proper society" and the other side of me that is promiscuous and an exhibitionist. And all the while, I stayed hidden in society, keeping my past a secret at all costs. My conscience took a back seat for years while I told myself that those early lessons were not pushing my choice making. I can see now that by closing myself off to the world in that way, I closed the world out of my life. Now after twenty years I am weary of the fear and shame that has driven me into hiding for so long.
I can admit all of this now to myself and everyone else because I can see more clearly the reasons why I acted out in the way that I did. My search for love and validation kept me from seeing the real me and kept me from cultivating a love of self that we all need to be happy and secure. I've spent quite a bit of energy in a vain attempt to run from my past. But everywhere I went, I showed up too. It has take a long time to do the work on myself that I needed to do.
After all this time has passed, I have finally put my story to paper in the hope of making the very difference I wanted to make those many years ago. I have spoken at colleges and transgender support groups. I have opened my life to the scrutiny of others with more strength and conviction than I thought I had. Who knows what the future will bring. This is a new chapter for me. I hope that my experience will help someone who needs to know that they are not alone.
I guess for me, even though I found living stealth a challenge, I wouldnít change it for the world. My experiences are what made me who I am today. And the person I am today can look back on those years with pride and joy in how I didnít let my past stop me from reaching for the stars. In the years to come, I will continue to pursue educating the public and step up to the plate in the fight for acceptance. To me the success is in trying; in taking risks, in following your dreams.
One of the greatest gifts in life is having the courage to strive for our full potential; physically, emotionally and spiritually. On my journey through transition, I found the biggest hurdle to overcome was not my own inner voice telling me I should be a woman. The biggest obstacles are the ones that society lays in our path to keep us from being true to ourselves.
Clearing these hurdles and showing pride in our special circumstances will help change our society. That will truly mean success for us all.
See also Leslie's photos and bios in the following webpages:
V-Day in LA, 2004: Cast member bios
Leslie's Bio on LOGO.ONLINE
Copyright © 2003 Leslie Townsend All rights reserved
Leslie Townsend, Model , Comedienne, Author
A Gallery of Leslie Townsend's Photographs:
Below>1. This is my fourth grade elementary school picture.
I was shy and nervous as a young boy:
Below> 2. Here I am at twenty-one early in my transition. Letting my hair grow was liberating and I was seeing a real change in my facial features from the hormones:
Below> 3. At twenty-three right before my final surgery.
I had already had my breasts done and my adams apple reduced.
At that time I felt like Farrah Fawcett:
Below> 4. This is one of my first modeling shots for my portfolio.
Seeing myself in photos like this gave me the confidence to pursue a modeling career:
Below>5. This headshot was taken in New York just four weeks after my SRS.
I still had healing to do but was feeling a renewed sense of excitement for the future:
Below>6. When I first started doing stand-up comedy, my act was a parody of Andrea Dice Clay where I turned the tables and made fun of men. My character was Andrea Dice Clay:
Below> 7. This is my most recent headshot taken just before I went to Los Angeles last summer.
I spent four months working as an "extra" on shows like The West Wing,
Alias, Boomtown and Malcolm in the Middle. I had a great time:
Below>8. When I first moved to Houston I did some print modeling work for the Ben Shaw Agency.
This ad was for a local mall:
Below> 9. Another job I did in Houston.
This ad was for a new condominium complex near Houston's Gallaria Mall:
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This Website Created ...... Saturday, 20. May 2006
Last Updated: Tuesday, 22. January 2008
Visitors since... Saturday, 20. May 2006