A Woman to Know: Carlett Brown

I just want to become a woman as quickly as possible. That's all. — Carlett

(image via Jet Magazine)

As Charles Brown, Carlett had been a U.S. Navy SEAL, a Harlem social butterfly and a male shake dancer. As Carlett Angianlee Brown, she renounced her U.S. citizenship in order to travel overseas to visit (at that time) the only doctor in the world who would perform sex change operations, the one made famous for his operation on Christine Jorgensen. "I'll become a citizen of any country that will allow me the treatment that I need and to be operated on," Carlett said. She graced the cover of JET magazine, as readers followed the story of this charismatic black woman, the first black woman to announce her intention to undergo a sex change operation.

But in 1953, the IRS slapped Carlett with a dream-deferring roadblock: she owed $1200 in back taxes, money she had to pay back before leaving the country for her operation. At JET's last check-in with Carlett, she was working in an Iowa State frat house kitchen to earn the money needed. As her contemporary Christine Jorgensen made headlines with her own surgery, Carlett stayed in Iowa. She was never able to leave the United States, but her story has become a touchstone in today's conversations about erasure in black transwomen's narratives.

"I know I and other African-American transpeeps didn't just pop out of thin air," Monica Roberts wrote at Racialicious. "We have a long fascinating history that just begs to be told."

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