On Shauna, by Sean Lee

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For three years, between 2007 and 2009, I was a sometime woman called Shauna. I’d inhabited the persona of a ladyboy.

It all began in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’d encountered and befriended a fascinating transgender community around the city’s red light district and I found myself thinking, what would it be like, to be one of them?

From some of these friends, I soon learned to shave my legs and armpits, put on make-up and a wig, and strut around in high heels. I was a fast learner. Within a year, I no longer needed my clumpy ‘training’ wedges. Some days, I would be strutting about on my black stilettos like any other ladyboy and there’d be someone who would try to pick me up. Under the neon lights, every bar became a set and every street, a stage.

Being Shauna was not just a performance, however. The first night I went out as Shauna, it felt like I was living the first night of a completely other life. I had to learn to do everything over as Shauna. Even simple, everyday things and actions felt alien and new. There were days I couldn’t recognise myself in the mirror. I realised I’d become someone else completely. It was a strange and exhilarating time, and I’ve been changed by the experience in ways that I’m still continuing to discover.

I still think about Shauna from time to time, about all those chance encounters with so many who’d befriended, accepted and loved her for her. I still keep up with some of them. In recent years, I’ve gone back to Siem Reap, but it’s all different now. Friends have gone and moved on, the red light district’s been cleaned up, and now, it’s hard to find any of them walking along the streets.

Photographs & Text: Sean Lee | Website: www.seanleephoto.com

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