Growing up as a trans woman in Flint Michigan, soul singer Shea Diamond, did not have easy. Identifying as a girl from an early age, Shea was constantly being corrected for her doing what came natural to her. I got whoopings for walking like a girl, for using the restroom sitting down like a girl,” says Diamond today. “Even singing when I was little, I remember being corrected: ‘Put some bass in your voice.’ It was like robbing me of the only joy I had in this world.” Desperate to get away from her hometown, Shea ran away as a teen and at the age of 20, she was arrested and spent ten years in jail. It was behind bars that Shea found her voice and she sat down with Billboard for their first ever Pride issue to discuss how she went from being a product of every system to creating her song “I am Her,” which has become the anthem for the women’s, trans, and gay movements.
When you are in your early twenties you are still trying to figure out life. That combined with the pressure of keeping up with her classmates is what ultimately landed Shea behind bars for robbing a convenience store at gunpoint. Although Shea was working, the money she was making wasn’t enough to pay for sex reassignment surgery so she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I was seeing my peers that had guap, a big ol’ roll of money, and here I am waiting on this check. I’m thinking, if I can do this one time, I’ll be able to maybe have an affirming gender and change my life. The first time I did something, I got caught.”
Even though Shea is a trans woman, she was still sentenced to serve her time in a male facility. There, Shea along with other transgender inmates had to deal with sexual harassment from male inmates, as well as the guards,
“In prison, trans people [were] alienated to the point that they’re fantasized about just as much as cis women are. The male inmates would lust over these female officers that they had to walk past every day, and they would try their best to have us [trans women], too. Even the guards would do that. So officers raped us as well. But we’re never considered credible. We had to go through a lot of different channels to bring some of that stuff to light. I became a member of the warden’s forum, which meant I was able to talk to the warden about inmates’ concerns; things that they felt were injustices, things that would make their unit more livable.”
While going through a difficult divorce, Shea was encouraged by another trans women to get out of the house. The first stop on the cheer up train was The Audre Lorde Project in New York where she sang. After that, Shea began being invited out to sing at different protest, which led her to discovery at a “Trans Life Matter” event by song writer Justin Tranter.
For the full interview click here,