Today we’d like to introduce you to Shetay Lebon.
My name is Shetay Lebon. I was born in Argentina. Between my mother and my father, I was pulled between the United States and Argentina, being raised in both. Outside of that, I’ve had some relatively short stays in other countries.
I am the daughter of artists; raised between my mother in the United States, and mostly my dad, (David Lebon) in both Argentina and the United States. My father is one of the foundations/pillars of rock and roll in Argentina, which started at a time when it was politically dangerous to be in alignment with liberty or freedom. When the flower power era of the 70’s was celebrated in the USA, just being a man with long hair in Argentina made you subject to being stopped by the police violently, harassed, and in many cases, getting your hair cut off by force in the street. As a matter of fact, there was a moment in time, where the music in English was illegal to perform, or be played on any radio or TV stations. The young generation wanted to hear rock and roll, so that’s when they created rock and roll in Spanish. This way, they would still be able to hear it, thus cheating the system. Inside of this brave group of people, the first people playing rock and roll in Argentina, there stood my dad, and still today, he’s a very well recognized and respected artist. Now, that did not make my life in any way easier, as much as people might think.
Moving forward, my mother Lili Lagarde walked into the bar where my dad was playing. She saw my dad on stage, and afterward, told her friend, “This guy will be the father of my child.” A year later I was born. My baby crib the first years of my life was a guitar case, and after my mother split to Europe, my baby bottle was a latex glove with a hole in a finger. How creative.
At this point in my life, my family consisted of a group of rock and roll guys, with the exception of (thank God) Rino Rafameli’s sister Cristina, and his mom. Other than that, most of the time I grew up in rehearsal rooms, recording studios, backstage areas, and tour buses that consisted of farts, lots of alcohol, drugs and nicotine.
Growing up with a rockstar dad meant that everyone’s attention was mostly placed on him, and even my dad would get caught up in those moments! But I’m not mad, we did have many good times, but during those times I would blend in with him. I didn’t see it as bad. What other way is there for one to grow up in that situation? For us that was our ‘normal’ family way. I don’t think that’s a wrong way of growing up, it’s just different.
Nights were long and days were dark until the first one woke up from the party/gathering the night prior. This was ‘mostly’ a nightly occurrence. When I got up I was used to doing things by myself, even getting ready for school and cooking my own meals. I’ve had to jump on one leg all the way to the hospital to have a cast put on a broken leg. I didn’t have toys so all I could do is play with the instruments around the house and in the rehearsal room. By doing that, I taught myself to play every one of them.
Sometimes I’d be in the United States, others, I would be in Argentina, mostly. In this case, back in NYC, I was pretty much kidnapped by my missing in action, rocker mother. There I continued living my life how it came. The first band I ever saw was The Clash, and of course from the stage. I spent a lot of time as a child walking around the streets with other kids who lived in similar situations. Back in the day there were quite a lot of us. The first art piece I did was in the basement of an apartment building where I lived on 10th St and Ave A. Walking by you could see an artist working from the window. Instead of using the quarters I stole from home to buy dolls to play with like I normally did, I banged on the window and offered the artist my coins to let me use his materials. I was 6 years old, he agreed and I made myself a pair of wings. From that day on, I wore them over my tiny, specially made, rocker leather jacket.
After maybe seven, she sent me away to Peru to live with an aunt, because of her growing drug addiction. You’re already beginning to see the lack of stability I had from a young age. From one day to the next my life would change, from the mohawk, leather jacket, and hanging out in the streets of New York, to Lima, Peru. Again, molding myself to someone else’s way of life.
At 8, my aunt thought it would be a good thing if I went back to Argentina to live with my dad. A year later, I was back in Argentina in a house full of all male musicians, groupies and drugs. There I continued learning to play instruments as everyone slept. At 12 I had my first band (Tubblegum). The youngest, the drummer, was 9 years old. We rehearsed 3 times a week, and we played in 3 places with other recognized adult bands,there was no one like us! An all kids band playing with, and for, an older crowd.
We got offered a contract with a known company from Argentina. My father refused to sign the contract because it was a company he had previously worked with. Shortly after, the band dissolved. I was devastated because I always fantasized being the first kids band that was actually good. I was that 13 year old with older friends, hanging out in nightclubs, punk rock concerts, a lot of hanging out during the night in bars. Even though I was living a grown lifestyle, I didn’t consume any alcohol or drugs. I was picked up by the 35 year coke dealer to hit the club, but I still didn’t consume anything, all I saw growing up taught me better. I had a mature personality and could easily become friends with older people. During that part of my life I spent a lot of time caring for my dad when he overindulged in drugs and alcohol. When everyone had gone home the night before, I was the one who was still there with him, and his many women from time to time.
With each woman who found a place at our home, there were a lot of changes. Every one of them tried to turn me back into the child that I never really was. Each one of them never took the time to consider the person that I was inside. Nobody considered the confusion I had about sexuality and gender. Were they the kids and I the adult?
I was so secure as a little child, I was a girl even though I had seen the difference of genitalia through my mom, TV, or other kids. I was so sure by logic that the natural process was that we were all born with a penis and girls’ penises would fall off. I found out that was not the case. I learned that I was not born a girl when I heard that each genitalia belonged to a certain
gender. As I grew up, I started hanging out with people who would often make jokes about gays and trans people. Rockers, bikers, etc. Hearing the despicable things that they were saying scared me into not wanting them to know that I had these types of thoughts, still moving in my secure skin.
Because of the facts that I was being presented with in my life, I figured I was gay. I always felt like a girl that liked a boy, I fantasized being a princess like other girls, and I had a lot of friends who were girls. I felt deeply connected with them much more than guys. I always got along with boys and girls. When I started getting teased at school things rapidly started to change. I always had a big problem with disrespect and fear didn’t exist when it came to being myself. That always placed me in the spot of being the only freak that was always accepted by everyone. I was the only boy that could play certain games that were for girls, with them. Conversely, I was the only boy that the other boys didn’t judge for doing it. Perfect relationship with the boys, and I guess that was because I was so secure in who I was, and my unapologetic personality.
One day I met this boy who was openly gay, and I remember I asked him, “So, you’d like to be able to wear a dress and have girl toys?’ He quickly responded, ‘No!’ Bothered by that question, he said, “No! I like my boy clothes! I’m a boy!” That’s when I realized that there was a disconnect between him and I, one that I needed to understand.
When I was 12 I saw ‘dog afternoon,’ soon after seeing him, I was celebrating carnaval in a parade float (Corso). For the first time, I saw that one of the dancers of the Corso, was what today we call a transgender woman. That was another breadcrumb for the personal search of who I was, if there was a label for who I was, and if there was what was that. Life went on, I lived it as what logic said, a gay boy, and logic, that’s the number one guide in my life. But even my thoughts of myself as a gay boy were very straight. I thought, “If I am a gay boy then I have to train my masculinity because who wants to be a fem man?
I started looking and acting more like the other boys, but I didn’t act like a fem gay boy would act. I had a very natural femininity and softness that as a kid would blend in. All my life I felt like a girl, but now I had to blend in, so that impulsed me to lower my voice. I began to start going to the gym at an early age. When I was 15 I was living in Miami with my dad. I decided I was going to move out, but just know … through good and bad I always respected and loved my dad, he always cared for me and he was always the easiest person for me to get along with. Having a crazy life isn’t necessarily a parallel to bad parenting. Very early on I understood human imperfection, but no matter what, whenever and wherever I was with my dad, he always made sure that I felt loved. He always respected me and never made me feel any fear of abandonment. He always let me be who I was.
From there on, I was on my own. I didn’t leave with an apartment, or a car waiting on me, no, I moved into a house with friends who were strippers and Gogo dancers. I started my separate life from my dad when he went back to Argentina, and I stayed back in Miami. From that point on, I was on my own. I always worked doing something. I probably did it all, but at times I would spend days with no food or work.
When I was 17, my father promised me that if I moved back to Argentina that we would finally have a family life. Shortly after that promise, his band had a hit, sparking a reunion and those dreams faded away quickly and it all went back to the same thing as usual.
I was still on my self discovery journey. At a time where there was no internet, where people had much less open mindedness about sexuality, and much much less about genders, being gay was seen as really bad, but being transgender? That wasn’t even talked about. So to find myself, meant that I had to connect with myself as much as possible by myself. I was on a journey of self-discovery, alone.
When I met my first boyfriend, it was the first time I actually fell in love. RIP Dieguito. I was living in my Aunt’s house at the time, my dad’s sister. My dad was living there with us as well. She kicked me out of her house once she found out I was gay. After that, I never went back to live with my father, again on my own. My dad was too high and too wrapped up in stardom to even connect with what happened.
I went to a club where they play alternative music, hardcore, and rap. I used to go out a lot to Nave Jungla. One night when I was there, I met Gaspar Benegas, maybe around 1992 (leader of the band La Mono and lead guitarist of the band, Indio Solari y los Fundamentalistas del Aire Acondicionado, the most popular band from Argentina). I had seen him play with Gato Abuelo when Gato was playing with Los abuelos de la nada. We talked about music, bands, and which songs were our favorites. That was the beginning of Guruta, the best band I’ve ever had in my life. Gaspar was, is, an amazing guitar player who could not only compose incredible music, but he was able to play every style. I wanted fusion with each song, meaning each song will always have more than one style, and it would change drastically from one to the other. I like to sing, rap, scream, I want to make every style of music I like and not just stick to one genre of music.
We played for many years, mostly with all of the pioneers of Argentinian rap who were coming up at the same time. I was definitely the only openly gay guy, son of a famous musician, who was allowed to walk like he would at home, between all these new gangster rappers.
As a matter of fact most of them were fans of the band. We signed with a Manager, recorded the Album (Guruta) between a few great studios. One of those studios belonged to Luis Alberto Spinetta. Never had such a talented listener like when he stopped by to listen and said something that was very characteristic of him! “Que grosooo!”. Parallel to this happening , Sony music hears of us, and they offer a contract , but they wanted to buy the manager out, but he refused. So it made no sense to do anything at all, we were locked in this contact, and then the band split. All this time I was putting 300% of me into this cause. Everyone else had a home and family to go to, and I didn’t even have anywhere to go to sleep. This was not what I dreamed of.
Now, I feel like I’m breaking stereotypes because I’m making music that appeals to straight people. Playing with straight guys and talking about things that we all had in common. I was building a life for myself that felt dignified, but that day it was all gone. I felt like I never wanted to make music again, I was very depressed for a while. I started going out a lot and working erotic and fetish performances, bartending at an alternative club, and also preforming there. The owner of La Diabla would make a lot of people get out of their closets in a comfortable way.
Music always tried pulling me back but I was so angry at life and the things that I could not have. I was scared to feel like that again, but after one year, I started composing music myself, it was called ‘Totally Home-made ‘, an internet project I thought of, but had yet to be created. Through it, people were able to download my music for free, ‘Like Is Norm Today.’ It was a way to show people that with minimum money and a computer, you didn’t need a producer, or a band, or to depend on anyone else to make music. Mostly I just wanted to write and make music for me, to give away. I was over all the business bullshit. I just wanted to make music and I was going to make it from my bathroom if I had to. Then as I worked here and there living in different places, I ended up as part of the crew who started the international tattoo conventions in Argentina. Let me add I had tattoos since I was 13. I was really the first openly gay hardcore rapper to be out there. .
My mother reappears after some years of being clean and sober. I went to NYC with her in hopes to just be able to feel some peace in my life, it became the exact opposite. The streets of NYC were now my home, I stayed in a church cooking for homeless people in exchange for a bed. There, I fell in love with a Puertorican gangster from the projects of Spanish Harlem, and we moved in together. After almost 7 years of physical and mental abuse, he almost kills me. I asked my mother to help me get out of there, and she offered to rent me an apartment she had. From there, I started working at tattoo shops. By being around tattoo artists, I learned. Once I had enough experience I started tattooing.
During that time Gaspar was thinking of putting Guruta back together. He sent me 5 demo tracks of music for ‘FUK what they said,’ but I was tired. I didn’t have much hope. Putting it all on the line and not getting anything in return had shaken my faith. Although I loved the tracks, I just kept tattooing. Soon after he started playing with Carlos Alberto Solari aka Indio Solari, the leader of one of the most important bands of Argentine history, his career changed forever. When my life started getting better, I promised myself I would never ever again be on the streets. I started rapping, because rap was the number one promoter of LGTBQ hate.
I wanted to talk about the hate that rap was creating in our community, and to say that, we are here, and we will fight for our respect. Nobody had done that up until that point. My first video came out in 2012, ‘Hear my voice,’ after that I put out one video a year for the next 4 years.
Through rap and tattooing, I met Cazwell in NYC. Before he moved to LA, I actually did a couple of his tattoos.
As I tattooed and paid for everything to create my project, as in all of them, they are a way to break stereotypes and labels. Things never got fully addressed with my mother, but for some reason, I felt that she wouldn’t send me away once she saw what I could do with a simple foundation. After many years of experiencing the world and discovering who I was, I spoke with a Dr. about the gender dysphoria that I was experiencing. After that conversation we decided that it was a good time for my transition.
Four month later I was on the street again. With my two little dogs, the family that I created for myself, and it’s all I took when I left. I knew the consequences of being abandoned, and not to mention for animals who don’t have a voice. I knew it would be a lot harder but I was ready to go through it all. I didn’t want to leave my dogs or put them in a dangerous situation, or one more dangerous than it already was. I went to a few places as I did my hormone treatment. As I passed to what they call ‘second puberty’ (feeling the puberty of the sex transitioned to) I didn’t have any money, I would have to hustle how ever I could . I had to hustle because my first responsibility was my dogs, I was their sole provider. Through my instagram, the Argentinian Press found out about my transition. News started coming out through all of the press before I had the chance to even get a phone in service. None of my friends, or father knew yet. It literally felt like I was jumping in the deep end of a swimming pool without knowing how to swim. The last stop of the, up until now, worst part of the trip, was a Shelter uptown, where by some miracle they allowed me to stay with my two dogs. That’s the first time I started living as a fully trans female.
I could not go anywhere without my dogs. I was so hungry it hurt, but my dogs always ate. Not one time did my dogs miss a meal. The only way to make money was prostitution so one of the girls Tiffany looked out for my dogs as I I snuck out to hustle men, which never in a million years did I think I would do … until I had to. At this point, no one, not even my dad talked to me. For the first time, even though I’ve always been alone, I felt like I had no one at all. I could die and they would not know. At the same time I didn’t want anyone to know where I was. I was very mad at all of these people. I have had so much understanding and patience with them, but they were nowhere to be found when I needed them. My girl taught me how to pick up men and even made and arranged my first meeting with him . I had no other option then to go for it. It was the last thing I wanted.
There was a guy who was devoted to an Indian religion and he had Hindu percussion instruments, so I would wake up, put music on, and play, and just zone out of reality. It was horrible but sweet at the same time. Even though I was in a bad situation I felt really free for the first time, and that’s the balance that kept me sane and going. I had to answer to no one, or explain anything, I just was.
One day because of the lack of right insurance, the shelter gave me 3 days to leave. I was in a panic, until an old friend of my dad, and his mother who used to babysit me, appeared through the media and saved us at the last minute. I now share an apartment with her, and all I want to do is play music. My dad slowly starts coming through, my mom as well. I start dancing in a few places, and start getting instruments, my mother gets me a guitar. I started making music, La Mono was born. I’m so excited to hear my friend, and idol, Gaspar. As I listened to every track, they started sounding almost familiar, meaning it was something I’d love to be a part of. In one summer alone I recorded over 40 tracks as I needed music in my life strongly, and I had gone through so much and learned so much that I needed to share. I always felt it’s my duty to be one of the people who puts their work and face out there to try to help create and build change for others. Not so much a famous face, but the face of an activist, a warrior, every time I’d finish a demo, one of the first people who I’d sent it to was Gaspar.
After many days I went back to my email to find this old track he sent me. I pulled it out and I recorded the vocals in the kitchen and sent it to him to see if he wanted to produce that track for me. To showcase a trans girl, and again break these imposed stereotypes we base everything off of that in reality, don’t even exist, and my existence proves it. He writes back telling me the track is on fire, and not only was he going to produce it, but La Mono was going to do it with me. I can’t explain how long it had been since I felt happy, truly, fully happy. Not only because it’s a band I admire, each one of them, but because of what that means when it comes to breaking stereotypes.
No one in the entire world has ever done it. A straight, hard rock band with a mostly straight following making this move shows nothing less than inclusion. It was very brave of them to risk it all for a community who is invisible. Not even owning the term ‘segregated’ because we’re not even that included to be segregated. Sooo many kids can’t even use a bathroom without feeling out of place, most of us can’t get a job and have to put ourselves out there. Were like bunnies in hunter land. Anyway, the list of the things people don’t see are sooo long, and the people who suffer and even die are incredibly high. It’s just passing by like it’s not happening. We are still fighting the same old fight so basic as black and white, the shades and transitions are not even there, but we are.
Going back to La Mono, I felt like they could lose their fans or they could gain more. Nonetheless, they put it all out on the table not only for me, but for an invisible taboo, and a deformed history of who we are. I cried. A short time before this, when I was in the shelter, I met a guy named Jay. I called him and said, “Look, this is going on, I have no money, but I will give you what I can if you record these vocals for me. Another love bomb that came my way was that they never doubted to say yes. They saw through the tranny from the shelter, they believed in me, we did it. He even threw in some verses, and he sent them to Gaspar. It took a while for it to conclude, because of the past I was losing hope. Things happen for a reason, and unfortunately my boy Jay passed away, and I didn’t get to see his expression when he heard it. From wherever we go after, I know he loved it, and he knows this is for him, because he’s one of the first people who believed in what most people would just call a tranny.
One day Gaspar sent the track mixed and mastered, oh my god, I almost peed my pants. It was real, it was there, it was La Mono Ft Shetay Lebon, and people are loving it. People who may never even have thought they would be listening to a trans girl, and accepting it as simply a good singer with great lyrics we can all understand. At last, all of those fighting the same fight, self-contained in groups defined by labels, we learn to hate. So we kill our own army as we ask for peace, continuing a cycle that never ends, because you can’t pretend for the next one to change and not even start by changing yourself.
By creating unity we can say, “Fuck labels and fearing something we’ve never tried or seen before. Respect, acceptance, and the popular education for all of the existing, Which includes all of your brothers and sisters behind the color. That’s just a distraction compared to all of the things that don’t even have a reason, history, or explanation, although they have always been there, or here!
Back to Music, ‘Fuk What they Said’ has just come out, it’s still a baby! Right after it came out more amazing news came through WhatsApp from Gaspar. Through this American, raised in Argentina, Chapete, Latam A&R of Toys of the Masses Records (Los Angeles, CA), loves it, and learns about the band and I. He contacted La mono production and offered a contract for the single and we are ready for the next things to come. I’m so appreciative, out of nowhere, this group of exceptional, and creative people saw me with the right eyes. It gave me the feeling that everything I ever went through was going to finally pay off. The strength from believing was already a gift in itself, but this was a true blessing.
This is another piece of the string that will eventually end up in a sweater woven together with unity. None of these people have a direct connection with trans people.
In order to care, or learn about it, they did. They took the time and effort on their own volition. It also helped knowing that the label already had Latin bands working with them, even bands from my motherland (Argentina), and beyond. It’s all a part of a bigger interaction. Starting with a brand new way of doing things, the need of intelligent quality, all around art. Being around people who care about the art and not just about the money that it’s going to put in their pocket.
Truly being in contact with the world, having artists of different backgrounds, and regions of the world participate with the art. Showing various artists from different places, who deserve a platform for others, and to be able to enjoy a platform, that I know offers all great music alternatives. It’s nice working with a producer who is also a musician, because it shows that they aren’t just there for the money. It helps create the feeling of art, by being immersed in those types of situations. It makes me feel totally free, and it allows me to believe in something more than paper (money.) Like things that are intangible, things that are untouchable and unbreakable. It was another kiss to the soul to know now that I’d be a part of this, with each one of these people, who see something much bigger than what we are used to. To entertain, to make people happy, being able to think about each other, and not just about ourselves, true selflessness. It all sounds so good after where I came from, so much light and talent and strength, they all saw a part of me inside of themselves.
Let me invite you to the La Mono youTube page to check out our video, it was released the 28th of July for LGTBQ pride day, which let’s not forget, started with a 3 day riot civil war between police and the community, and the first rock was thrown by a transgender woman. Check out ‘Fuk What They Said’ by La Mono ft Shetay, produced by Gaspar Benegas, distributed by Toys of the Masses Records (Los Angeles, CA). Video directed by Matìas Mera from Craneo Films (Argentina). So I invite the magazine and with their respect, invite the readers to follow my YouTube channel, Shetay Lebon. I have a show I just started called, ‘This paper ship,’ and it’s all about art and what goes through different parts of traveling on a paper ship.
Thank you to the poet and writer Mark Bowers (Oakridge, OR) for helping me edit and translate my words into English so that it could be better received from a larger audience.
Please tell us about Toys of the Masses.
Toys of the Masses is a Recording Studio & Record Label located in North Hollywood, County of Los Angeles, doing its damndest to bring aural nutrition to the masses!
Originally launched by Los Angeles based musician, producer, & artist David Hakopyan, a pure attempt to create a community of like-minded weirdos who will help each other get their madness to you. Onboard to realize this vision is Argentinian Filmmaker and Culture Aficionado Chapter.
Toys Of The Masses is associated with 501c3 Non-Profit for the Arts, Make Art Not War Foundation.
The specific purpose of this corporation is to support original content from artists and creators around the world in Art, Music, Cinema and Television. Focusing on cultural interest projects and freedom of speech initiatives. Created in Buenos Aires, Based in California. Established in 2016.
- Address: 5616 Vineland Ave, North Hollywood, CA 91601
- Website: ToysOfTheMasses.com
(SHETAY PICTURES) Kevin RC Wilson @kevinwilsonnyc