Sheba Legend | '80s New York DJ, Founder of MasculineUs
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    A photo profile on Sheba Legend, '80s club DJ and current founder of MasculineUs, a media project to document and support women who embrace their… Read More
    A photo profile on Sheba Legend, '80s club DJ and current founder of MasculineUs, a media project to document and support women who embrace their masculine position. Read Less
    Published:
PHOTOS + WORDS BY CONNIE TSANG

Despite turbulent years of teen abandonment, poverty, and violence, Sheba Legend slid her way into New York City's illustrious '80s club scene, from dishwasher to big club DJ in the high-flying '80s, playing music at renowned venues like Club AREA and Palladium, and partying at the Paradise Garage, running in the same circles as Warhol, Haring, and her very close friend Jean-Michel Basquiat. At the time, NYC was the cultural hub for free-form, personal expression, a place where misfit behaviour and challenging of gender normative rules were encouraged -- attitudes which found their way into the mainstream through icons like Grace Jones, Annie Lennox, and Boy George. But all too soon, this halcyon scene was disrupted by higher forces, the AIDS epidemic and drug abuse, which decimated this micro society and its carefree, positive, all-embracing attitude, marking an end to the glory days of the New York art scene.

What followed was a significant shift in club culture and a mounting paranoia that barely existed before then. Sheba Legend retreated from the art and music world for nearly two decades. Through random jobs and her daily visits to the soup kitchen, she continued to view the world through the only lens she knew -- that of a creative woman who embraced her masculine side. And though she recognized the demographic's growth on the streets, she continued to face personal abuse and prejudice and lamented the persistent lack of these women being represented in the media, and therefore, being wholly accepted by the masses.

Recognizing a need to express herself artistically again and make a statement, she grabbed a camera and founded MasculineUs. By photographing, interviewing, and filming women just like her, Sheba aims to officially document and record a history of this demographic in hopes of challenging the systemic abuse they face on a daily basis. With her experience through the expressive '80s, through her losses and subsequent seize-the-day attitude, and most of all, her ability to find common human ground and connection between the most disparate of people, Sheba, through all her self-admitted flaws and challenges, is one of the warmest, yet determined folks out there, a perfect spokesperson to encourage people to respect others based on their character, not their gender.
"When I was a child, my mother dressed me in Levi's and buttoned-down boys' shirts, because she saw the masculinity. I liked to run fast and jump off the wall and crash to the ground, roll, play in the dirt. She just accommodated me. [Then] she put on a dress. She said it was like the Exorcist, like something was being exorcised out of me."
"For a long time I was very uncomfortable in my own skin... just because at times, I couldn't fit in. I couldn't get a job."
Sheba discusses her creative vision with a group of actors at BRIC Arts, Brooklyn. 
"I've been exposed to a lot of things, you know, people being murdered in front of me, a lot of violence. It's only when I started different practices that I began to understand or be able to trust and love things, like that. I didn't know anything about that before." 
"I practised these practices of hate and violence. So it takes a solution that's spiritually based to counter it." 
"I didn't think much of myself. I thought I was a really bad person, and I thought I was horrible, because I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. And I was doing things. I was carrying weapons. I was living this double life of ugliness. I couldn't let it go. I wasn't accepting. I was afraid of people. I didn't know who I was... The outside looked great, but the inside was rotten... I didn't trust people."
"Once I tried on a skirt [as an adult]. The girls who I was with were ultra Suicide Girls, probably the most infamous Suicide Girls in club history in NYC. I had a tight skirt, lipstick, and they were like... 'Sheba, just forget it. Just be who you are. Keep the slacks on.' It was a relief. They helped me dress dapper, appropriately."
​"I didn't know what [my] sense of purpose was. I didn't get it, and... I just didn't exist. Until I found the sense of purpose [in the MasculineUs project], looking back now, I feel like I was just existing and doing, just practising to this point.

"With this project, I have to check my motivations. If I let my ego get involved with this, then I'll start going off into something else that has nothing to do with this project. It's not about me at all... I can say my piece through the project, but now, the platform is not for me. It's for everyone else. My job is to sustain the platform." 
Filming an anti-abuse PSA with actor Matt Saxton. BRIC Arts, Brooklyn.
"I'm always... hoping that I'm putting myself in the position to shift my perspective, whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. Because it's my own understanding that limits me. It doesn't matter how many books I read... it limits me.

"I need other people, for me, right now, in my life."
"Sometimes I still feel like there's sort of like a cast put on me in certain places that I visit in the world. I have to be mindful of the way I walk, the way I dress sometimes, just because I don't want to offend anyone, you know?

"Imagine if we didn't have those restraints -- how much better doctors or lawyers and politicians, or whatever we choose to be, how better we would be, how much more we would be, if we could just look at each other in the eye and judge each other as Martin Luther King [said], by content of character." 
"I remember when I didn't work well with people, I was alone, I was isolated, I felt alone all the time. Now, I very rarely feel alone, except when I start to beat myself up.

"I get moments of low self-esteem. You know, filling out grant applications for the first time. Doing anything like this, this [MasculineUs] project. I got shot down a couple of times. Each time I feel like, am I doing the right thing? Do people understand me? Am I doing, am I articulating this information clearly? What am I doing wrong? What am I not doing?" 
"So I'm getting there. I have some balance, more balance now. I've been exposed to a lot of things, you know -- people being murdered in front of me, a lot of violence. It's only when I started different practices that I began to understand or be available to trust and love, things like that. I didn't know anything about that before. I heard love songs. I heard love stories, but I didn't have have any indication of that.

"Now I have access to all this happiness. And when I'm not happy, people get my back. Before, it was nobody. I had nobody to help me, because I wasn't open to it."
Sheba attends the annual DapperQ fashion show at the Brooklyn Museum. (L-R: Natty Soul Man, Nefertiti Ankra, Sheba Legend, Lauren Singletary.)
"I have to listen and take other people's perspectives into account if I'm to be able to hold hands with them and skip into the sunset, you know? If I don't let you talk, and I'm talking all the time... that's not a relationship."