Shauna Smith has been homeless in La Jolla for more than eight years, most of them as Sean Smith, her identity until about a year ago — the point at which she began wearing female clothing and identifying as Shauna, which she said makes her happy and keeps her stuttering and other mental distress under control.
Shauna was born intersex — having both male and female genitalia — something she says she only recently began to understand and come to terms with.
Originally from Northglenn, Colorado, Shauna moved to Las Vegas with the family acquaintances who raised her, graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1984, and later attending Christian Heritage College (today, San Diego Christian College of Santee). Sean enlisted in the Navy, later receiving an honorable discharge.
Alongside her high school basketball coach, John Farrell, who relocated to San Diego and became head basketball coach at Torrey Pines High School, Sean went on to work as a substitute basketball coach at Torrey Pines High and physical education instructor at the Carmel Valley Boys and Girls Club. The 50-year-old Shauna said she knew back then the increasingly pronounced changes in Sean’s body would make it too awkward to continue teaching, and used a small savings to take nine months off, regroup and find other employment — though Sean never found a full-time job, lost his apartment and ended up homeless.
What brought you to La Jolla?
College. One day, my friend showed me La Jolla — the Rec Center and Prospect Street — and I fell in love with it.
What might you add, subtract or improve in the area?
My goodness — just people being more friendly … and more open to helping others. I would also add more things for kids to do — like a skateboard park.
Who or what inspires you?
My family inspires me. They raised me and they taught me to be who I am. … I don’t see them much … but I still think about the things they taught me when I was quite young, and that inspires me.
If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?
I’m a big sports fan, so at the top of my list is (ESPN sports commentator) Stephen A. Smith (“he’s a great role model”); Janet Jackson, Mel Gibson; (La Jolla dance instructor) Sandra Ponsaty; (retired pro basketball player) Shane Battier, Oprah (“yeah, I gotta put Oprah in there”), Christina Aguilera and President Obama.
What are your five favorite movies?
“The Color Purple,” “Monster’s Ball,” “The Ten Commandments,” “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” and anything James Bond … my father named me after Sean Connery.
What is it that you most dislike?
Hatred — people who hate.
What is your most-prized possession?
My college degree (in physical education, from Christian Heritage College).
What do you do for fun?
I love dancing. I’m not good at country, but anything (else).
What is your philosophy of life?
Just be yourself.
What would be your dream vacation?
I love Hawaii. I’ve been there twice — once for high school and then once on vacation.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
Ruffles potato chips.
What is the most difficult aspect of being homeless?
When you see people walking by, not caring about you, knowing deep down inside that you worked hard your whole life and you wonder why you’re there. … I have no history of addiction, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke or do drugs. I’m a California teacher. … I’ve got good friends who’ve taken care of me and they were always there for me, but there are days when I sit out there all day thinking, ‘Is this what I want to do with my life?’ ‘Why did I go to college?’
What would be an ideal situation for you?
To find permanent housing or an apartment here in La Jolla or a room with grandparents, that’s ideal. I’m single, I’m 50 years old and to have that consistency is so important. …
When I stay at the hotels, and I leave it’s like, back to being outside. … That’s just the worst feeling in the world.
Read accompanying story about three women's efforts to help Shauna find housing here.