model and activist carmen carrera wants to spread trans awareness

From gay to drag to trans, the former "RuPaul’s Drag Race" star shares her journey.

by Tish Weinstock
20 June 2017, 6:05pm

We first met Carmen Carrera sashaying down the runway of RuPaul's Drag Race season three. At the time, she was presenting as a drag queen, a character conjured up before her transition from male to female. Growing up in Elmwood Park, NJ, Carmen always dreamed of being a girl. Trapped in the wrong body, she had no other option than to identify as a gay male, but even then it never felt quite right. Immersing herself in the gay scene she discovered drag culture — and, as Carmen the showgirl, was able to express glimmers of her true female self. She began her journey of transitioning at the age of 25 in 2010. A model, actress, and powerful activist, today Carmen dedicates her time to breaking the stigma surrounding trans people and bringing about general awareness. Here, she shares her story.

This article was originally published by i-D UK. 

Beauty is love, but it's also my suit of armor and protection.

"When I was younger, all I wanted was to be a famous beautiful woman. I remember wanting to wake up one day and be a girl and go shopping, have beautiful hair, and spread my happiness with others. My greatest struggle was understanding that I was different, and forcing myself to come up with new ways to cover that up. I had to keep most of myself shut out, but I learned early on how to adapt to cis-normality in order to be given the opportunity to experience a tiny bit of fun and enjoy positive interactions.

My high school was mostly made up of white cis-gender students with little to zero acceptance of LGBTQ people. The only diversity that was celebrated was urban influenced Hispanic or caramel skin beauty, which was seen as attractive by my peers. Luckily, I was one of these people, which helped shield me from bullying. But when you become consumed by the idea of fitting, in using the way that you look as a crutch, it becomes boring and shallow very quickly. I used to constantly judge my every move. I didn't realize that my uniqueness was my actually my strength. For years I tried to be someone who didn't truly resonate with my soul and my spirit. It was exhausting, but I thought I was happy. Once I decided to say, "screw that," my life changed. I studied spirituality, religion, and culture until I found my own rhythm to life.

My life isn't necessarily easier now that I'm trans — there's a responsibility that comes with it. But the more I progress and the more my career grows, I get to change minds and break stigmas, which is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. It's still a transformative time in my life, I'm certainly not done yet, but it's all heading in the right direction so, even though at times I feel like breaking down and crying, I know it's only temporary and that nothing worth having comes easy.

Modeling means everything to me. It's so expressive; all the storytelling and imagination that goes into projects. I studied photography at university, so I understand it from a creative standpoint. The highlight so far, and maybe forever, was working with Steven Meisel on the Showgirl fashion film and editorial for W magazine. All of my hard work up to that moment had paid off and I got to bring my own character and my own style to life, and express my vision of beauty. For me, beauty is love. Beauty is creation. Beauty is also my suit of armor and protection. I use my beauty in ways to serve my community and to inspire others on a daily basis. Beauty is power.

After receiving some backlash from RuPaul and Drag Race fans a couple of years ago, about the correct wording with which to address trans people, I knew it was time to invest my efforts into spreading trans awareness, and helping the world understand this movement. So I picked up some friends and went on the road to take over Latin America, where my roots are from. I travelled to Mexico, Colombia, and even Brazil, where I filmed a documentary for HBO called Outpost. During that time, I learned the importance of our LGBTQ youth and the role educators in school could and should play in assisting them. I teamed up with History Unerased, which is an organization based in the New England area focused on creating training courses for educators in K-12 schools across the country on LGBTQ history. I want to break the development of future stigma at its source.

I think we are reaching a point where people don't want to deal with social oppression anymore and that goes beyond just LGBTQ issues. Sexism, racism, and stigma against religion are all issues humanity is facing and trying to clean up. I think that we are more connected than ever — diversity has always been here, but for some reason we keep fighting it."

Look: This photographer is redefining the male gaze for today's post-binary world.


Text Tish Weinstock
Carmen Carrera is signed to Elite

RuPaul's Drag Race
carmen carrera
trans model
trans awareness