Carmen Carrera

Carrera, who first came onto the scene competing in RuPaul’s Drag Race, has quickly become an icon in trans and LGBTQ+ activism.

Article by: Ludmila Leiva

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In the years since the beginning of her successful career as a model, actress, and television personality, American society has undergone some major shifts, particularly in attitudes towards trans and gender nonconforming people. Still, without denying this progress, Carrera feels there is still much work to be done.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t know how to articulate wanting to transition,” Carrera says. “I would pray in the shower and say, “Please God, let me wake up tomorrow as a girl.”

“My family was coaching me to be who I was going to be when I grew up, and I spent a lot of my time trying to be the person I felt like I needed to be for everyone else.”

Carrera, who was raised in New Jersey in a traditional Latin household, remembers how difficult it was to find a space for herself within a very rigid gender binary. “My family comes with all their hopes, their dreams, their traditions right out of Peru, which has a different way of thinking,” she says. “I was being coached to be the man of the house. That was a big deal, especially when my father passed away,” Carrera says. “I left and I didn’t talk to my family for ten years — my favorite cousins, my favorite aunts — I disappeared and I regret that, but I had to give them that time to break out of the old, traditional Latinx mentality.”

 

Despite some difficult familial rifts, Carrera’s mother supported her throughout her life and transition, even when others did not. “My mom always knew I was different, she knew something was up,” Carrera says. “But she never pushed me to be more masculine, she just let me be.” Unfortunately, not all parents are as supportive as Carrera’s. In today’s sociopolitical climate, where trans and nonbinary individuals — particularly of color — find themselves at a disproportionate risk for homelessness, suicide, and homicide. For this reason, Carrera realizes how important it is to continue fostering acceptance in homes and communities.

“There are all these high statistics for committing suicide in our community. There are people who put themselves in danger just to feel loved,” Carrera says. “That needs to change. We get stuck in this routine of pleasing our parents and families, and sometimes you have to say: hold on, something dangerous can happen to me and I need your support and your love.”

“Eventually, my grandmother came to accept me, my sister, aunts and uncles,” Carrera says, reflecting on her decision to come back home after years spent seeking refuge in the LGBTQ+ community. “Coming home put the pieces of my heart back together.” In 2014, Carrera clashed with prominent members of the trans and drag community over use of language, particularly terms like “tranny” and “shemale.” For Carrera, this clash highlighted the important role language can play in the advancement of marginalized individuals and communities.

 

“Right now the movement is about inclusion,” Carrera says. “It’s about having a deeper understanding for everyone’s life choices. But when you talk about inclusion — on national television and on a broader scale — language has to be correct in order to get the message of acceptance across.”

“I understand we make mistakes, we’re all human,” Carrera continues. “But, when you use incorrect language, you limit yourself from communicating and allowing others to influence you for the better.”

In addition to qualms over language and inclusivity, Carrera believes that society needs to broaden the way it portrays trans people and avoid suggesting the trans experience is a monolithic idea. “Everyone’s experience is different. There are transpeople who just want to pass and blend in with life,” Carrera says, noting that all trans experiences are valid. “Some don’t necessarily want to be the outspoken activist or one to throw the brick at Stonewall, they just want to live and continue their life as normal as possible.” Carrera realizes that a lot of responsibility lies with media representation of trans narratives.

Media helps shape societal understanding. Given this knowledge, Carrera hopes improved media presence can help to shift social acceptance of trans people. “We constantly get judged for our body parts and that’s not appropriate,” Carrera says. “Your gender identity is between your ears, not between your legs.”

While there is still much work to be done, Carrera has wholeheartedly embraced her activist identity. She is heavily involved in trans and LGBTQ+ initiatives and her work has been lauded by various organizations and institutions, from Princeton to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Carrera has also been outspoken out about LGBTQ+ activism as it pertains to Latinx culture, which is known for subscribing to particularly rigid gender roles. “I’d really like to see more appreciation of women outside of being sexy or being able to bear kids or cook dinner,” Carrera says. “These views are still very present in the Latinx community.”

“The only way we’re going to change society is if we go back into it and help change it,” Carrera says, reflecting on how social media has connected her with others and played a crucial role in shaping her activism. “I could easily get stuck in the distractions of my life but I choose to pass on valuable information to my community members because I have a platform.”

In addition to her activism, Carrera is focused on advancing her creative career, and being a supportive mother and wife to her husband and two children. But one thing is for certain: Carrera has spent several years working to make the world a more inclusive and harmonious place, and she has no intention of stopping.

“We’re all here, living at the same moment in time. We should focus on learning our similarities, not our differences, so that we can have more peaceful planet,” Carrera says, her mouth curving into a smile. “As cheesy as it sounds, it’s the truth!”

 

Photographer: Osvaldo Ponton (Wilhemina Artists)

Stylist: Tamara Barkley

Makeup: Yuki Hayashi (Streeters)

Hair: Akihisa Yamaguchi

Model: Carmen Carrera (Elite NYC)