Transgender model, actress, and activist Carmen Carrera described how her identification as a transgender person informed and guided her career and activism for the greater trans community in a lecture and meet-and-greet on Thursday.
Carrera explained that the transition to her newfound identity was the easier part. The challenge, she said, was what happened after.
“Where do we go and how do we figure things out? As a woman, I have ideas about how I want to raise my family, I have ideas about how I want to succeed in work, but how do I function outside? Do I have to wear a trans stamp on my forehead all the time?” she explained. “I have a lot of the same issues, a lot of the same insecurities, but zero of the preparation."
Carrera, who identifies within the Latinx community, grew up in NJ. An activist within the transgender community, Carrera’s career has also included modelling and appearances on television shows such as Jane the Virgin and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
She described the challenges transgender men and women face in finding their place and feeling accepted.
“Trans people need love. We need a lot of love,” she said. “I just want you guys to know that please, moving forward, if you do ever have a chance to meet a trans person, whether you know they're trans or not, just show them a little bit of love, because I can guarantee you they will show you that love tenfold.”
Carrera added that her upbringing as a first generation child to Peruvian immigrants contributed to the uneasy transition.
“Coming from a family of immigrants, they have these dreams,” she said, “So I always grew up with that pressure."
Carrera noted that she carried a weight with her through school because she felt that she did not fit in or meet the standards of what others thought was acceptable.
“I remember back in high school, blending in was so important to me that if people got bullied, I wouldn't say anything. I didn't want to blow my cover.”
Carrera said that she had felt like a girl from the time she was three years old and had always expressed interest in things that were feminine. While her family never forced masculinity onto her, she said, she felt pressure to act as a protector in her family since her father passed away when she was young. She prayed each night in high school to wake up as a girl the next day.
She explained that she came out as a gay male as a young adult, but by the time she was 25 years old she knew that the next stage in her life was to transition.
“It took me kind of a while to find my place in that speed. I learned so much about rejection, about fitting in, about finding love. I spent about five years of my life trying to pick, what part of the category do I fit into? How do I be, how do I function, because I spent so much of my life trying to develop myself.”
Carrera added that her passionate activism work has taken her to many countries including Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.
"I've done a lot of stuff, and I've just turned 30. I'm just getting started, and I can't wait until I get to a point on the right platform when I can speak to the planet. I've taken my activism work global. I'm not playing,” she said.
She noted that she has two children, and she thinks about how to raise this generation of children to set an example, especially given the major awareness and access young people have with the advent of new technology.
“We have so much diversity in this country, and so much access to everyone's ideas and everyone's opinions, and if we care enough, if we're really smart, we can take all that stuff and really put things in motion.”
Jamie Ayón-Facundo ’17, the event's organizer and co-president of Princeton University Latinx Perspectives Organization, explained before the event that PULPO's work often focuses on intersectional identities, which is why the group was interested in bringing Carrera to campus.
He explained that stories and narratives of cisgender male Latinx figures are often shared during Latinx Heritage Month.
“Carmen Carrera is a transgender Latina model and activist who’s done a lot of activist work in HIV and AIDS awareness, a lot of work to combat transphobia in Latin America, and she's gotten a lot of media attention with her petition asking Victoria’s Secret to make her their first trans Angel.”
He added how thrilled the University community was to welcome a high-profile celebrity like Carrera to share her experiences and the work she’s done.
The event took place on Tuesday at 4:30 pm in McCosh 50. PULPO and the LGBT Center organized the talk with sponsorship from the Carl A. Fields Center, Campus Conversations on Identities, the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, the Program in American Studies, the Program in Latin American Studies, Latinx Heritage Month, and the Women’s Center.