PHOTO: COURTESY OF MELINA VARELA.
Television personality, model, actress, wife, and trans woman: Carmen Carrera is juggling many roles, and she’s doing it in the spotlight. Carrera first captured national attention on VH1 reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which she joined when she identified and presented as a man; she then became the first openly trans person to compete on the show. She’s since covered the magazine Candy with Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, appeared alongside Meryl Streep in Ricki and the Flash, and received some 50,000 signatures in support of her dream of becoming the first trans Victoria’s Secret model.
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Carrera’s newest public role may be her most personal yet. At VH1’s invitation, she and her husband Adrian Torres are appearing on the sixth season of reality show Couples Therapy With Dr. Jenn to work on repairing their fractured eight-year marriage, which they stated was challenged by infidelity on both their parts. Carrera opened up to us about why she decided to air her “dirty laundry,” the pitfalls of dating as a trans woman, and her priorities for the future. Carrera’s transition may be behind her, but she’s only getting started achieving her goals.
Why did you decide to appear on Couples Therapy?
“I thought about it and I knew, This is going to be important to so many people out there, to hear a story about a couple that is going through a rough patch. Everybody goes through that in their relationships. Regardless of whether you’re in a gay or heterosexual relationship, you’re going to go through your ups and downs. So I figured, Let me share my story. I figured I’m strong enough to deal with any ignorance if it does come up. I signed onto it, and my husband did, too. I had to ask him if he was willing to speak about it — I feel like there are a lot of outspoken trans women and men, but their partners, not so much… I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with telling the world that he’s with me and laying out our dirty laundry, so to speak. He was comfortable with it, and I’m happy about that. I wish more couples would come out and speak about their experience.”
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What’s the biggest misconception about trans women you encounter?
“We’re not interested in gay men. That’s a big misconception. That’s what a lot of people think, and that makes me feel like they’re misgendering me. If you think that I’m attracted to gay men or they’re attracted to me, or if you think that if I’m in a relationship with a man, then he’s gay, that means you see me as a man, not as a woman.”
What were some of the challenges of dating as a trans woman?
“When you’re in a relationship, you want to share that love; you want to be like, ‘We’re happy.’ You want to tell everyone else, and that can be difficult. What ends up happening is the relationship is kept kind of secret, or just not spoken about. Many women have dealt with that at some point in their life, whether or not they’re trans. I identified as male before my transition, while I was trying to figure out who I was, and I dated other men, and I still had the same issue! When you have something good and you can’t share it, it sucks.
"I can tell you this much from my experience with men: [If you’re trans] they will still want to have sex with you, but just not take you seriously after that… You get led on a lot. What I’ve noticed is that there are some men out there who know you are vulnerable, and they will take advantage of that. They know you look good, they know you take care of yourself, and they know if you were born biologically female it would be much harder for them to get in there. They will just say Hey, well, I want to have sex with a really attractive girl, and biological females probably won’t give me the time of day because of A, B, and C reasons, so I can go to a vulnerable trans girl and feed her the fantasy of believing that I like her, and then just not take her seriously after that and…not want her around.”
Do you think people should tell potential partners that they’re trans? If so, when?
“I’m kind of a risk-taker in that sense. I don’t like to tell anyone; I like to just meet them, and if they don’t know who I am, then good, because then they don’t judge me…so I get to connect on a human level and then open up. Not every girl goes out and tells the first guy she meets all of her personal stuff… You don’t know who to trust, you don’t know who you can be open with — and plus, you want to play the field. You don’t want to give out everything to the first guy you meet, so I think…for me, I’d rather get to know someone first before I tell them. Once you do tell them, if they don’t accept you, then it sucks — but it’s what we have to go through. It comes with the territory.”
How is life different after your transition?
“It’s bittersweet, because I feel more in control of my body. I separate spirit and body. I understand that I’m just visiting here, and my body is a vessel, so I have to maintain it — but at the same time, I wish I could be like the average woman, whose cycle comes naturally, who doesn’t have to take medication. Well, some women do, but for the most part… I wish I didn’t have to do that. There’s a part of me that still resents nature a little bit, because I have all this responsibility. But then again, having that responsibility and taking care of it gives me a sense of power.”
Trans people’s visibility is increasing — what’s your hope for the future of the conversation around trans issues?
“There’s a lot more that needs to be spoken about, because every trans woman’s experience is going to be different. My experience is going to be different [from] Caitlyn Jenner’s. I’m still trying to be the best woman that I can be. Aside from being trans, I want to be a successful businesswoman, I want to be a great mom, a good sister — those are the things that I’m working on now, and they’re not things I was coached or prepared for throughout my childhood.
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"There’s life after the transition. Once everything’s said and done, you still have to live. I wish there were more resources out there, not just coming from trans people. We’re as lost as the next trans person, trying to get our point across, trying to get respected, and then still trying to refine ourselves as human beings. We age, our skin changes, we have to find the right bras, the right shoes for the outfit, all these things — but aside from that, we’re still dealing with life, dealing with men, trying to raise our kids, trying to still be smart and make the right choices in life…interacting with other people, and knowing how to stand up for ourselves.
"When you grow up trans, a feeling of not being good enough creeps up a lot of the time… I feel like I’m seeking guidance a lot of the time, and I wish that cis women [would] embrace us a little bit more and give us some help, because we need it! We are part of the population of women; we’re not just stand-alone. We function as women, and we go through a lot of the same issues — we just have less preparation.”
By Hayley MacMillen