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Carmen Carrera Does Pioneering Her Own Way



Carmen Carrera's journey from beloved drag performer and star of the third season of RuPaul's Drag Race to fashion model (photographed by Steven Meisel) and actor (appearing alongside Meryl Streep in this year's Ricki and the Flash), all as a trans woman, has happened in the public eye.


Carrera's natural tenacity has armored her through the pit falls of being a media pioneer for the trans community, enduring prejudices and exploitation by an often cynical television industry. Her advocacy for the trans community comes through in meticulously strategic career decisions in acting and modeling.   

"I always approach a job, like, 'How can this benefit trans people in specific, while also getting to entertain everyone," Carmen says."It's killing two birds with one stone."

Her appearances on reality shows like ABC's social experiment What Would You Do?, and even TLC's Cake Boss, the latter of which she criticized for the show's editing of her appearance into a transphobic plot line, have been turning points for trans education on TV.

Now appearing on VH1's popular reality show Couple's Therapy with her husband, Adrian Torres, Carmen, again sees an opportunity to enlighten.


Carrera with Torres

I planned to not mention being trans when we first arrived at the house, and just have it come up naturally during therapy sessions," Carmen says of her cast mates (including Janice Dickinson and rapper Joe Budden).

Her decision worked.

"I thought about the viewer at home who might be seeing all this for the first time," she says.


Carrera also points out how valuable this could be for VH1, a network with strong ties to the notoriously homophobic and transphobic hip-hop community.

"Trans women of color are the most common victim of violence and murder, so it's so important for this to be on that network," Carrera says.

"I came on this show headstrong, and prepared for any ignorance; I'm willing to get in there if it's going to help or teach people something."

It's thanks to public figures like Carmen, Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Andreja Pejic, and now, Caitlyn Jenner, that the trans community is finally getting the media lift that it so desperately needs.

That visibility has had a real effect on the crisis of violence against trans people.

"5 years ago, if a trans girl got murdered, it was normal for it to not get reported on, or even investigated," she says. "Today that's different."

In the beginning of Carmen's media career, she did not publicly identify as trans. A popular drag queen in Northern New Jersey, where she still lives today, Carrera reluctantly auditioned for RuPaul's Drag Race at the request of her friends; "It was like pulling teeth," she remembers.

Once the season aired, she was an instant viewer favorite,bonding inside the house with fellow competitors Manila Luzon (Karl Westerberg), and season winner Raja (Sutan Amrull), both of whom she counts as best friends to this day.


However, since coming out as trans in 2012, Carmen's relationship with the show's head queen, RuPaul, became strained after her time on Drag Race and DragU.

In 2014, Carrera felt his use of the term "she-male" on the show, and an overall perceived dismissiveness of the trans experience, was deterimental.

On Ru, Carrera says, "he came from the New York club scene,dealing with hate from the outside world was literally a necessity to survive. So when I politely suggested that he and the show's producers be more aware of these issues, he didn't want to hear it."

Transphobia in the gay community is a very real thing, which Carrera can attest to.

"Since being trans is related to gender, not sexuality, many gay people see us as not belonging with the 'LGB'," she says. "But our struggles are very similar... when it comes to the rest of the world not understanding us, not accepting us or taking us seriously, not giving us jobs; right now, it's just my community's time in history to stand up... we all need to work together to achieve that."

In the meantime, Carmen has some goals.

"I want to be in Victoria's Secretand Sports Illustrated," Carrera states, and there's absolutely no reason the stunning model couldn't be.

Just this week, she opened up to TIME about her desire to be the brand's first transgender Angel.

A new petition on Change.org has sprouted up, already with 50,000 signatures, asking for Victoria's Secret to give Carrera a chance.

Appearing in these two areas, in specific--each a celebration of society's view of ideal or natural femininity--become a perfect symbol for trans inclusion.


"It would show me that we're being accounted for," Carrera says.

Watch Carmen on Couple's Therapy, Wednesdays at 10/9c on VH1. 

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