While in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival two years ago, I bumped into Carmen Carrera coming out of the AT&T tent, after addressing her public, and looking fabulous while doing it. I haven’t seen her since she performed for Trés Chic back in 2013. Looking at her that night I had to ask, “How can this woman be any more gorgeous?” We took a photo, hugged each other, and promised to get together for an interview. Two years later, it came to fruition. Carrera had plenty to share.
Carrera captured America’s eyes when she first appeared on season 3 of Rupaul’s Drag Race in 2011. Carrera’s beauty shined on the reality competition. While many watching the show saw what they might have felt was just another drag show, Carrera knew deep down who she was, identifying as a transgender woman in 2012. Her time on the show is remembered with both highs and lows, but Carrera used this moment as a catapult for her career. She took every opportunity that came her way, including a feature in W and an appearance on What Would you Do? But it would be her community that would benefit as she became an activist for HIV/AIDS awareness.
Carrera always knew that she was unique, even if she didn’t know why. “I was so self-aware than most kids around me. I was so fascinated with learning about who I was and why I wasn’t just like everyone else,” shared Carrera. “I think that’s been a lot of my experience. But, once I graduated, that’s when things clicked. I got to experience the world and meet people like me. I didn’t know what I want to do, but I thought I would figure out when I get there. That’s been my story. I never knew exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to create this space.”
The goal of creating this safe space came from discovering self. For Carrera, the world of drag was a catalyst for realizing her authentic self, but she also knows that many factors lead to her development. “I discovered myself through drag," shared Carrera. "That freedom of expression is what I felt as a teenager. It’s been a journey, but I wouldn’t say it was like one revelation. It’s been a series of experiences. I would say after I got my modeling contract, I knew the real me.”
Carrera became a fresh face when she appeared as a contestant on the show “Rupaul’s Drag Race.” The exposure catapulted her to next-level status. But she didn’t want to rest her laurels on this one experience. She took what she learned from the show and moved forward in her career, achieving a lot of first. For Carrera, she shared what she felt were her greatest “firsts.” “I was the first trans model to ever be signed to Elite Model Management, a very prestigious modeling agency in New York,” shared Carrera. “My relationship with my husband on television was another big first. Looking back, I cringe because I was so transparent and so forthcoming. I felt like people needed to realize that our relationship is as complex as any other relationship. I know that influenced many people. That was important to me.” Carerra also talked about being the first trans model to walk in Miami Swim Week. The history of the organization was that only naturally-born women were allowed to participate during this event. If a trans female was exposed, it would lead to her expulsion from the model community. “I was one the first openly trans models they asked to walk and connect with the trans community,” expressed Carerra. “There was a big meeting with the production and my agency. I was so happy because that opened the door for so many trans models in Miami.”
One of the biggest decisions Carrera made in her career was sharing her transition on social media, knowing it might lead to ridicule. She knew youth in the community would view her struggles and realize they were not alone. “I was the first of my kind in the public eye. I was expressing myself and coming from a place where I thought there must be others like me. I was going to be completely open and not think twice about what other people felt," admitted Carerra. "I was labeled as a trailblazer and an inspiration, but, looking back, I wish I didn’t tell so much. I was still working things out in my life. You feel freer as an adult. I just wanted to "tell on the mountain." I felt there was no way I could have avoided that. I felt the world needed to learn about our community. So, if my drive was the kick-off to that, I was asking for it. I’m a little more reserved about some things that I share. People are so clouded by their judgment. I try to open up their eyes in specific ways. I don’t regret it though.” Success leads to misconceptions. When people see you in the limelight, they automatically feel that they know you. Carrera is not a stranger to this. “There are people that believe I’m jealous and upset and expect me to be a crappy person,” shared Carrera. “Then there are others that feel I’m a "look at me, look at me" type of person.”
One thing that is not a misconception is her need to call out behavior she knows is wrong for the community. Even if it means going up against someone who helped give you your start. Carerra is very vocal when it comes to statements made by the Queen Bee of Drag herself, RuPaul. She shared why Ru pushes her buttons. "RuPaul is older and has more wisdom. If you’re in a position of power, I feel it would be smarter to consider the community as a whole. I know personally, just working with RuPaul, she grew up in a different time, but in the same place as I did,” expressed Carerra. “She’s very aware of hate crimes. She’s very aware of what happens when you’re not yourself or deny who you are. She has seen the struggles. I feel like, when he was as a producer, trying to influence the fact that we deserve proper representation in the drag community. Knowing her influence on the hetero market, she continues to deny trans people their place. With her history in the drag shows, I feel it’s selfish. She continues this mindset that drag should only be one thing versus what it has become, which is entertainment. We have drag queens, drag kings, drag queens that are comedians. We have so many layers. So that’s the reason it pushes my buttons. I feel it’s unfair and selfish and a very misogynist way of thinking.”
Her thoughts for Rupaul didn’t stop there. I shared with her a quote that RuPaul shared a few years ago during an interview. When asked if drag will become mainstream, she replied, “It will never be mainstream. It’s the antithesis of mainstream. Listen, what you’re witnessing with drag is the most mainstream it will get. But, it will never be mainstream because it is completely opposed to fitting in.” Since this quote, Drag Race has gone on to win multiple Emmys, move to a more broad audience channel, VH1, and open the show to a new generation of not only LGBTQ youth, but straight as well. Carrera shared RuPaul’s statement makes her question what's the reason for doing it. “I feel you create your reality. If Ru thinks it will never be mainstream, it won’t. She’s almost getting in her way. People who have that mindset, I feel, are not expecting to be trailblazers. I’m into normalizing drag as a form of entertainment and showcasing LGBTQ artists that have amazing talent,” stated Carerra. “It is becoming mainstream. I thought she was fighting for it. People are stepping up to make a platform for change. If she can get past her mental blockages, she'd be more welcoming to people who've worked to be accepted and loved. If she was trying to use art to influence that, that’s amazing. But, if that’s not what she was doing, then what is her agenda? What's the goal? It’s not right when you’re trying to create change for a large group of people. You can’t be selfish. This is bigger than her. So that’s what my problem is. I don’t know if she’s ever going to see it or realize it. I’ll keep an eye on it, but I have to focus on my things.”
Those other things are coming down the pipeline. With the coronavirus putting quite a few performances and projects on the back burner, Carerra was excited to share what coming down the road once things settle down. “I want to be able to share my stories, so I’m focusing on my YouTube channel and just starting to build an empire. I’m also working on a cosmetic line. I don’t want to say too much, but we’ll see what happens.”
Carerra has gone from just another pretty face to a force in the LGBTQ community. Her voice has changed the lives of many trans youth. When it’s all said and done, Carrera would like the world to remember her as someone who made a difference. “I would like to be a trailblazer. I want to leave a legacy behind of inspiration - just being sure of who you are and being brave enough to make that change. Look back, even though I wasn’t quite sure of who I was, I felt encouraged to make a change and make people see the connection in differences. So, I really want to be known as someone who’s created that shift, not only in my community but within the culture.” Carrera is becoming a force in the community. We look forward to witnessing what else she does in the future.
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