Carmen Carrera's introduction to many of her fans started on the cult hit "RuPaul's Drag Race," where she became known for her flawless figure and glamorous look. Carrera, 24 of New Jersey, quickly turned into a fan favorite, even being brought back for another chance after her first elimination during the TV show's third season.
Now Carrera is baring a much more personal side, announcing that she's transgender and has begun transitioning to living as a woman full-time.
On a recent episode ofABC's"What Would You Do?"—a hidden camera show that tapes real people interacting to staged situations—Carrera portrayed a waitress being harrassed for being transgender. It was a fake scenario, but one that elicited very real responses, both from the diner customers who intervened to support Carrera and from Carrera herself.
It was Carrera's first public acknowledgement that she is transitioning, and after the show aired, RedEye talked to her at length about filming the episode, the challenges of living as a straight woman and whether she thinks the world is ready for more transgender drag queens.
Q: Congratulations on announcing your decision to transgender. Was that a tough call to make, or did it come naturally?
A: It was difficult at first, because, you know I wasn't sure what my family was going to think.
Q: When did you know it was right for you?
A: I kind of had an idea before I went to 'Drag Race,' so when I got the phone call for 'Drag Race,' I was like, OK, [transitioning] is going to have to wait. I went from 'Drag Race,' I came back and I was like, 'OK, I'm ready to do this now.' [But] I was thinking, 'Oh my God.' The feedback I was getting from my fans was like, 'Oh, you're such a hot guy.' I was like, 'Oh my God, am I going to lose my fans?'
Q: How did you approach announcing it?
A: I had a plan. I said, OK, I'm going to go film 'Drag Race.' I'm going to come back home from 'Drag Race,' and I'm just going to go back to my normal life. I'm going to just go to the doctor. I'm going to start my transition. I'm going to keep it really to myself and anything Carmen-related would be the drag shows. There wouldn't be anything really personal that I would talk about. I kind of did that. And I left little hints, little clues, you know?
A: When you transition, it's a long process. Some people are so, like, ignorant about it. They're like, 'Oh she's a girl tomorrow.' It's not like that. You have to literally, you take all this medication. It's really hard on your body. ... You're like morphing your body from the inside out, you know? It takes a while ... Plus I kind of wanted to wait until season four [of 'Drag Race'] was on, so it wasn't like such a big deal.
Q: Why is that?
A: When you're on TV, when it's current, you get a lot of judgement from people who they just kind of judge, thinking, 'Oh, she's never going to see this. Let me write this.' I've even done it. I watch the Kardashians, [thinking], 'Oh my God, this girl's such an airhead.' But I don't really know anyone on the show.
Q: So what did the response turn out to be?
A: I've gotten an overwhelmingly supportive response from everyone. I don't think I've seen anything negative.
Q: What was filming 'What Would Yo Do?" like?
A: Honestly, when I was a boy and I was out as a gay boy, I never really dealt with anyone bullying me or anything like that. So I was like, 'Oh, it's not going to happen to me.' My mind was like, that's not going to happen to me. I'm going to transition but everyone's going to accept it ... I was just like, OK, we're going to shoot this, it'll be fine. Whatever. I can deal.
Q: But it didn't turn out that way?
A: Even though I knew we were acting, even though I knew this guy was an actor, I knew what was going to happen, I knew the scenario. I just felt the energy from everyone else. ... When our scenario started to play out, I would see [customers in the diner] looking. And it made me feel so bad about myself. It made me feel like, ugh, this guy is making me feel wrong for being who I want to be. It was just a feeling that I've never felt before. I've seen other people go through it, but it was like a shock. I started crying the first time.
Q: That sounds rough.
A: Oh my God, it was just dramatic. It was so dramatic. I was shaking.
Q: It sounds like you were surprised at how honest your reaction was.
A: It was very real for me. I wasn't really trying to act anymore. I was really just reacting to the situation. ... The customers would say something or whisper something to me, like, 'Are you OK?' ... But then again, I knew, at the end of the day, this is something that needs to be spoken about.
Q: In what way?
A: I have so many transgender friends.... They'll tell me these stories, and I was like, 'Wow, I can't even imagine.' It hit me filming that I totally related to what they were saying. I understood.
Q: You recently worked with legendary photographer Steven Meisel for a W magazine spread. Do you want to do more modeling?
A: Oh my God, yeah. I hope so.
Q: What's your professional focus?
A: I would love to do more modeling. I would love to do anything really, mainstream, and help to create, I guess, a feeling of acceptance for people who are different and not look at them like they're freaks or whatever. Because I knew maybe, what, a few years ago, it was like, gay people are weirdos or freaks. Then, gay people had to stand up for themselves. And then it became cool to be gay.
Q: What's the message you want to get across?
A: I would love for the rest of the society to catch up to my mentality. The way I see things is that, I think that transgender people are super brave. If you're a female to male, male to female, if you're that brave to take control of your own body and make it however you want it to be, more power to you. I hear things from people, like oh, religious things, like whatever. But the way I see it is, this body is like my apartment that I'm living in while I'm here on earth. If I want to renovate it or change it and if it's possible to do, why not do it? Why should I be judged for it?
Q: Would you do the all-stars season of 'Drag Race'?
A: I would. I definitely would. But I don't know if they would ask me.
A: A lot of TV networks and producers, sometimes they're afraid to take a risk. I feel like some people prefer to have drama and negativity and fights over educational, empowering examples of people. It just happens sometimes. I don't know if they're ready to kind of start doing things like that.
A: Maybe it's easier for people to watch a boy put on makeup and do drag. It makes sense to more people than it does some who is transgender, going through a transition, doing drag. Because honestly, there's no rules to drag. You can't say in order to be a drag queen you have to live your life as a man. No. That's not true.
Q: RuPaul has said many times that "you're born naked and everything else is drag."
A: Exactly. I think it would defintiely be intreresting.
Q: Do you keep in touch with anyone from 'Drag Race,' any of the Heathers?
A: I keep in touch with Raja. I mean, I haven't seen Manila for a while. Everyone's pretty busy. I still do my shows and stuff. But I'm really focused on functioning in a straight society, because it's new to me. I'm so curious about it.
A: Right after high school, I came out as gay. I went straight to the gay clubs. The gay scene, it's all I've ever known. So now it's totally different. Being a girl is so dofferent. Women just have a lot more things to deal with than men do. It's not even like I walk around and I feel like people know that I'm transgender. The thing is that they don't.
Q: For example?
A: When I go to the airport, guys will hold my bag for me, they'll try to flirt with me. These are things that I'm not used to dealing with. ... Me and my husband, we'll go to like a straight club, whatever. He loves to dance. I let him dance with all his girlfriends or whatever. I'm kind of like the one at the bar. I like to watch, have a drink. And guys will approach me and want to take me out to dance and want to get my number. And it's awkward. Because what do you say? What do you say to them, 'Oh, no I have a penis?'
Q: So what do you do?
A: First of all, it's no one's business what's going on between my pants. That's one thing. I still talk to my husband's friends, you know, straight guys, and they're like, 'Oh, you should always tell a guy right away, if you are [transgender].' I'm like, why? If the guy's interested in you, why can't he see you for the woman that you are, I guess, presenting yourself to the world as? That's one thing that I'm having a hard time dealing with.
Q: Do people feel like they have some right to know?
A: I guess they feel like you have to tell them right away. OK, so if you're hitting on a guy or whatever, does he have to tell you right away if he has HPV or whatever? Gonorrhea? Some things are personal. Or if he has 10 baby mothers? Those are things that you find out when you have a relationship or you're talking or whatever.
Q: Does it ever make you uncomfortable to be sort of an unofficial spokesperson for trans people? Or do you like that?
A: I get a lot of emails from little kids and boys, like 'Oh, I would love to transition.' And even other transgender girls who are like, 'Wow, what you're doing is awesome,' and stuff like that. ... [But I also] I got this one email from this lady who was like, 'Oh, you know, you get naked in your shows and that's not a way to carry yourself and this and that.' Things like that.
Q: So you try to balance that?
A: I just want to be a good example of who I am. I feel like I would definitely want to be a good example of a transgender person living a normal life, functioning in both societies. Have a husband, have kids, be happy totally. But there are some other girls, they'll go on the Maury show or they'll go on Jerry Springer. They'll call themselves men and it makes it easier for other people to call them men, too.
Q: What's your perspective on that?
A: There are a lot of transgender girls who deal with so much they don't have any pride in themselves. They're not proud of themselves. They feel like they're a punching bag, that it's OK. That people are going to judge, so let them judge. Or people are going to say things so let me just insult myself, let me just put myself down before anyone else does first. Those are the people I would like to change, but I can't change everybody.
Q: So you focus on what you can focus on.
A: Maybe it's just best for me to be the best example of myself, because maybe that will spark a change. They can say, 'Look at her. I saw her as a boy. I saw her transition. And I'm seeing her do things she's always wanted to do.'
Q: What's the next step?
A: I think I want to get my breasts augmented. I think I'm going to get some boobs going on here. ... That's what I'm looking forward to right now.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I'm working on a couple of things ... I'm going to be on TLC [on 'Cake Boss'on June 11.] I still have more shows coming up. You'll see me out. I'm the kind of person, I don't know if it's good or bad, but I just go with the flow. I never really plan for things. I just do them.
ggarvey@Tribune.com | @gcgarvey