When I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I thought I wanted to be a full-time activist, but one of my mentors warned of the high likelihood of burnout. How do you manage to combine activism with your career and stay passionate about both?
Ultimately, I’m a storyteller—imagining different ways to tell transgender stories. I’m really interested in changing the ways in which we talk with and about transgender people, not only in personal conversation but also how we cover those stories in the media. What I really have to prioritize is self-care, something as basic as getting sleep. I’ve had to say no to a lot of things. There’s a cost for me emotionally when I speak up about things. I’m always a target because I’m a public figure, and I’m not doing activism in obscurity. I have to get myself ready for the bullets.
There’s this idea that feminine beauty belongs to young, straight, white cis-women of a certain body type. Do LGBTQ people need to reclaim what it means, or should we disrupt it entirely?
Years ago I wanted to have the kind of cosmetic facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn [Jenner] has made popular in terms of people’s understanding. But I didn’t have the money to do it. I’m so blessed and grateful that I didn’t because I would look completely different. I’ve had to learn to love and accept all those things about me that make me distinctly trans: my broad shoulders, my big hands and feet, my deep voice. It’s so deeply ingrained in this culture, though. When Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover came out, the language that people were using was deeply misogynist—she looked beautiful according to very specific standards, and that’s deeply problematic.
I found the focus on her appearance to be upsetting.
So many people on my social media pages say, “You’re gorgeous,” and who doesn’t like hearing that? But it made me think: Are people saying I’m beautiful for a trans person? Are they saying I’m beautiful because they couldn’t tell I’m trans? I mean, you can find blogs where people are like, “Laverne Cox is drop-dead gorgeous,” and there are other blogs saying I have “linebacker proportions.”