You’re walking into a room where no one knows you; tell us what you would want everyone to know.
Corey Rae: I’m not a total Ice Queen. I’ve been told throughout the years that I come off as quite intimidating. Whether it’s my strut or the way my face rests, most people tend to think I’m unapproachable. There have been numerous occasions where good friends of mine have told me they were once scared to talk to me and thought I’d be a total bitch. I think people are most surprised by my personality and sense of humor, it’s definitely not what you would expect at first glance. I’m brutally blunt, genuine, and have a sensual/raw sense of humor.
Now that we’ve gotten formalities out of the way, let’s talk about your blog, Corey Rae. This was your debut into the public eye, with your first piece titled “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself”. You announce in this piece, “My name is Corey Rae, and I’m a 23 year-old transgender woman. I’ve never actually said that out loud to anyone.” What was this moment like for you?
CR: The entire day and following weeks after “coming out” were very surreal. I launched the site around 6 PM or so and the entire evening was filled with immense love and support from everyone who came across it. I was overwhelmed with emotions I didn’t think I was capable of having; I was proud of myself and I felt free. When I hit “update status” with the link to my site, a feeling of anxious excitement filled my body. I was ready for my two worlds to combine; the world where I was openly transgender (high school and before) and the world where I was stealth (college and beyond). I was exhausted by living two lives. Carrying such a deep secret, which had so much to do with the person I am today, was extremely stressful. Saying to the world, “I am transgender” was something I never thought I’d say openly, ever. Due to the lack of transgender education, influence, and leadership (i.e., before Laverne Cox, Caitlin Jenner, etc.) there wasn’t a general knowledge of what transgender even was; and therefore it was always safer for me to hide that part of myself, especially because I was “passable.” Although it was stressful I truly believed I’d go the rest of my life barely telling anyone I had met besides my husband, children, and very close friends. So, feeling comfortable enough to let go of the fantasy world I had created in my head was a huge deal for me, and I have never been happier.
Tell us a bit more about your blog; why did you start it, and what have you hoped to accomplish with it?
CR: Like I mentioned, I was living a double life for five years. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remember who knew about my past and who didn't. I’d struggle with when and to whom my friends and I could openly make jokes about my past, when to tell a guy I was seeing, etc. So a big reason for the blog was I wanted to be free now that our society is starting to discuss transgender related issues. The second half of my coming out was due to how I felt towards where the transgender movement was going and how it could be improved. I believe I am an accurate representation of what it means to be a modern transgender woman. Not to discredit Amanda Lepore, Laverne Cox, Caitlin Jenner, etc., but I feel I am more relatable to the younger generations. I know I can change the perceptions and stigmas of what the general population refers to as a transgender person. Transwomen are no longer 40+ men getting caught in their wives clothing. We are young, we know who we are, and we express that because we have the resources today to self-identify at a younger age. Transgender people are strong, sexy, intelligent, and most of all courageous and deserve to be seen as nothing else but human. Because of my age, and the abnormally normal life I’ve had, I feel my story can help guide the younger transgender generations to come, and the cisgender children to understand them.
In regards to my hopes in what I want to accomplish with my blog, I want it to be a resource, a go-to for anyone who needs or wants to have introspection into the mind of a young and beautiful transgender woman, as well as a place to learn more about being transgender. I plan to build my site to eventually sell the fashion label I’ve been working on for quite some time, and grow my blog alongside it.
You just celebrated your one-year anniversary for the blog. Tell us about the experiences you’ve had as a writer and transgender activist this past year, between discussing your dating life online and sharing what your first International Transgender Visibility Day was like.
CR: I’ve experienced immense personal growth due to my site. First and foremost, my dating life and how I internalize each encounter has completely changed. Before my blog, I wouldn’t tell my dates or ex-lovers that I was transgender in order to protect myself. There was no education on the subject in the slightest, and it was in my best interest to not divulge that part of my life. I wanted so badly to be treated “normally” and I wanted a man who liked me for me, the person that I was inside and out. I thought it’d be better for those guys to get to know me first, otherwise I would never have had any dating escapades in college. Now, I’m more comfortable with a guy knowing prior to our date, or on our first date. It’s sexy to me if a guy is okay with me being transgender or open to learning more and seeing how things go. If he isn’t interested because I’m trans, I normally say something along the lines of “It’s okay, you’re not comfortable with yourself yet.” Because I now know my self-worth, and because I’ve already experienced someone who I believe is ideal for me inside and out, I know exactly what I’m looking for. I won’t settle just for the sake of having a boyfriend, and if one guy isn’t open to dating me, another guy will be.
As an activist, I feel challenged. I know that my blog is a wonderful platform and has helped many, but I feel it is not enough. I struggle with how I can do more while having a full time job. I have a self-proclaimed responsibility to help guide the transgender community and our movement. I want to do everything I can to guide transgender youths, but balancing my activism work with paying college loans and “adulting” is very difficult for me. I am still figuring out how to balance that.
The most rewarding experience I’ve had thus far is meeting my number one fan. She goes to the high school I went to and she admittedly idolizes me. She messaged me two years ago via Facebook, way before CoreyRae.com, and told me how I’ve paved the way for her. She needed help with her transition from male to female, so I referred her to my mother (who helps transgender people and their families become “comfortable being uncomfortable”) for guidance. After two years, I finally met her here in LA last week. She and her mother took me for dinner at SUR, and we had a great time. Watching her took me back to my years of early transition and to times when I wasn’t so comfortable with who I was. As I’ve reflected on our dinner, I’ve become quite emotional knowing that there is someone out there who I’ve truly helped, and in many ways saved; and the fact that someone in this world looks up to me so much makes everything worth it. I now want to feel that from any and everyone I’ve inspired, past, present, and future.
When we had the chance to grab dinner, you told me your hopes for working towards reforming the Sexual Education system in the United States. We would love to hear more on what you want to see change and how you want to be involved, as we couldn’t agree more that change needs to happen.
CR: There are five key points I believe we in America can do better on in educating our youth.
1. The gender spectrum.
2. The sexuality spectrum.
3. Rape culture (instead of preparing girls on how to not get raped, we teach that rape is wrong)
4. Emotions around sex (before, after, and a healthy/safe sex life)
5. Overall self respect for others, regardless of personal opinions.
Not only do I want to implement these into our curriculums, but I want to change how we introduce and discuss these topics.
When I studied the sociology of gender and sexuality at the University of Amsterdam, I took in their way of teaching. My classes were open discussions with peers and professors about different ideals and ways of life. We retain more information through conversation than we do by lecture; and I learned more in my five months at UvA than I had in all my years of previous schooling combined. In order for our country to progress, we need to stop relying on parents to teach these important topics to our children, and make it mandatory for our schools to instead.
You share such a personal aspect of your life with the world in hopes to make a difference. Since a lot of people don’t have to do this, they don’t realize the unique situation it puts you in. It makes you a target to cyber-hate, verbal abuse, unwanted sexualizing done by strangers, and that’s just to name a few things. However, this is also now a business for you. You want your work in life to be education and initiating civic-responsibility and change. How do you balance the personal with the business?
CR: If I’m being honest I’m not sure I have a defined balance between the two. In many ways they blend together and I struggle to keep them separate. I try inform as many people as possible on my experience as a young, supported, transgender woman when something trans-related is brought up; and that includes dates, networking events, parties, at work, and to random people I hear talking about transgender topics in public spaces. I feel so passionate about changing perceptions of the transgender community that I tend to word-vomit everything I can in a small amount of time to whomever will listen. I bring my brand, my business, into my personal life now and that’s how they are blended. The only separation I have is that I tend to still forget on a day-to-day basis that I am in fact transgender. When I’m strutting the streets or spending time with friends and family I don’t feel transgender. For me, it’s important to find time to distance myself from the business that is “Corey Rae - transgender advocate” because I’m still not used to it. I feel now my business is being and embodying a modern transgender woman, and to try and escape that now is a struggle, but important... for now.
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, what do you do to build yourself back up?
CR: I remember my mantra, “Everything, for me, happens for a reason.” That sentence, and the knowledge that everything will eventually work itself out, has gotten me through every single rough patch in my life. I also frequently need to remind myself to take deep breaths, something my mom has taught me to do in times of stress. Recently, I’ve also been going by the cliches you see posted all over Instagram. Quotes such as; “When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light” or “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it's going to launch you into something great.” I believe in manifestation and the power of positive thought. I constantly remind myself to trust myself, my gut, and the universe, and that I can achieve anything I want as long as I put my mind to it; and, all of these cliches truly do help me.
For years, I woke up every morning and dressed a body I didn't identify with, and it was the most emotionally painful process I’ve ever gone through; but I knew that somehow it would work out in the end. For example, I wanted to win prom queen so badly. I had no idea if it would come true but I dreamt of it, and it happened. When I went through the excruciating process of having sexual reassignment surgery, I knew that it would all be worth it, that all my dreams were coming true. I went to bed every night from the fifth grade until I was 19 and prayed I would wake up a complete girl, and the day after my 19th birthday, I did.
What did you want to be when you grew up? And now, what do you want to be when you grow up?
CR: When I was little I wanted to be so many things, but above all I remember wanting to be a fashion designer. Now, I see no limits on my future. I want to be an icon, a transgender tycoon, and a notable advocate. I want to build a fashion empire that allows pre and post surgery transgender individuals to feel comfortable dressing their bodies. My designs will have the entire gender spectrum shopping together in one place, hopefully becoming more comfortable around one another, and allowing cisgendered people to meet trans/gender fluid individuals.
I also want to grow my advocacy for the transgender community through speaking engagements to schools and colleges across the country, and eventually outside the US on a more progressive sexual education system.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made throughout your career journey?
CR: I think most of all I’ve sacrificed the life I could have had if I stayed closeted. Easily, I could have worked in PR or Hospitality and married some rich man I depended on and raised children in the suburbs and coasted through life without actually adding anything to our society. I put that quiet life on the line to go after my dreams of being recognized for owning myself from a young age. My life from last year on will never be the same, it’ll never be “normal,” and to me that's thrilling. Although it will be harder to find a partner in life, to raise a family without my children receiving some backlash, without my family being criticized, I know I am working towards the greater good and I want to make history for this world, for the transgender children to come.
We’ve coined the term entrefemmeur to describe women who are doing what they love, unapologetically, while navigating the world of sexism. What does being an entrefemmeur mean to you?
CR: Being an entrefemmeur to me means being your most authentic self at all times and never having to apologize for it, especially in the workplace. Having the confidence to be completely genuine is key for a successful woman in 2017.
Photography by Nora Henick.