1. When and where did the transformation of Maria Roman begin?
I began living my life as a woman at the age of 19 in good old Reno, Nevada. Well, honey, let me tell ya it was not peaches and crème. Since I was a little boy I always knew something was different about me. I must admit that as a little boy, I prayed for years that I could be like my brother and his friends. However, everyday I was reminded of how weird and different I was. Taunting and name-calling were a constant echo that will harm any child's spirit.
Of course as I knew no better as a child. I was guided by my instincts which always got me in trouble because there was behavior that was not acceptable for boys. After years of struggling with a deep disconnect from my true sense of self and the body I had been born with, I had no choice but to begin living life in a manner that was true to my self and to all around me. So the journey, and I mean journey, to self discovery and womanhood began. I must admit I continue to evolve so I don't think that process will ever be complete. However, after years of struggling with issues, many of which my community today continue to face, ranging from sex work for survival, homelessness, discrimination, hopelessness, I truly have arrived. It's interesting how we create this image of the type of woman we envision our self being and the lengths we will go to achieve it.
I continue to make wrong choices from time to time and on many occasions I scrape my knees really bad. But I get up, dust my weave, adjust my dress and begin smiling because after all I have been blessed with another day and the opportunity to start all over again. And that is a beautiful reason to smile...
2. What was your experience like in Trantasia?
Trantasia was a once in a lifetime experience that came to me from left field. At that time I was the Program Manager at Transgender Unidos for Bienestar Human Services; one of the largest and most comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention programs targeting the Latina transgender community in Los Angeles county. While working at a local transgender club, handing out safe sex kits, I was approached by Shana Steel herself, who asked if I would be interested in competing in the Worlds Most Beautiful Transsexual pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada. I mean, hell, the title of the pageant alone was over the top and this icon asked if I would enter. Well, I was so flattered I said "Really you think I should compete?" I truly felt it was an opportunity to speak about my work on HIV/AIDS and promote the program. Never did I dream that it would become one of the most life changing events in my life.
Well there was not much time to prepare - in two weeks time it would take place. In no time I gathered my best friend Bamby and we did a little remix of a Gloria Estefan song. I went downtown and got some orange fabric, a couple of rhinestones appliqués , through it all together and two weeks later I was in the Riviera casino competing against the most talented performers from all over the United States. I mean these women meant business! The hair and the gowns were amazing. To be honest, I was joking around the whole time having a cocktail and a few cigarettes. Hell, I figured, "What are my chances?" I mean, when Mimi Marks was upside-down, I said "Hell no, she didn't". Just fabulous!
Honey, when I made top 8 I almost peed in my orange jersey dress! I could not believe it. That moment redirected my life in a different direction that I had never envisioned. It gave me a new platform to continue to advocate for women like me. All the women that competed were all amazing. We all had fun and it was a beautiful experience. There was no cattiness. I met some wonderful friends that today are very close to me and dear to my heart.
3. Tell us about your role in Remember Me in Red and how you prepared for that role?
Well, I was contacted by the director, the fabulous Hector Ceballos. He said he had a script he wanted me to read. He said I would be perfect for the role of Alma Flora. I read the script and I knew I had to be Alma Flora. It was like it had been specifically written for me. I went to several auditions and finally was confirmed as the actress to play Alma. I play the role of a transgender activist who, after her death, her family comes from Mexico and despite the community resistance disregard Alma Aloras life and attempt to bury her as a man. Any trace of the woman she was is erased in an instant. It was so challenging for me to be dressed as a man and to be in a coffin. I had to peel away everything about myself to become her. Aside from being nude in the movie, which was not that challenging really, it is my first acting role and I am very prod that I was able to transform my self to be Alma Flora after death. The film is currently premiering in many national film festivals and has won several audience favorite awards.
4. You have a reality show, Wild Things, coming out in the fall. How was that experience?
As I mentioned before, Trantasia was the catalyst for so many beautiful experiences. I was fortunate to meet the wonderful Jeremy Stanford, the director of the documentary Trantasia and the reality TV series Wild Things. He, as well as Chris and Ted Smith, producers of both projects, has taken me on one of the most beautiful, and at times, challenging experiences of my life. Jeremy has always made it a priority to highlight the beauty, uniqueness and personality of each one of us while ensuring we are depicted in a way that is truthful yet respectful. Through his artistry in combining humor and drama he makes sure that the audience gets a sense of who we truly are as women and as human being. Since Trantasia we have remained very close friends and have had many hit and misses developing a show. However the fish out of water journey to change perceptions while showing the humanity of love for someone in need has been the winner.
I must say all three of us, the Wild Girls, have grown as women since the filming of Wild Things. We are so different yet the same. Cassandra and I had our challenges and honey when I say challenges I mean "CHALLENGES!" However, we have become closer. And Tiara, well, she is my dog. You know, like my homie. Filming 12 hours a day in 120 degrees under the sun, smelling cow shit, wearing polyester security guard uniforms in high hells with all that darn hair and trying to be cute and funny... Its not easy honey. This was gorilla type shit doing our makeup on the mirror of our fabulous Winnebago. So I give it to us and the crew cause the Lord knows we were bitchy. Jeremy will tell you its not easy traveling with three trannies in a compact car. Oh, he's got some stories! In a nutshell, it was fabulous!
5. Is your family supportive of you as a transgender woman?
I must admit, at the beginning of my transition we had challenges. I went from being a popular, football jock with a beautiful cheerleader girlfriend in high school to a 6 foot awkward looking woman for years. So there was some resistance. My belief is that my family was afraid that I would not be successful as a woman, however today my brother is my biggest cheerleader. He walked me down the aisle when I was married and my mother threw me the best reception any bride could ask for. My mother is my best friend and I can talk to her about anything without judgment. People have fallen in love with my brother Joe. How could you not? He is one of the kindest human beings and I am so blessed to have him as a big brother. I truly thank God every day for so many beautiful blessings, especially a loving family that loves me just as I am.
6. In the documentary Trantasia, you share that you are married. Are you still married and how are your relationships affected by you being transgender?
Relationships change as much as we change as individuals. The love is always there. I was fortunate to have met someone who took me and loved me with all my flaws. God knows there are many. I am not easy to love as I bring a lot of baggage along with a hot temper and much passion. I have experienced love in a beautiful form. I am not the person he married anymore and our relationship has changed but the love is there and will always be there. We still live together. We are a family. He will always be one of the most beautiful experiences of of my life. I will leave it at that.
7. What do you think is the biggest political issue facing transgender people in the United States?
The small representation of transgender individuals involved in the process of creating or amending current laws affects us tremendously in the political arena. One great example is how, not too long ago, we were excluded from the original version of ENDA - the Employment Non-Discrimination Act - by a so-called LGBT organization. In all honesty discrimination against transgender individuals, gays and lesbians will not stop because of a law, however it will give us a recourse to fight back.
The priority must be to ensure the protection under the law of our right to provide for ourselves the basic needs of any human being; food, shelter and medical care.
This brings me to another topic. Sex work. Many trans and non trans individuals are disgusted by the usual depiction of hopeless tranny sex workers in the media, stating that this is shameful and not an accurate depiction of trans women. But the reality is that the tranny sex worker really does represent a huge segment of trans women all over the world, many whom are women of color. Some will argue that this is by choice, however that statement does not reflect the lack of variety in choices, especially for transgender youth. Many sell their bodies for just enough to eat and might not have a place to rest their head.
In all honesty, it is disappointing to witness this lack of empathy from own community. We are one community; from the beautiful to the unattractive, passable to the truck driver-looking girl. And, of course, lets not forget the glamorized but also stereotypical twirling girl making it rain dollar bills, while lip singing to our popular songs.
We need to stop looking towards each other as "those people" and get involved to ensure that educational access and resources are available for all trans women so that we can move toward a future for women with higher education, degrees and skills levels that will translate to successful carriers. This also needs to be supported by laws that protect us against discrimination in the work place because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
8. Do you believe Latina transgender people are treated different than white or African-American transgender people?
Culture and where we come from always plays a role in how we are perceived and sometimes treated. I believe that the issues that affect the transgender community crosses ethnicities and truly doesn't differentiate because of race or ethnicity. However, language barriers can be a huge disadvantage for many recent immigrants from Latin America. This will also be an added factor to issues dealing with treatment and discrimination of Latina transgender people.
I do see a difference among women of color and white women when it comes to decisions regarding time of transition. Women of color tend to transition at a very young age without many resources, while many white women transition later in life once they have established themselves financially as men. I am yet to come to an understanding of why this is so prevalent but I can only assume that culture and environment are major influences in this decision process.
9. Can you tell us about your work in the HIV community?
I began doing HIV/AIDS prevention work because I had seen how the virus had devastated my community and friends. The community was being infected and affected by the virus, however there was a lack of representation of women who were transgender. Funding has always been a huge concern and one of the main issues when it comes to HIV prevention and the lack of programs that were in existence for transgender women. A study in early 2000 reflected a 22% rate of infection among transgender women in Los Angeles County. This was alarming. As a community we had to make sure that we were at the table when funding decisions were being made. I am fortunate to be part of a generation that is not just sitting back but getting involved in ensuring that our health and well being are part of the discussion. I care about my community. I care about their health. The reality is that HIV/AIDS continues to devastate lives and its preventable, so the fight continues.
10. If you could send any message out to our younger gay community regarding STD's and HIV, what would you say?
I can't emphasize enough that HIV/AIDS is preventable. There are resources and tools in place to assist us in making informed decisions and take care of our sexual health. Utilize them. Attend support groups. Be informed about your bodies and how important it is to use protection when engaging in any type of sexual activity. It only takes one time. Do not use your instincts as a guide to gauge who is safe or not. You cant tell if someone has HIV because of how they dress or how they look. Get tested and always use a condom. Its your life. Protect it!
11. What message would you send out to our younger transgender or questioning community members regarding their own transformation?
I would say that you hold the key to what kind of man or woman you want to be. The beauty of our lives is that we define our selves by a true sense of self. Even though the journey will not be easy, the reward of living life as your true self is endless. Many women and men have fought tooth and nail to ensure that we, as a community, are recognized and that change happens that will include equality and acceptance for transgender individuals. Be proud. Get involved. There are so many resources and programs in place. Utilize them. And congratulations for being true to your self!
12. How important do you believe therapy is in the process of gender discovery?
I must admit, even though I could use some therapy I never followed the Harry Benjamin Standards of care which were established as a resource for transitioning and really emphasize the need for therapy among other steps that are helpful in transitioning.
I come from a generation when we had no internet and Juanita the neighbor, usually a transgender women in her 40s, was giving hormones shots for 5 bucks next store (Perlutal). And your therapy was the transgender that had pump silicone parties at her house while she told you what your body would look like after 5 sessions.
The resources are there and individuals considering transition should use them and take advantage of them.
13. Who do you think are the three most influential or beautiful transgender women alive today?
Valerie Spencer, an African American woman that gives me chills when she speaks is a true leader in the transgender movement. She is a woman proud to be transgender. Her beauty radiates from within. She is one of the women I look up to and aspire to be like, a true blazer for all of us trans women and men.
Candis Cane. This woman does it all. She sings, acts and does it all while looking ravishing. Her role in Dirty Sexy Money still has people talking. Her one woman show at the Abbey in Los Angeles is without a doubt an act not to miss. I believe we will be seeing much bigger things from Miss Cane. I just love her.
Rupaul. I know many will disagree with me because of a small detail. Rupaul is a drag queen, but, hell, I am too most of the time. I think when it comes to mainstream media she has been one of the most influential gender variant individuals I have seen. Her reinvention with her successful Logo series Rupaul's Drag Race is fabulous! And regardless whether she identifies as trans or not, mainstream America will look at her and at me and categorize us the same. Furthermore, I just love her; so there. She is fabulous!
14. How difficult do you think it is for transgender women who are not physically attractive and struggle looking what we would consider typically feminine?
Well, honey, let me tell you with beauty comes power! I have been the unattractive fat girl that was always told, "Oh you have such a pretty face" to what I am today - somewhat cuter.
Beauty is something we all seek. We are influenced by the media and everything around us. The more attractive and feminine I have become, the easier my day-to-day life has become. However I have spent thousands of dollars to look this cheap! That's not a luxury many have. I look at myself and, not to say I am God's gift to the world, but I can appreciate the blessing I have been given to be able to mold my self from an unhappy young man to the type of woman I always wanted to be - slutty!
Just kidding people! But we as individuals need to define what is beautiful to us. And regardless of how beautiful you are on your exterior, it might sound cliché, but inner beauty is something that cannot be purchased. I am a firm believer that if you can't grow it honey, then sew it - yeah, its weave!
15. Since Alex is from Venezuela, can you give a strong message out to our gay and transgender Latino community in Spanish?
Si se puede. I think we are a strong community with a beautiful diversity and colorful culture to be proud of! Take care of your health and make sure that as a Latino you're involved in ensuring that the issues that affect your community don't fall through the cracks. Y que los quiero mucho y les mando un beso higante xoxoxox....
16. What are five things you always carry with you in your purse?
Well, I should be honest, right? Here we go... makeup - especially eye lash glue. A knife. Just kidding. Perfume. Wallet. Gum; bad breath is such a turn off. And lube. Don't ask; you never know!
17. What do you think it means to be a woman?
Well, as transgender women we have to redefine what womanhood is for us. For years as a young transgender woman I thought that the day I got my breast implants I would be a woman. Well after surgery there was no epiphany. I was treated the same, I felt the same - just with bigger boobs (that I must say are fabulous!). I then realized that my womanhood was not only physical, it always came from within. To be a woman and all it encompasses - self assured, complex, intriguing and full of mystique and allure - takes years. Womanhood is something both genetically born females and transgender woman develop into. I wasn't born female but today I can assure you I have grown into my womanhood.
18. What is the biggest incident of cruelty or discrimination you have ever faced?
A few years back while in Miami at a popular club space, I was the victim of a brutal attack fueled by hate towards what I represented. After my assault, I was further victimized by the officials that were supposed to protect me. I was incarcerated and molested and paraded naked in front of many of the officers in the detention center. It reminded me of how we are all targets of hate. I never thought something like that could happen to me, however we must not be silent.
I contacted Amnesty International and every organization I knew. You can still find information about the incident by just typing my name. One of the saddest days of my life. I will never forget that feeling of hopelessness and anger. Today that experience continues to be my fuel to give myself and women like me a voice because we are here and we are not going anywhere honey!
19. What would you say to a gay or transgender youth who is thinking about running away because their family is not supportive of their life?
I was homeless at the age of 18. I remember being in a strange town sleeping under a park bench and the fear I felt. Those are experiences that have left an imprint on my life because of that one decision. Things turned out okay for me but it's not the case for many youth that leave at such a young age. Seek help. There are resources and support groups that both you and your family can utilize Running away is not always the answer and it sometimes takes us on paths we never thought possible Exhaust every other option before putting yourself at risk without shelter or resources to take care of yourself.
20. If you could only listen to three CD's or musicians for the rest of your life, and they couldn't be mixed, what or who would they be?
Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Sade. So gay of me, huh?
21. You have lost a lot of weight since Trantasia. What inspired this weight loss and how did you do it?
Seeing my big ass as on a huge screen at the Out Fest Film Festival wearing a bright yellow swimsuit was the moment I made the decision. "Oh I have to do something about that ass," I thought. So I began trying to lose weight.
It's been years of struggling with weight and about two months before shooting began for the TV series Wild Things my director, Jeremy Stanford said to me, "Well you know Cassandra Cass is training like an athlete," and laughed so hard. I said, "Oh hell no!" I had already lost some weight, but I cranked up the process. I wanted to make sure that I did not look out of sync with the other two skinny bitches!
In reality, I have made the decision to eat better. It's not easy, but I feel better at this size. I follow a low carb diet and did work out for a few months. However, I have slowed down on the work outs.
22. What are your comments about hormone therapy?
Hormones are the fountain of youth and beauty. Use them with caution but they are the only thing that will help you in going from a frog to a princess, along with some cosmetic adjustment if needed. But honey, in some cases, drastic looks need drastic measures and to soften a rock throw some estrogen at it and it will do the trick. I am living proof of the power of estrogen. Seeking medical advice and supervision is my strong suggestion.
23. Because we always ask...boxers, briefs, jockstraps...or nothing at all?
Boxers are my favorite. They are sexy. Especially the snug kind...if you know what I mean...