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World’s first trans prom queen says people don’t know ‘just how strong we are’

New Hampshire just elected the first out trans man to a state Legislature in U.S. history, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. This milestone comes as the country is celebrating Transgender Awareness Week from November 13 to November 19. But despite this historic headline, some say there is still a lot of work to be done to increase awareness and acceptance of the trans community. “We are risking our lives every day just so we can be ourselves,” Corey Rae, an outspoken activist, model, writer, actress and the world’s first transgender prom queen, tells MAKERS. “We need people to celebrate us, yes, but also to respect us and to support us.” Rae is now living her truth and encouraging others to do the same, but she says the journey that led her to this point took strength, determination and a deep desire to make a difference in her community.

We need people to celebrate us, yes, but also to respect us and to support us.”Corey Rae, Transgender Activist

A DEFINING MOMENT

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Rae loved playing with Barbies and dressing up like Cinderella. It wasn’t until her family moved to New Jersey in 2006 that she noticed her feminine behavior started to draw negative reactions from the parents and kids around her. “I started to internalize that, and I started to question myself,” says Rae. “Why did I feel different than the other boys? Why was I always friends with the girls? I was very confused, and I felt like I was the only person in the entire world that felt the way I did.” In eighth grade, Rae was handed a People magazine as part of a classroom presentation. As she flipped through the pages, she discovered an article about a transgender teen. “I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is what I've been looking for!’ A way to define how I feel. I feel trapped in the wrong body. I'm transgender!” She took the magazine home to show her mother. She says her mom welcomed her questions and explained what it meant to be transgender. “I went back into my room, and a couple of nights later, I went downstairs, and I said, ‘Mom, I want to be a girl.’ And she goes, ‘OK.’”

With the support of her mother, Rae was ready to embrace her dream of transitioning. However, because they could not find a doctor or therapist who would provide gender-affirming care to a transgender child, Rae and her mom decided she should enter high school still presenting as a male. After years of hiding her true self, Rae finally found a therapist who agreed to take her on as a client. She was given hormone blockers to prevent her from going through puberty and developing facial hair. “I would not be where I am today if I didn't get on those hormone blockers,” Rae says. “Because it gave me the time to decide what I wanted to do with my own body.”

Transgender activist Corey Rae speaks onstage during The 2019 MAKERS Conference. Rae says people need to become more aware of the issues the trans community faces on a daily basis. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)
Transgender activist Corey Rae speaks onstage during The 2019 MAKERS Conference. Rae says people need to become more aware of the issues the trans community faces on a daily basis. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for MAKERS)

THE CROWN THAT MADE HISTORY

By the spring of her junior year, Rae had shoulder-length blond hair, painted nails and a bra with plenty of padding. She says her confidence and comfort with her new outward appearance gave her an idea. “As I started to transition, I was really pretty,” says Rae. “And I thought, ‘Well, I could probably be a prom queen. And so, I ran, and I won!” Little did she know at the time, but the crowning made her the world’s first transgender prom queen.

Rae graduated from high school and went off to college. On the day after her 19th birthday, she went through gender-affirmation surgery and for the first time in her life, she says she felt complete. “Being transgender does not mean that we have to transition in any which way,” Rae says. “We don't need hormones, we don't need to have breast augmentations, we don't need to have any sort of gender-affirming care to be transgender. But for me, my version of complete meant vagina. That's what I prayed for every night since I was in the fifth grade.”

LIVING OUT LOUD

After five years of transitioning, Rae decided it was time to tell her story to the world. In 2016, she created a blog post, Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself, and solidified her spot as a transgender activist. She tells MAKERS, “I felt like it was my duty as a very privileged transgender person to tell my story and show people that we can be happy and successful and that there's a positive end to that tunnel. And that it's not all darkness.”

In her activist role, Rae has graced the MAKERS conference stage multiple times, including this October when she interviewed Nia Dennis, the former UCLA gymnast whose floor exercise celebrating Black culture has garnered nearly 12 million views on Twitter. Rae says hearing Dennis talk about the importance of self-care and creating safe spaces resonated with her. “I left thinking I should really start talking about my own mental health more,” Rae says. “As a woman, going through a trans experience, I wanted to shy away from talking about that because I don't want people to continue with the stigmatization that we’re mentally insane. But I think I want to become more open and honest about those types of things.”

In fact, Rae says stigmatization is one of the most dangerous issues facing the trans community. Just last year, 375 transgender people were killed, making it the deadliest year since record keeping began. But she says even the smaller, daily abuses can take a toll. “Trans people are so targeted, looked at, given the eyes, stared up and down, given funny looks, refused service,” Rae says. “Nowadays there's literally people regulating where we can pee. We're trying to figure out ourselves. The last thing we need to figure out is where to pee. We need people to become more aware of the issues that we face on a daily basis.”

Although the fight for acceptance is far from over, Rae says she knows the resilience of the trans community will ultimately prevail. “People who spend their entire lives trying to figure themselves out, trying to figure out what they're meant to do, who they're meant to be, and then own that truth and live it out. That is so courageous. It takes so much strength to do that,” says Rae. “And I don't think people realize just how strong we are.”