How old are you?
Mariana: Early 30s
Where were you born and where do you live now?
Mariana: I was born in Guatemala and I live in Hollywood
Alex: I was raised in Orange County, California, but went to college in Boston and left my heart there. I currently live in Los Angeles.
How would you describe yourself?
Mariana: A survivor, a warrior and a mentor
Alex: Friends say, "ray of sunshine."
What do you do for a living?
Mariana: Actress and Community advocate
Alex: I work as the Communications Assistant for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. But I think work is the wrong word to describe what I do. Every day I come to the Center, I am inspired by my colleagues' commitment to serving our LGBT community. Every day, I am inspired by the people we serve, our volunteers, and our supporters. Together, we are building a world where LGBT people can thrive as healthy, equal, and complete members of society. I am so proud to be a part of creating that future.
What do you do in your free time?
Mariana: Trying to find the love of my life
Alex: In my free time, I sling my camera over my shoulder and take pictures. I love candidly capturing people and suspending moments in time.
Do you have any hidden talents / random fun facts about yourself?
Mariana: I’m very good making people feel safe and show them a better life full of possibilities, no matter where they are coming from. I’m also very funny and I would love to do stand up.
Alex: Ironically, I have never learned how to ride a bicycle (as I write this from AIDS/LifeCycle).
If you could karaoke one song, what would it be and why?
Mariana: Any Spice Girls song! Even when I didn’t know the lyrics, I knew that I just wanted to be like them, all of them.
Alex: "Dirty Pop" by N*SYNC. I have a cache of boy band moves always ready to break out. But in all seriousness, I think I was 11 years old when that song came out and if I could go back in time and perform it at a middle school talent show as the guy I felt I couldn't be then, I know I would bring down the house.
When was a moment in your life that you felt really free to be yourself?
Mariana: When I found other girls like me and heard the word Transgender for the first time. Back in my country there was only death and violence towards anyone that was different.
Alex: I remember as young as 5 years old not feeling home in my body. Though I was born a girl, I always felt I was a boy. However, it wasn’t until taking a psychology course my second year of college, at 22 years old, that the light bulb flickered on. As the professor discussed the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, I slid down in my front row seat with my hand clasped over my mouth. Coming out as transgender to my mom was one of the most terrifying and freeing moments of my life. I remember after that class tremblingly dialing my mom's cell phone number from my college apartment. I remember crying, tears swallowing my cheeks, out of fear and desperation and hope and submission and relief and love. Every emotion I'd forcefully repressed for years lunged out of me in one singular moment of cathartic honesty and expression. As she does, my mom told me to take a deep breath, go wash my face, and drink some water. She told me she would love me no matter what and we would figure this out together. In that moment and since that moment, I've never felt freer.
Tell us about how you identify yourself
Mariana: I’m a woman with a story. I’m a loving human being, who was told that it was bad to be me. I’m real, I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend. I’m that lil boy that at one point stop dancing, because I was afraid and wanted to be invisible. I’m a woman that is willing to love and to be love.
Alex: I identify as a transgender guy.
What is a challenge you’ve faced since transitioning?
Mariana: The stigma from society about what it means being transgender, the lack of respect, because I’m not looking for acceptance, I’m looking for respect.
Alex: It’s taken me 25 years to even begin to realize that the more I accept and love myself, the more completely I am able to accept and love back, reciprocate, be present as a friend, a son, a brother, and above all a person in the world.
What is a common misconception or question you encounter about your gender?
Mariana: That I’m not capable, that either seen as a victim (people feel sad for me) or as a role model (that can heavy sometimes) I’m only a human being like everybody else, I’m going to make mistakes.
Alex: Transpeople don’t always change their physical appearance to appease their at odds bodies and minds. Sometimes they are in between. Sometimes they’ve taken hormones but have opted out of surgery. Sometimes they’ve gone under the knife and refused the syringe. Sometimes they’ve fully committed to a physical transformation and sometimes they are physically unchanged and in the process of figuring out their best chance at how to be happiest as themselves, no matter how that looks.
What does support and acceptance mean to you? Can you share a time when someone was accepting / supportive when you weren’t expecting it?
Mariana: The memories of my mom talking about me w other people, telling them that I was special. She always makes me special, there was no name or need to explain why, she knew. Every single day, I want and work to make her proud on me.
Alex: Support and acceptance mean everything to me. When I first came out as transgender, it was my then girlfriend, Hayley, from high school, whom I solely confided in and leaned on for support. I owe my life to her for her refusal to wait around as an idle bystander, for her stubborn insistence, resolute impatience, and, maybe most powerfully, her deliberate withdrawal of sympathy and condolence for my cyclic self-pity and inaction. She loved me enough to sacrifice our relationship for the one I had with myself. I’m pretty sure she saved my life.
What was your favorite part about the Happy Hippie shoot?
Mariana: I was encouraged by Miley to be me, to not be afraid, because even though, I mentor many people, I’m still afraid about my future. She is not afraid to be herself. I was also celebrated as someone that can contribute to make a better world.
Alex: My favorite part of the Happy Hippie Foundation shoot was being in a room full of beautiful people where gender was only seen as part of who we are, not all of who we are. We are so much more than our genders. I think that's a universal truth for everyone. No one of us is or should be defined by one experience or physical characteristic or sexual orientation or gender. Yes, all those things are parts of us, but they are not all of us. We are those things and so many more. Miley reinforced that just by being who she is and encouraging us to be truly ourselves, on and off camera.
Who came with you to the shoot and what did it mean to you to have them there?
Mariana: Alex, a passionate new generation working on the LGBT field, full of energy just like me at that age. I don’t want young kids to suffer, I want them to reach their full potential. I also want them to acknowledge the ones that had been there before and appreciate their contribution.
Alex: I accompanied Mariana, a colleague of mine from the Los Angeles LGBT Center, to the Happy Hippie Foundation shoot. Although Mariana has worked at the Center for a few years and I only a few months, we are connected not only by our experience as trans people committed to serving the LGBT community but also by our strong-held belief that unapologetically being yourself is one of the most powerful forms of living and activism. It meant a lot to be at the shoot with Mariana because we both feel comfortable being ourselves around each other. During our photoshoot, we spontaneously broke into dance a few times. We laughed. We threw confetti and glitter at each other. We were able to fully enjoy and take in the experience together because we could just be ourselves.
What are you hopeful about in the next year—both personally and when it comes to transgender rights?
Mariana: Just like me, people keep coming from around the world looking for shelter, for a place to call home and make their true colors shine!! I want LGBT kids to know, that we care, Miley and her team care and we keep working to make it better. Immigration for LGBT is not about the American Dream, is about surviving. For me I want to travel and find the balance, between work and my personal life.
Alex: I am hopeful that my positive experience being transgender becomes commonplace. I hope in the next year the abundant acceptance and support I've felt from friends, family, colleagues, and strangers becomes an ordinary and unfantastical story for all trans people and that people will see that we are people who just want to be our true selves, and to love and be loved.
What is some advice you have for someone who exploring their gender identity or transitioning?
Mariana: Keep exploring, be curious, surround yourself w the right people and hold on to them, until you find that better you, that u always dream.
Alex: Explore who you are and never stop exploring. What I've learned through my own coming out process is that I'll always be coming into myself. I think that's just life for everyone. It's a journey. We are all just people, trying to find our way. Sometimes gender is thrown into that mixed bag. Sometimes it's not. As cliché as it sounds, as long as you are true and good to yourself, the journey will be worth it. And you will be better for it, because you will be you.