Corey Rae Is Creating A World Where Trans Girls Get The Guy, Win The Crown, & Be Whoever They Want To Be

“I wish I had a strong, beautiful representation of what it meant to be a trans woman. I wish that the popular girl — the girl who gets the guy, the girl who gets the crown — was trans.”

As a teenager, Corey Rae idealized ’90s rom-coms like “Clueless,” “She’s All That,” and “Never Been Kissed.” Like many girls her age, she wanted to be like the protagonists on screen: “cool and popular and pretty. But because I was trans, and because people only saw me as the gay kid, I felt I was never going to be that pretty prom queen.”

If you talk to Rae, you quickly get the sense that she isn’t the type of woman who’d let a little self-doubt stop her. As evidence: As a woman of trans experience, she began her visible transition her junior year of high school. Fitting in meant coming out. It also meant achieving what she’d previously believed to be an impossible dream: becoming the world’s first openly transgender prom queen, an experience she’s turned into the screenplay — and soon-to-be feature film — “Queen.” 

“When I began my transition, I had a new sense of confidence come over me,” she tells GO. “And I think I was always very confident, but I realized I was starting to make a dream come true that I never thought was going to be possible.”

I had a chance to connect with Rae by phone in July, not long after she appeared on GO’s virtual Pride panel “LGBTQ+ Representations in Film & TV.” One on one, I had a chance to talk to her about “Queen;” her work as a model, speaker, and writer; and what she’d like to see more of on screen for LGBTQ+ characters. 

But first, as someone who’d never gone to her own prom, I had to know: Besides confidence, what did it take to become prom queen? A willingness to launch a campaign. “My inner monologue was like, ‘Why not go for it?’” Rae says. “At the time, Facebook was really the only social media that I had. I think I made a status like, ‘Vote for me for prom queen!’ And then people did.” 

It also helped that Rae had the support of family and friends — including a fellow prom queen nominee — who were open and accepting of her decision to transition and her bid for the crown. While she does attribute some support to the fact that many of her peers might not have understood what trans was — “Classmates thought that I was just trying to get attention or I was afraid to come out as ‘gay’.”— for those who knew Rae best, her transition was a logical step. 

“It was that missing piece,” she says. “Because, for so many years, both friends and family asked, ‘Are you gay? Are you still playing with Barbies? Are you still playing dress-up?’ And me denying that made them think that I really was gay. But me coming out as trans and transitioning, it was that missing piece. It was like, ‘This makes sense for Corey.’”

Rae’s story has all the markings of a high school rom-com fairytale — the supportive friends and loving family, the winning-of-the-crown despite the odds — but it’s also a story that’s rarely, if ever, been told before — at least, not from the perspective of a woman of trans experience. With her screenplay, “Queen,” Rae is hoping to expand upon the types of trans representations that are visible to audiences everywhere.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Corey Rae (@imcoreyrae) on

Written by Rae and high school acquaintance Harry Tarre, “Queen” tells the story of Rae’s real-life road to the prom queen crown. While certain events have been modified — for example, in the script, the story takes place during Rae’s senior, not junior, year — the story is very much rooted in Rae’s own experience. The script landed on the Black List and the GLAAD List for best un-produced LGBTQ+-inclusive screenplays and was acquired by Red Crown Productions in 2019 (production for the film, on which Rae is also an executive producer, is currently on hold due to the pandemic). 

In a world where stories highlighting positive trans experiences are rare, “Queen” stands out and presents a world of new possibilities to high school girls everywhere. For Rae, it’s the movie she wished she’d had when she was a teen. “I wish I had a strong, beautiful representation of what it meant to be a trans woman, and I also wish that the popular girl — the girl who gets the guy, the girl who gets the crown — was trans. I didn’t get to see that. I never saw my experience in someone else, and I still haven’t.” 

Despite putting her story out to the world now, and despite her open transition in high school, Rae hasn’t always been so open about being a woman of trans experience. After high school, she chose not to disclose her identity, spending college and her early professional years “living stealth.” But when the Pulse nightclub massacre occurred — “a true attack on the LGBTQ community, and one that I was alive for” — living stealth was no longer an option. An aspiring model, Rae had already started a website for her portfolio, which she decided to turn into a blog. In her first post, “Allow me to reintroduce myself,” she came out to the world as a woman of trans experience. 

“It was my coming out to the world and saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going to come of this, but you all need to know that I’m trans,” she tells me. She wanted to show that a woman of trans experience could “be happy and successful and beautiful and live a positive life” with supportive family and friends. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Corey Rae (@imcoreyrae) on

The post went viral, and the next thing she knew, Rae was being labeled a trans activist for her willingness to write about her experience — a role she hadn’t really thought about, since she hadn’t identified as “trans” since leaving high school.

The post helped launch her career in other ways as well. Fed up with working hospitality jobs in New York, the New Jersey-raised Rae returned to LA, where she’d been born. She had a one-way ticket and “no plan, no apartment, no job, not a lot of money,” she says. “I stayed with my step-sister and kind of just made it work.”

Now, in addition to being an executive producer on “Queen,” Rae also has a beauty contract with the company Ipsy and writes a column for the web-mag Stylecaster. She writes candidly about being a woman of trans experience, approaching topics like fashion, dating, and the linguistic complexities of using cis/trans labels.

“I enjoy educating people. I enjoy changing people’s perceptions of trans people — trans women specifically, because I can only focus on my experience of being a trans woman — but I do enjoy it and I do feel gratification,” she says. But at the same time, she notes there are “some very, very low lows,” especially when it comes to dating, “where it gets very difficult for me to know when to explain, or not to explain, or over-explain, or get upset when someone still has the same perceptions even after meeting me. It’s very difficult to kind of find myself between when I should shut off my career and enter into my personal life.”

For those who are transitioning, the best advice she can give is that “no two transitions are the same. No two journeys are the same.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Corey Rae (@imcoreyrae) on

“There is so much pressure on a trans person to be what society accepts as a woman, and I want those trans people out there to know that there is no one way of being trans; it’s whatever it means to you,” she adds. “If you want facial feminization surgery, amazing. If you don’t, don’t do it. If you want hormones, great — but you might not want hormones. Just don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s transition.”

Diversifying the stories told is one way to help reduce the stigma of a single narrative often applied to all persons on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. In popular representations, Rae would like to see more persons of transgender experience cast across all genres of film and TV, from romantic comedies to action flicks, and not just in roles that are “trans” or “LGBTQ” — roles that are more reflective of experiences like her own, which have defied the more traditional narrative associated with characters of trans experience. 

“As important as it is to share our trials and tribulations and trauma that we do go through as people of trans experience,” she says, “I want our happy, successful stories to be shown.”

 


What Do You Think?