The Unfiltered Feminist: Transitioning into Adult Life, a Chat with Corey Rae

What do Christopher Walken, Francis Ford Coppola, Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev, and the CEO of Marvel Studios Avi Arad have in common? Besides being hugely successful and internationally known icons of entertainment, they are also all alumni of Hofstra University. Now prepare to get to know the next up and coming Hofstra to Hollywood graduate, Corey Rae. Corey Rae attended Hofstra University from 2011-2015 and during her time as a member of the Pride, she certainly made an impact on its campus. After all, who can forget her strutting across campus in a bikini and wedges on her last day of classes? But Corey Rae is more than a Hofstra fashion icon, in fact throughout her time in college she was keeping a secret that once unveiled to the world, would change her life forever.

On June 27th of 2016, Rae debuted her website and reintroduced herself to the world with a blog post that revealed that she is a transgender woman. In her first post, Rae explains her journey of becoming the woman she was always meant to be and why at 23-years-old she chose to share her secret with the world. I had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Rae and go deeper into what it was like coming out on social media.

HC: My first question is, what made you decide to write the blog? CR: Well, I always wanted a website. I didn't know what it would be for, commerce or what have you. I got the website in January and I built it myself on Squarespace, so it obviously took me about 5 months to build. And over that time, I was considering writing a book and instead I thought, whats a faster way to get my writing out. Because I do love writing and I have a very Carrie Bradshaw style. And that's really what a blog is, talking to an audience. So I just started writing the book and instead I made it more like blog posts, and it just naturally turned into that. I thought, you know what I have this website I might as well turn it into a blog.

HC: So since this article is for a Hofstra blog, what was your experience like at Hofstra?

CR: My time at Hofstra was interesting. I had a lot of fun, but not like the classic college fun. I thought that the education that I got was really great. I think that the social life wasn't what I was expecting when I got to college and I kind of had to think about how I would go about the social life of Hofstra, because it's quite different than most schools. So I definitely tried different friend groups, I tried sorority life for a semester or two, I tried going to bars, I tried house parties, I dated a lot of different guys; I really saw Hofstra from a vast perspective. But overall it was pretty great, I did take a break for a semester abroad. I think my junior and senior year were a lot of fun at Hofstra, usually a lot of people think that freshman year was the most fun, but for me it was my junior and senior year.

HC: So why did you choose to come out now, especially after having graduated from Hofstra?

CR: Well all of my high school friends knew. And my friend Nico from college knew, and my one friend from study abroad, she knew. So here I was, having all of my pre-college friends hanging out with my college friends and they couldn’t figure out who knew. They didn’t want to say anything, everything was just super uncomfortable. I felt like I was kind of living a double life and prepping people on what to say, and what not to say. I also started dating more mature guys and I realized I’d be more comfortable with them knowing from the get go than not. So I think that I decided to come out in a big way at once on a big platform, so it wasn’t like going and telling people. Even when I came out in high school I didn’t just be like “by the way guys, I’m transitioning, I’m transgender”. I just did it and people caught on. So I felt that coming out now would be a good time because one, there’s a conversation about it now and Caitlyn Jenner has really opened up that conversation for the transgender community. There is an understanding of what transgender is now and when I was in high school and even when I was still in college, Caitlyn was not around to have that conversation opened. People didn’t really know what it was, they were scared of it, they didn’t accept it. So that is one reason that I came out now, because there is somewhat of an understanding of the lifestyle of being transgender. But also because I didn’t want to live that double life anymore and I was more comfortable with being open with people.

HC: So what was it like transitioning in high school?

CR: It was definitely different, no one had really heard about what it was before. Remember this was 2009 or 2010, which doesn’t seem like a long time ago but it really was. So, like I said I started very very slowly. Going into the fall of my junior year of high school, my hair was a little bit longer and people thought that I was probably gay and I started to wear very vibrant colors. And then my mom said to me around December, right after halloween, “do you want to start wearing my clothes?” So I very slowly started wearing her shirts, her jeans, and I bought a pair of flats. And then in the spring, around April I started to wear a bra and mascara, and people had just started to catch on. So my first year transitioning was interesting because people didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t come out and say that I was transitioning, but people knew that I wasn’t just gay. A lot of people thought that I was just doing this for attention, and they didn’t believe that I wanted to be a girl. But then when prom came around in May, I kind of said that I wanted to be prom queen. So I got nominated, and then at prom I won. I am the nation’s first transgender prom queen, which is pretty cool. That summer was when I was my most popular. I was going to all the parties and whatever, I was wearing skirts and tanktops, and I felt more comfortable hooking up with my first love interest. Then my senior year, it was actually a little more difficult. Because I had to consider college and where I was going to go, it had to be close to my doctors. I started hormones my senior year, so I had to go to a therapist, I had to go to an endocrinologist, who test your levels and give you the right amount of testosterone blockers because I hadn’t had my surgery. I had to have the right amount of estrogen and I also had my nose done. My senior year was actually a lot more difficult than the initial coming out process. Then at the end of my senior year, because of the reputation that it was liberal and when I applied my college essay was about winning prom queen. We had talked to a Hofstra admissions officer and then flagged my admissions letter to know that I was transgender and to have that on record, even though they wouldn’t disclose that to anyone.

HC: So how did you feel being the nation’s first transgender prom queen?

CR: That night was probably my fairy tale night. I had always wanted to be in a 90s teen movie prom scene and I was extremely overwhelmed when I won. I had a feeling that I would, but there was that small chance that I wasn’t going to. But I couldn’t believe that I had done something like that, it was a pretty big deal. Not only to be the “most popular person”, but to also be transgender. To at the time be looked at as a freak for totally not fitting in the box of what society thought of male and female. So it was overwhelming and really great, and I think that night was my happiest night so far. It was literally like a dream come true.

HC: So fast forward a little bit, I read one of your articles that had to do with your surgery. How did having that surgery really change your life and complete your final step?

CR: So when I went to college for my first year, I hadn’t had surgery and it was nerve wracking. I had a roommate, I sharing girls bathrooms, I was going to parties, and I was wearing skirts and I was worried about a bulge. And all I wanted was to have a boyfriend and to actually be able to hook up with him. I talked to my therapist while I was in my freshman year and she said “you know your life is at a halt right now and even though I was probably one of the youngest to transition at my time, you’re ready.. So that was what the surgery was, it was allowing me to move forward and completing myself so that I could live a normal life. Because in general I was passing and everyday I could walk down the street and no one would ever be like, “that girl is transgender”. When I got my surgery I was kind of in a daze, a little bit before and a couple of weeks after because of all the morphine. But it’s the best feeling in the world to look in the mirror and see the person that you had always dreamt about being. Since I was two years old I had seen myself as a girl and to finally see myself 100% as a girl, even in a bathing suit, that was awesome. And I have to say that my prom and the day of my surgery were the two best days of my life.

HC: Was it scary to go through the process of having the surgery?

CR: I think it’s still the most painful surgery that someone can go through, because your whole nervous system is being reworked. It’s extremely painful and there’s a lot of keep up, a lot of work. I was more anxious with the problems that would happen after surgery, like your vagina can literally fall out and skin grafts can not take, or I wouldn’t have feeling in my clitoris and I wouldn’t be able to have sex. That was the scary part. I wasn’t necessarily scared to have the surgery done and a lot of people asked me “How did you know? We’ren’t you scared that you couldn’t go back?”. It’s really funny, the morning of my surgery I went to the hospital and I was with my mom, and she was hugging me right before I walked into the room, and she said that it would be okay if I changed my mind and that she wouldn’t be mad at me. And I said “I woke up with a gross boner this morning and I never want that feeling again”. The morning of my surgery was the true morning that I realized that I didn’t want this ever again. So surgery felt exciting and the problems that could happen were scary, but my doctor was also a plastic surgeon so I knew that I scars would be okay. I didn’t have any major complications, I did bleed a lot, but other that that everything turned out great for me. I got very very lucky.

HC: I’ve been watching some transgender YouTubers who dedicate their channels to transitioning and a lot of them talk about dilation.

CR: So here’s the process of it. It fucking sucks that’s all you need to know. And that’s what everyone says and a few years ago, you had to have met a transgender person to go through with the surgery. Every transgender person said that the worst part about surgery is dilation and that’s not until after surgery. The thing about dilation is that if you have sex the amount of times that you dilate, you’re fine. But dilation is hands down the worst part about surgery. I mean think about it, imagine holding a hard plastic dick-looking thing inside your vagina for thirty minutes at a time, seven times a day. You’re healing, bleeding everywhere, it’s not cute. My friends all like watched me do it and they thought that it was fascinating. They literally came to visit me just two weeks out of the hospital and watched me dilate, and I was like “This is so gross”. But they loved it.

HC: So how did friends from college react to your coming out after you put out the blog?

CR: After the blog, it’s funny that none of my girlfriends even discussed it with me. They texted me telling me that they loved me and that I’ve always been a girlfriend in their eyes. They said that they’d never even thought twice about it. Guys on the other hand were extremely interesting. A lot of people told me to be careful because they thought that a lot of guys were going to be mad. But I never got any bad messages from any guys, all I heard was “You’re beautiful, it’s amazing but I’m just not into it.” My two ex boyfriends, the one that I dated in Amsterdam was like “I wish that you would have told me because it would have been hot and I am very sexually into it”. But my real ex boyfriend from my senior year of college said that it didn’t change anything, it doesn’t change our relationship, it doesn’t change how I feel about you. Those were basically the two best possible responses. I think that if you were to see me in the street, you would never know and that once you get to know me I am so naturally feminine in the way that I present myself. I’ve never put on anything or tried to be a girl, because I’ve always thought that I was a girl. You can see that and guys feel that vibe. Once I came out at transgender they were like “wow you aren’t what I thought transgender is, you aren’t a 40-year-old dude with chest hair, you’re actually a really great, hot woman”. It’s not the case for everyone but because I am such a rare case, guys are okay with it somehow.

HC: So I know that you mentioned Caitlyn Jenner before, what do you think about what the media has done for the transgender community, both good and bad? CR: If no one at Hofstra knew, and I shared a bathroom with them and that didn’t make them uncomfortable. People everyday share bathrooms with transgender people and they have no idea because so many transgender people are passable now that you would never know. But because people know, it makes them uncomfortable which is very interesting. Caitlyn is amazing because she opened up the conversation for us, but I do not agree with any of her stances politically. She’s a Republican and that alone makes me think “you’ve got to be kidding me”. But I get she has these views financial wise, but her views are very hurtful to the transgender community. And on top of that she has all of the money in the world to help her and she has every resource. As I mentioned in my blog, when I was going through this online awareness wasn’t around and the word transgender wasn’t even recognized when I would write in Google Docs. Transgender was literally not a thing. It was talked about lightly but it was not something that you could openly talk about in conversation or find a lot of information about. You would literally have to go to a library to find out about it. I think that what [Caitlyn] has done is awesome but I don’t like her specifically. I don’t watch her show, I don’t follow her. But I think that within the media, they have done a great job at being respectful and trying to educate. In regards to the bathroom laws, I think it’s so ridiculous. I think that people are trying to pick a fight and some people are trying to resist what’s happening, as was the gay rights movement. Fifteen years ago, it was a huge deal to be gay and now no one really cares. Transgender has moved much more rapidly. I mean the amount of press that it has gotten in the last two years is insane. The amount of human right organizations and groups that have come about to help the community is amazing. The transgender community last year was 700,000 and this year it’s 1.4 million. How does Cailtyn Jenner make basically make 700,000 people come out of the closet? It’s amazing, but the problem is that Caitlyn doesn't know what it's like to grow up with a real transgender experience. I grew up knowing that I was a girl at two years old. I went through the process without anyone knowing what it was, my family could not afford it but they made sure that I did. My parents let me do what I please and never told me that it was a phase. A lot of people say to bring your child to therapy and give them boy toys, but both my brother and I played with Barbies and Cabbage Patch Dolls and my brother grew up to be straight as an arrow and I grew up to be transgender. It just goes to show what happens with good parenting.

HC: So why else do you think it is important that there are more relatable transgender role models in the media?

CR: We need to see a rise of transgender individuals, we need to see that one, there are success stories. All we hear about in the news are these horrific tragedies of transgender people being beaten or killed. But we also need to show that families need to be supportive and what happens when the families are supportive. And that’s the difference between a lot of transgender people. You can be born poor, but if you have the family support you can become a success. You can also be born rich but if your family doesn’t support you, you’re going to fail. It’s all about the support, the love, the comfort, and the conversations that you get from that.

HC:  So what is your goal as far as being a role model for the transgender community?

CR: I think that the only reason that I came out was so that I could help people. I was putting life on the line, I could have gotten death threats from guys I used to be with, someone could have thrown a rock through my window by now, knock on wood. I think that I want to work for a human rights organization, but the goal would be to help school systems properly teach our youth about gender and sexuality. Because America is the least progressive in sexual education. We start way too old and we don’t talk about the important issues. We teach girls to not get raped, instead of for boys to rape. We teach girls to not be sexual instead of loving themselves and being empowered. We also don’t teach about the possibility of anything beyond the boxes of male or female. We need our youth to learn about that at a young age so that those people who are LGBTQ can learn about themselves and be able to identity with it, but also so that their support and community is there and that it’s not abnormal. My main goal in the end of this all, is to be an icon yes, to have ads and be this huge celebrity, but the point is that I’m helping our younger generation and making an example of myself and my mother, and how she raised me. So that every transgender person can come home from school and tell their parents that they want to be a girl or a boy, and for their parents to be like “great, we love you, go for it”.

HC: What kind of advice would you give to those who are transitioning or thinking of transitioning?

CR: My advice is to not throw it in people’s faces. And although people may say, “why should I have to hide it?”, it’s not hiding it, it’s being respectful of other people. Because you wouldn’t like it if someone was throwing themselves in your face and you didn’t want it. It’s all about going about it safe and I went about it very safely, which is why I was never bullied or tormented. Yes I heard a lot of comments that weren’t great, but my life was never threatened. I was very slow with my transition, I didn’t throw it in people’s faces, I wanted everyone to know that I’m still a person. My second piece of advice would to not be scared to come out to your parents. At the end of the day they are going to love you no matter what. They may not respect it but they’re going to love you, so don’t be scared of that. Also research a therapist, research groups you can go to. If you can’t talk to your parents, or your friends, or your lover at the time, go to support groups because you meet other people. They may not be just like you but that’s because no two transgender people are the same but it’s nice to be able to talk to someone. If you can’t afford a therapist it’s the best way to get your feelings off of your chest. But therapy is still very important because it’s impossible to get gender reassignment surgery without being in therapy for one to two years. That’s also how you get the proper hormone treatment and the right surgeon. Therapy really helps to relieve a lot of stress and anxiety about transitioning.

HC: One of the things that we are all dying to know is what dating is like as a transgender woman? (Especially in college where dating is mostly all about sex.)

CR: In high school I did have a quasi-relationship, which was obviously kept very secret. Then when he got a girlfriend I told everyone and it was a really big deal. But he had known me forever and it wasn’t very serious. But when I got to college, no one knew who I was and I could be whoever I wanted. Dating was interesting because it was the first time that a guy didn’t know about me. So I could attract anyone that I wanted, which was very new to me and I went wild. I made out with everyone. That was because I wanted to make up for lost time but I couldn’t do anything. Then at the end of my freshman year I had a boyfriend and we would just make out all the time. I would tell him that I was a virgin or that I was on my period, that I didn’t want to have sex until this happens Eventually he got sick of it and broke up with me, it wasn’t fun for him anymore. That’s when I was talking to my therapist that I couldn’t move on with my life and that dating just wouldn’t happen for me because I wanted to have sex. Some people are fine with having their genitals and dating men, and being seen as a woman in society is enough for them, but for me it wasn’t. So before surgery dating was very difficult. After surgery I ended up losing my virginity nine weeks later to a guy from my high school and then once again, I did go crazy and I wanted to make up for that lost time. I didn’t really begin to think about dating until the end of my sophomore year and that’s when it became really amazing. To find out what it was like to have guys actually like me for me and my personality, and what I stand for and I could have sex. And then I went off to Amsterdam and I had my first very legit boyfriend there, which was amazing. I’m very lucky to have found someone to date because a lot of transgender people aren’t lucky enough to pass and have to have a bunch of facial surgery to pass. I feel lucky that I was able to fall in love and have a real relationship, because some people transgender or not don’t have that.

HC: So to wrap things up, what do you want the Her Campus readers and young collegiate woman, who may not be well versed on transgender issues, to know about you, transgender women, and the community.

CR: The most important part of my story is that I wasn’t born a boy, I was born transgender. It’s so important, not only for women but for everyone to understand that being transgender is real, it’s legitimate, and it’s a way of life. To not be scared of it and to not worry about what other people will think if you have a transgender friend or a transgender lover. As long as you’re happy, comfortable, and being your most authentic self, that’s all that matters. Beyond transgender, I really have preached self-love and self-positivity which is so so so important. If girls don’t know that a person is transgender or if they are rushing a sorority, they shouldn’t shun the person because they care what guys think. It’s important to accept them and ask them questions, not offensively, to learn from them. To really get a good understanding of what it’s like not to be born a natural girl and take away from that. The more understand and that people can talk about it intellectually, and be ignorant. Just accept people and be open.

 

Going forward, even though Corey Rae may not have been born in the same way as every other girl her age, she is undeniably relatable to both the transgender community and women as a whole. Everyone has their struggles trying to figure out who they are and learning where they fit into society, so who are we to judge another by how they choose to express themselves? We all know a Corey in our lives, someone who has fearlessly defied other’s expectations and we can all take away from the journey that she continues to share.

On top of that, don’t forget to stay tuned in to Corey’s blog because it is clear that there is much more to come for this Hofstra alum on the rise.