Leyna Bloom talks about taking the lead in trans visibility, celebrating what makes the world so beautiful, and how to find the power within
A pioneering force in the forward movement of trans visibility, Leyna Bloom burst into flames in the fashion and entertainment realms with her incredible bravery to just be. In a society that struggles with understanding and accepting the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, remaining true to one’s self despite the world’s hostility is a sign of unique strength; she was built differently, one that is meant to disrupt and ignite change.
Leyna opened necessary conversations and represented the community that was often neglected. Her groundbreaking role of giving a voice and face validated underrepresented individuals in society. She’s given the world some firsts in trans representation that launched many routes for broader acceptance and inclusion, but considers being one of the 13 transgender women on a magazine cover in 2014 a moment in her career that brings her the most considerable sense of triumph.
“I’ve been mostly using the Philippines as a form of refuge, honestly—a form of healing, solitude, a space to reflect and be with my family, my culture, and understand where I’m at in the world,” she says about her time in the country. During her stay, she also taught a couple of classes: one about confidence, building self-esteem, and understanding the value of the power of just becoming, and another about the history of Ballroom.
How has your prominence influenced or shaped the discussions about trans acceptance and visibility?
“It started to allow people to start thinking differently. If you go back to the early 2000s, to the 90s, to the 80s, trans women were not considered humans. They were considered women of the night. They were considered sexual objects to be devoured and also destroyed, and also murdered and killed. We were a comedic push for society and movies and television. We were on TV shows worldwide as, ‘Oh, this is funny! This is a man that wants to be a woman!’
“Being the first trans leaders to come into fashion and entertainment, and not be sexual objects, but to be educators. To be a person that is not only just beautiful to look at but also intellectually to speak with. I think when you add beauty and brains, you understand the value of intersections of everything in life because you live in duality. That is a powerful combination. So, whatever you do, wherever you go, people are not just seeing a new kind of human. We’re being able to communicate ourselves differently that’s never been done before. And I feel like in the contract of man and woman, and being so divided outside of reproduction, you have someone in the middle that takes up both, balancing everything out.
“To me, I think that this is what we’ve been needing in the human race and human evolution for many years. But why has it taken so long? Why, when every time we see someone that dares to do something different that is just so natural, effortless, and pure, why do we bring so much hate towards that? Why do we fetishize it so much but don’t respect it?
“I think in the last 10 years, which is the only time that we’ve had representation for the first time in the entire human race, we’re still trying to figure it out because it’s the first time it’s ever happened. So, the conversation is never going to be, ‘This is good!’ We still need to live a little bit more to add to the conversation because we’re still learning about each other. We’ve been the ones that have been in the background watching everyone else, watching the straight people, watching the gay people, watching the rich, watching the poor. And now, we are part of the conversation, and people are learning from us. There’s no blueprint or book on how to do it. We’re writing the book right now.”
We’ve had some progress, but unfortunately, some setbacks as well. What changes would you like to see in how society perceives and treats transgender people now?
“Particularly in the Philippines, what is truly powerful is the fact that queer people, trans people, and gay people have been part of the triumphs of so many stars here. We’ve been the hair, makeup, runway coach, coordinator, creative director, judge, designer, photographer. We’ve been behind the scenes. We have all these other talented people that are equally talented and self-made. Why are they not on the cover? Why are they not given more spotlight? Why are they the ones in the background? You guys are the ones showing up to our drag shows. You guys are talking our language. But why are we not on the covers speaking our own language? We are in the background doing your hair, doing your makeup, making sure your gowns are cinched, and making sure that you understand the culture and what’s happening in the world. We are the ones that mold them, but we are the ones that are forgotten at the end of the day.
“So, I think that’s what we need to be doing: giving homage to the history of the legacy that we have bestowed upon this culture worldwide. There’s so much power in representation. Why did it take so long? We’ve been here forever. We’ve been your ates and your kuyas forever, but you’re now starting to recognize us because you’re realizing that your power is not really powerful. The people that have been here supporting you are really the most powerful because they’re the real innovators.
“That’s something that we don’t really pay attention to in society. As queer people, we are led with love and kindness because we have been neglected of love and kindness. So, we have given our power to those people for so many years, and we need to start taking back our power. I think that needs to change.”
Speaking of power, what advice would you give transgender people in the Philippines who have yet to discover their power? How did you find yours?
“The first thing is don’t give up on yourself. Instinctively, you know that there’s something inside you that is your calling. You know, instinctively, naturally, we don’t listen to that inner person a lot. And for me, I listened to that person so much, and I mastered my design because I listened to that person. And I’ve made a rich legacy because of that. And every time I meet a Filipino person, or queer person, a trans person, or any person, it doesn’t matter the gifts you were born with; it’s about knowing who you are. It’s about understanding who you are. You can’t figure out who you are by being around a bunch of people. You have to be in solitude to understand how sacred you are. You have to be able to go into your own mind. You have to be able to go into your own soul and rearrange that furniture and make it look beautiful from the inside before you bring it out. That might take some time.
“We live in a society where everyone is copying each other. Everyone is trying to be better at each other. And it’s just all starting to look the same to me. It’s all starting to taste the same to me. Where’s the originality, the nuances? Back in the day, before social media, you really had to do something completely different than everyone else to really stand out. You probably went crazy sometimes trying to figure that out, and that crazy is good, you know? So I would say to anybody that’s trying to figure out who they are, be stuck with yourself for a little bit and get to know who you really are and not what they tell you who you are. Once you start listening to everyone else, you lose who you are, that magic, and that unique quality of life you can bring to this earth.”
From trans woman model Tracey de la Cruz: How do you handle fame as a transgender woman?
“I don’t handle it; it handles me. No, I’m just kidding. I look at myself as a person that should be revered. I don’t sell my soul. I look at myself as like, ‘I deserve this.’ I earned my spot. I waited my turn, and I earned my spot. And that’s what it’s about. You gotta wait your turn.
“Anybody right now that’s doing great, they’re already ahead of their time, so everyone else has to catch up. So, just be the best version of yourself and work on that. Take your hormones. Figure out who you want to be, find inspirations, but you be your first inspiration.”
From trans woman model Nella Johnson: What can you say to younger Leyna?
“Take your hormones. I really love being the light of femininity. I love the fact that I was born this way. I also loved the fact that I was masculine—I loved it. But I instinctively knew who I was, listened to it, and wanted to be the best version of myself. It took me a while to figure it out because I was listening to this person and that person, or don’t do that because they’re going to hurt you. I would be who I am regardless of what anyone else says. So, take your hormones, girl!”
From trans woman gender equality and HIV+ advocate Janlee Dunca: How is it like experiencing international struggles of being trans and being a person of color—especially in a white-dominant country like the US? Do you experience the same here in the Philippines, and to what degree?
“I was born at a time when there was no representation. I was born at a time when there was no social media. You couldn’t hashtag something and figure it out. I had to go into the community and speak to the leaders about where I could access hormone therapy and, you know, someone to help me figure myself out. It can be very, very frustrating, you know? And it’s also very hard here in the Philippines. You know how slow it is here for representation. Like, why has it taken so damn long?
“When I first came back to the Philippines, I dealt with a lot of racism. I remember I did a job here, and the client didn’t like my skin tone, so she lightened it for the spread we did together. It really hurt me to know that the skin that I was born in was not considered beautiful. That’s why my mom didn’t want me to be raised here in the Philippines. I can tell you this: racism in the States is deadly, but the psychology of racism is equally the same here.”
From award-winning trans woman director Rod Singh: What is the hardest part of being trans in the industry?
“I think the hardest part of being trans in the industry is the fact that you have more talent, sometimes more than everyone in the room, and you’re still waiting your time to just speak. Why won’t they pass me the mic?”
From Queer nightlife queen and trailblazing trans woman model Xtina Superstar: What’s your favorite Filipino dish and why?
“Oh, I love lumpia. The crispiness of the first bite! It’s a masterpiece.”
From the first trans woman news anchor and the first trans woman to win Best Supporting Actress in the country, KaladKaren: As a trans Pinay, what is the best thing about having Filipino roots?
“When I first started learning about my identity, I realized that so many countries around the world took boats to come here, and they knew the riches we have. They have learned from us. They have taken our information and knowledge and spread it across the world. There must be power in the blood. There must be power in the soil. There must be power and strength in the people. That’s something that I’ve always felt in my soul.
“When you see a Filipino smile, when you see a Filipino cook, when you see a Filipino love, they do it with every fiber of their being. That’s why I don’t understand why there’s hate and racism. We are natural lovers. We are natural healers. I don’t understand why we lust over so much white power or white ways of thinking when we are naturally rooted in love.”
Photography BELG BELGICA
Styling GEE JOCSON
Makeup JANICA CLETO
Hair BRYAN EUSEBIO and MARKARVIN PATIAG