After last Monday's episode of the TLC reality show "Cake Boss" aired, Carmen Carrera unexpectedly found herself at the center of a controversy.
As Huffington Post Gay Voices reported Tuesday, Carrera, a transgender woman best known for competing on season three of "RuPaul's Drag Race," hoped that appearing on "Cake Boss," as part of a prank on the show's star Cousin Anthony, would be a positive moment of visibility for the trans community.
Instead, after seeing the edited footage of what she describes as an offensive "Jerry Springer, 'That's a man!'"-type reveal on television, she took to Facebook to express her anger at the show's ignorance and a petition calling for a public apology was circulated on Change.org on her behalf.
Since then, "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastero has apologized to the Carrera and TLC confirmed to GLAAD that they immediately removed the episode from rotation and are reviewing the content to see whether it could be reintroduced following edits. Still, many unanswered questions remained.
"I was excited and then when it all happened, right when Buddy was like 'That’s a man, baby!’ I just got so mad," Carrera told The Huffington Post in an interview on Thursday afternoon.
"I specifically told them what terminology to use, why I was doing the show, why I was going along with this," Carrera said of the long car ride from Manhattan to Hoboken she spent with the show's producers outlining what would occur during filming. "I want to send out a message of equality and of acceptance and I was excited to be working on a show that wasn’t necessarily aimed at an LGBT audience,” she said. They assured her, "We’re a family show, we would never do that to you -- we respect you as a woman."
To viewers it seemed as though Carrera was willingly taking part in a obviously transphobic prank, but she attributes this to editing. "I’ve worked in reality television before, they have all that footage, they can play out the scene however they want to play out the scene. I was gonna flirt with him, it was gonna be a reveal, because supposedly he was a womanizer or whatever, and it was gonna be a reveal: ‘Yeah, she’s transgender, she was born male... whatever, whatever.’ And when we taped it, in the club, it wasn’t like he freaked out and had this whole thing and ran out," she said.
"He was shocked, but I was right there and he shook my hand. We were hanging out -- this was all is on tape! We filmed that scene of people coming together, regardless of if I was transgender or not. You didn’t see any of that, that’s why I was so upset!” Carrera added.
She also explained how "networks promote this thing where transgender people are trying to trick people. What the show portrayed is how I'm trying to prank him into believing that I was a real woman just to say 'Ha! Ha! The jokes on him,' and that makes me look like I'm really a dude and that's not what I was going for. They didn’t show that I explained on camera that transgender women should be respected just as women, period."
Amidst the negative reaction from Carrera and her supporters, Valastero reached out to her personally. "He called my cell phone and he was like, 'Listen I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to be malicious, it wasn’t meant to disrespect.' And I explained to him that it was disrespectful." She continued, "I told [the show] I’m only going to agree to do this if you guys edit it properly, if it plays out like it should.'" According to Carrera, Valastero responded, "They never told me anything, I feel so bad. Can I make you a cake?"
Rather than an accept a gift or an apology, Carrera told Valastero how the situation could be remedied.
"What I want you to do is call your editors at TLC and I want you to re-edit that episode the way it came out. I want them to play out the scene the way we had filmed it, the way I had signed up for. I want you to show the footage of us being united as straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, hanging out together and it's fine. That's the message: we can all just live as one, it doesn't have to be so split up! That's what I want you to do."
Carrera hopes that they will heed her advice. "I still do want to send out a message of equality and of acceptance," she said.
This isn't the first time that Carrera has been exposed to ignorance regarding her transgender identity. When she was beginning her transition, at the end of filming for "RuPaul's Drag Race," she had encountered people who said, "Oh, but, you're born a man, so you're always gonna be a man, so why do you want to be called a woman?"
"They don't understand that you go through this process because in my mind, this is how I feel the most comfortable," she explained. "I could have stayed an unhappy, cute-looking boy if I wanted to, but I wasn't happy, I wasn't whole and this, for me, makes me feel whole, makes me feel right. So I did it, it feels good, and I feel like I deserve respect. It's not a big deal -- call me a she instead of a he!"
Carrera says she wanted to use the public recognition gained from "RuPaul's Drag Race" to educate people about the process. "What you see out there usually is a lot of girls who have already transitioned. But for me, people have seen me as a boy [on "Drag Race"]. You go through that awkward stage where you look androgynous and you feel ugly and I put it out there! If you go through my Facebook, you see the awkward stages," she said. "I went through it, and I pushed myself through it and I want people to know that it was a hard journey. I feel like people need to see that so they can see the process and how difficult it is."
Carrera is married to a man who was with her throughout the transition and the couple has a child together. The transition hasn't been completely without strain, however. Carrera explained, "Once you transition, it’s kind of a touchy subject because some people feel that you’re not a drag queen anymore. I don’t know how [LOGO, the network that aired "Drag Race"] actually feel[s] about it, but transgender drag performers have been around just as long as drag queens, period. That's someting that hasn’t really been spoken about. For me, a drag queen is someone who entertains regardless. I mean, I've been a drag queen since I was like 18. I'm 27 now. Just because I'm transitioning I feel like it shouldn't be taken away from me."
And her relationship with RuPaul? "Hopefully I will be able to work with her again. She’s been around the drag scene forever. I'm pretty sure she knows that there are transgender drag queen performers. She’s always been really nice to me, really sweet to me, she’s kind of always been a mentor," Carrera said. "If I ever had a question about something, she’s done it all. When I started 'Drag Race' I was this naive young little boy and now I feel like I’ve grown up so much and I still have a lot of growing to do."