Breaking barriers isn’t something new to the transgender model, actress and activist Leyna Bloom. In fact, you could say it’s in her blood. The native of Chicago was the first Black and Asian trans woman to be featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, and the first trans woman of color to star in a feature film—Port Authority—at the Cannes Film Festival. The film, which opened in theaters and streaming services last week, is a story of two star-crossed lovers—Paul (played by Fionn Whitehead), a white homeless guy, and Rye (played by Bloom), a fierce trans woman of color on the ballroom voguing scene—and the perils of leading a double life.
Before she headed off for a spell in Paris with hopes of mirroring the footsteps of the legendary Josephine Baker, one of her idols, EBONY chatted with the 'Pose' queen about her voguing skills, how walking with pride is a family matter, and how queer culture has seeped into everyone's daily lives, whether they realize it or not.
EBONY: You’re used to performing as a dancer, but when did you decide you were interested in acting and how did you go about that process?
Leyna Bloom: Honestly, I just always felt like there are so many amazing stories in the world that I love and that I could also tell from my unique experience. I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to work. And it’s not just acting for me. The fact that I can go out into the world and be fortunate enough to take up space to do anything…there aren’t many places where I can do that. I hope that I’m challenging and inviting people to write and see things differently.
In Port Authority, there was a detectable level of comfort. What is your technique when it’s time to step in front of the camera and what are your thoughts on the importance of visibility?
I think my approach is rooted in patience, understanding the emotions that I need to evoke and how I can be empathic to them. In a sense, we’ve all been brainwashed to view things in black and white or only these two genders or this specific sexuality. We’ve all been boxed in, but I’m a combination of many things, so I feel like it’s my responsibility to be a beacon of light. It’s a heavy load to carry, but I understand when people are exposed to something new, it may scare you. The same goes for me when I’m faced with anything that makes me uncomfortable; however, I respect all walks of life. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re taking steps towards acceptance.
Do you still dance?
I do! I feel like it’s still present in how I walk, just a significance in my lines and form. I hope to do more projects that involve body movement, whether that’s combat or dance. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to in my acting career.
Your "glam ma" used to be a beauty queen, correct? What have you learned from and about her?
My great-grandmother, yes. Both of her parents died when she was young, so she was an orphan. She really didn’t have a sense of identity. She just knew that she was Black through different fragments like her hair, skin tone and how the world saw her. She just did the best she could. When she was more seasoned in her life, she opened a dance school on the South Side of Chicago for young Black girls. At that time, women were taught and celebrated to be wives and nothing else. Her school had etiquette classes and focused on self-respect. So, she passed down that down to her daughters, who passed it that down to my father, who passed that down to me.
For quite some time, terms that are popular in the gay community have found their way into pop culture and everyday vocabulary. What are your thoughts on the slang being adapted?
It stems from the legacy of folks who have been marginalized. We’re just using what’s been left over to create magic. Here’s a community of people who have created their own language. I mean because the culture on its own cannot exist without queer culture. There’s a vibrancy—especially in Black and brown bodies—it’s inherent. Anyone who catches a glimpse, is going to want to take it in and find a little spark within themselves. It’s in the music; it’s like food. Imagine tasting someone’s famous dish—you want to know the recipe, right? Your body is reacting to something that’s giving you happiness. Sometimes people think “Oh you’re queer, your life must be so hard and sad.” Actually, no. I’m queer and I’m happy.
Do you think having to kick into survival mode for so many reasons give people the impression that there’s this angst and gloom instead of hope?
Well, survival is definitely the antidote to the magic. Period.
Catch a glimpse of the trailer for Port Authority, below