“Do I see myself as an older man or older woman?” This was the defining question Carmen Carrera confronted at the age of 25. UC Riverside’s diverse students formed a lengthy line outside HUB 302 this past Wednesday evening to gain an understanding of Carrera’s journey as a transgender model and how she made the decision that entirely altered her life.

Presented by ASPB, “On the Runway with Carmen Carrera,” allowed students to recognize and understand more about the LGBT community, while inspiring and aiding many in learning about themselves. Students sat in rows of chairs, which lined the large room, as they enthusiastically awaited the appearance of Carrera.

The audience’s attention was immediately captivated by Carrera’s beautiful, empowering presence as she began to dissect her life for us. “Right before I got in the shower, I wrapped my shirt around my head to pretend it was my hair; I would try on my mom’s eyeliner and her Avon lipstick samples,” she humorously reminisced upon her more adventurous moments as a child. Her personal sense of humor never faltered to entertain us — if modeling no longer interested her, she could seriously pursue a career in stand-up comedy — but she used that as an advantage to address more serious situations.

“It would sink in that I would have to live my life as a boy, while this dream of waking up the next day as a woman was not a reality, a possibility for me,” Carrera expressed. Her negative mindset was established as a result of the close-mindedness of her peers while she was growing up in New Jersey. Many of the audience members sympathized with Carrera as she went on to relate how she “created an invisibility cloak, where the inner person was hiding.” She comforted students by revealing that she understands the feeling of being forced to stay in a shell to protect yourself from your peers.

Although Carrera found it difficult to unveil herself from the false character she had been presenting when she was younger, she discussed how moving to New York City and joining the photography club in college had allowed her to finally accumulate the experience and knowledge she needed to eventually transition. Visiting numerous gay clubs in New York opened Carrera up to the lifestyle of drag queens, which led to her own participation in drag shows and eventually her participation in the third season of “Rupaul’s Drag Race,” a reality television competition. She originally used drag as her “feminine outlet,” but felt that “it wasn’t real.”

“I’m interested in finding out if it’s a possibility; if I can still transition at 25 years old,” Carrera confessed to her husband, Adrian. After discovering that it is possible to transition at any age, Carrera embarked on an entirely new path as she managed the process of changing her body chemistry while “going through a whole other puberty and dealing with the chemical changes in (her) mind.” A difficult part of transitioning was not only understanding the hormonal changes in her body, but also refraining from seeking approval and validation for what she was so passionate about — womanhood. After two decades of shielding herself from the judgment of others, she “realized that after coming out and following (her) heart, everything was still there and standing, which gave (her) the boost of courage to keep going.”

Since the completion of her transition, Carrera began to advocate for transgender people to be accepted in every field as she delved into her own career of modeling. She sought the support of millions, who were immediately inspired by her fearlessness as she thanked them for giving her the confidence to pursue her own ambitions and promote LGBT equality. “We definitely deserve to be equal and to have a happy life on our own terms,” she addressed to the audience. Carrera values her role as a source of support to many as she acknowledges that “someone out there is going to be inspired and make a change in their life, and that’s going to be because of me.”

At the close of Carrera’s lecture, audience members eagerly raced to line up for a meet-and-greet with the stunning and inspirational figure. After snapping a quick picture and chatting for a bit with her, students speedily huddled together again to fangirl over the moment they shared with her. Carrera is surely someone uplifting as she continuously reminds us to “not try to please everyone around you.” It is no wonder that such a large crowd of supporters came out to cheer on her success and efforts towards LGBT equality.