We have to work twice as hard in order for us to exist in a space of our own. Yes, we may have a triple threat but if anyone can handle it, it’s us.
You may have already heard of her, but Gizelle Messina is a Los Angeles-based makeup artist for M·A·C Cosmetics who is making waves within the trans community. Messina recently was featured in the SHOWTIME documentary More than T and like many trans women, she has overcome challenges and built a powerful platform.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Wear Your Voice: How did this documentary first come about for you and what were your thoughts going into it?
Gizelle Messina: The documentary was a project created by M·A·C to continue its passion for people who don’t have a voice. M·A·C already had a campaign that started in 1994 to help support men, women and children with HIV. $1.8 million out of that fund was used for the documentary. I saw a flyer posted in the break room and I had to meditate on it because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with it. I wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be a lot of heavy editing because I wanted to make sure it was my voice.
WYV: Being a visible trans woman can be hard for many. How did you find the courage to step into your own truth and live authentically?
GM: It’s something that I still battle every day. For me it was almost like boot camp being that I had to transition while managing a store in Century City. It was tough but it definitely helped me thicken my skin more than it already was just from growing up and not being able to identify [as] who I was. Having to go to work every day and claiming my authentic self and demanding that people respect me for who I was, helped [me] curate strength. Even today, when I leave my home I get anxiety. We never know what’s going to happen when we’re out there. But I would rather go out in the street and take that chance; just going out and demanding your respect. You may not agree with it but I’m walking. Being a black trans woman, it’s imbedded in us because of the type of community we are in.
WYV: If you could give one piece of advice, what would you say to all the trans girls out there who look like you and may share some of your experiences?
[TW- mention of sexual assault]
GM: Trust the journey. I never knew I would be here. I’m in a very interesting space. Anything is possible; know your brilliance and find out who you are. A breaking point for me was after I was raped. It broke me so severely, but in breaking me it made me look inward. I tried to honestly learn who Gizelle was. I just kept going not knowing where it was leading me and I’m so fortunate that this journey has led me to the place where I’m having a conversation with you. You never know what we’re supposed to do. You just have to take it day by day and know that you have a purpose.
WYV: Statistically, black transgender women face the highest rates of discrimination. What are some experiences you have faced as a triple minority at the intersections of being black, trans and a woman and how did you overcome them?
GM: Discrimination is an everyday experience for me. What has helped me in all of these instances was education, information, and challenging everything that has been said to me. We have to work twice as hard in order for us to exist in a space of our own. Yes, we may face a triple threat but if anyone can handle it, it’s us. We’re here and we’re here to stay.
WYV: I watched your interview with Simone Digital in which you said that you identify as black but you were raised in a multiracial household with a white mother and black father. Did you have any racial identity struggles growing up and how did you learn to overcome them?
GM: Growing up as a black child with [multiracial] parents was interesting. When my dad left my mother, he married a woman who was more European than my Italian American mother. There was the challenge of not being black enough; being biracial how dedicated to my African heritage was I honestly? What I found as I grew up, was that if I just stayed truthful to who I was and not let anyone define me, I always felt comfortable.
The more I learned about the greatness of my melanin, heritage and culture, the easier it was for me to stand up as a colored person with pride. While I don’t negate having an Italian American mother, I don’t know what it’s like to be Italian American. I live as a person of colored experience. I become very defensive when someone calls me mixed. I’m not a measuring cup. I’m a whole person from two parents and I operate from a duality space. It’s very clear I will never live the experience of my mother who lives in a white space.
WYV: Present visibility for trans women of color is being pioneered with women like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Amiyah Scott and yourself–what is the significance of media representation for the trans community and what does it give for trans people who may be feeling alone in their struggle?
GM: We express ourselves through unfair beauty standards that we’ve all kind of bought into about specific ways of being a woman. I think Hollywood should be very careful in the ways trans women of color are represented. There’s a lot of shortcomings that can come from that. It’s very important that trans women of color have someone to look up to. If I can give the viewer any advice, it’s that it doesn’t matter how you identify visually. You can be any woman you want to be. You don’t always have to be in the sexy category. Hollywood screens are something nice to look at for story-telling purposes but shouldn’t define you.
I hope that Laverne, Janet, myself and Amiyah can keep advocating for our community and let them all know that you don’t have to look like us. You do share the same strengths as us. The fight we fight is the same fight that you fight. We are fighting with you. We are fighting beside you. It doesn’t separate us or make us unattainable that you can only view from the outside.
WYV: Now that you have been featured in a documentary about your personal narrative, what does the next milestone look like? Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
GM: With M·A·C, my career goal is to be a senior artist, represent the brand globally and be backstage creating the look for pop-culture. I want to make history with M·A·C as the first senior artist who is a trans woman of color. I want to become a character on a Lee Daniels show. I want to continue working on projects where I can present myself as a non-conventional personality in Hollywood. I want to run with creating my own image. Ultimately, I just want to be me.
More Than T premiered on SHOWTIME Friday, June 23rd and is available to stream on SHOWTIME On Demand.
Featured Image: via SHOWTIME