“When I got Rent off-Broadway in 2011, I just got to be myself and actually go on my journey through my art,” said Mj Rodriguez as she sat on a panel at Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit on Sunday. “I could live out my truest dreams, which is completely being me in front of everyone and not being afraid. I’m stepping into who I am as a strong, Black trans woman and I’m not going back.”
The panel was the Pose star’s second major event of the past week, after she appeared as the keynote speaker at George Washington University’s 5th Annual Diversity Summit in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Olay Body. Rodriguez is the beauty brand’s first trans-Latinx ambassador (Laverne Cox is a fellow brand ambassador); it is also her first-ever beauty campaign.
“When they called me, I screamed on the phone, because Olay is one of the leading forces in beauty,” she told the Cut. “I was like ‘oh my god, am I really being considered for this, am I worthy?’”
“For starters, I’ve never been able to be considered for a partnership like this,” she continued. “A lot of girls like myself—trans women—we don’t get the opportunity to have open dialogue, let alone be in partnership with organizations like this...As a woman, as a black or Latina or trans woman, we have to constantly give words of affirmation to ourselves. It’s just hard for us.”
Representation matters and Pose has been a game-changer for a demographic accustomed to being exploited but rarely celebrated. As Rodriguez expressed to Glamour’s summit audience, growing up, “there wasn’t a lot of representation for young African American trans women.” In lieu of a reflection, she instead settled for finding role models in characters from Will & Grace and Noah’s Arc. “It made me feel included at a young age,” she said, further driving home exactly why being part of television’s largest cast of trans actors (and crew, producers, writers, and directors) should only be the beginning.
“When there are shows that are educational and entertaining, you should cast people who have been through those experiences so they can tell the story right,” said Rodriguez.
In her partnership with Olay Body, Rodriguez embarked on the brand’s 14-Day Skin Transformation, using exclusively Olay Body’s Ultra Moisture with Shea Butter for two weeks. While a simple, universally appealing challenge, the inclusion of Rodriguez bears significance to the community she represents.
“I just want people out there to love, inspire, live, be happy, be confident,” she told Elle of the partnership. “To the young kids out there: Thrive, be hopeful, and fight for a positive cause. It’s important we shed light on the deaths of the young African American trans women out there, and we stop it and constantly keep fighting. That’s why it’s important to have partnerships like this with Olay [Body] because it gives young individuals out there hope to see that there are women like myself being able to do these things and being able to strive and being able to live. In order for the violence, in order for all those things to stop, there has to be a physical face out there to show that we can actually thrive and live and be happy—and not just survive.”
Celebrating her new milestone on Instagram, Rodriquez echoed the sentiment:
“I am so thankful to have the opportunity to show other trans women of color everywhere that they are seen and that they are worthy.”