Cara Cooper: "There are no rules. There’s no book or manual on being trans."

Cara Cooper: "There are no rules. There’s no book or manual on being trans."
Cara Cooper for The Girls Book Issue 01 (photography by Texas Isaiah)

Cara was the first girl to introduce me to a "dolphin shower." She came fresh off a dolphin shower for the day of the photoshoot for issue 01 of The Girls Book. "It's when I shave my whole body in the shower and come out smooth like a dolphin," she explained. And it was worth all the effort. The model, dancer, and actress came alive in front of the camera, and the camera lived for her too. She's come a long way since her days in Ohio and has shed the expectations of her hometown. We sat down with Cara to talk about all the different ways to be trans, dating, and refusing to wear Timberlands when she was a kid. Read more below.

Kai: Tell us who you are, and how you identify. Who is Cara?

Cara: I'm Cara Cooper. I am a proud black trans woman, and my pronouns are she/her. I grew up in a very small, conservative farm town in Ohio. When I was 20, I moved to Los Angeles and found a new world. I didn’t even really know what trans was like or what that meant until I moved to LA. It felt like home, and that’s when I started my journey to finding myself.

Kai: It's amazing what the right environment can do for you, especially as you transition. Were there specific trans people that had an impact on you?

Cara: Gigi Gorgeous for sure. I was following her even before I moved to LA and was in awe of this angel, this gorgeous human who was unabashedly herself. Julie Vu, too, she’s on YouTube as well. YouTube was a great place to dive into these people’s lives and learn from them without ever meeting them.

I feel happier every day that I feel closer to who I truly am. That’s the goal at the end of the day.

Kai: It’s crazy how the internet has changed how we all connect and witness different models of transness. It's not just the bombshell passing girls anymore. Speaking of the internet, I love your Instagram bio, “It’s not your job to like me. It’s mine.”

Cara: One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you have to live for yourself even if it hurts people around you or they don’t understand you. It’s one of my favorite quotes because it’s my job to like what I’m doing and who I’m becoming. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that my living feels true to myself.

Kai: And that’s a big part of transness and transitioning too because you're going through that process of relearning how to love yourself in all the ways you didn't like yourself before. It’s this total mental reconfiguration.

Cara: Absolutely. There are parts of ourselves we had to push down like our femininity or our emotions. To be able to embrace that now takes work and time. There also doesn’t have to be one version of you. You can be someone today and be completely different tomorrow. And that’s celebrated in our community.

Kai: Becoming is forever. One of the most common pieces of advice I get from other girls is to take your time. How do you take your time?

Cara Cooper for The Girls Book Issue 01 (photography by Texas Isaiah)

Cara: I was only on hormones for two months and was a disaster when I started. I was so mean. My mood was all over the place. I gained weight quickly. I used to be stick thin and all of a sudden I had this big gut.

Kai: Oh my God, estrogen gut. I’m going through that now.

Cara: It all happened so fast. It wasn’t worth it to me to feel that miserable. I stopped after two months. It’s been five years, and I’m taking my time with that. Not every trans girl has to be on hormones. It helps some girls, but it didn’t work for me. I’ve had my boobs done and a little bit of work done to my face. I’m completely happy with where I’m at now. One of the most important parts of transitioning is there’s no one way to do it.

Kai: I love that you mentioned that because hormones aren’t for every trans girl. I remember my dad asking me if I would get surgery when I first told him I was transitioning and I explained to him that it’s not a package deal. The gender self-care routine looks different for everyone. It’s about what empowers you.

Cara: There are no rules. There’s no book or manual on being trans. I feel happier every day that I feel closer to who I truly am. That’s the goal at the end of the day.

Kai: The butterfly metamorphoses of the dolls. I'm glad I didn't peak in high school.

Cara: That's the thing. I feel like I'm getting better with age and feeling more comfortable and beautiful. A lot of us missed out on adolescent things like going to prom or wearing what we wanted to graduation, even dating. So it feels exciting to go through that now and be a little wiser. We’re playing catch-up but in a good way.

Kai: We learned all the rules, and now we can have fun. I want to talk about dating though because girl…I’m at a loss. Am I going to have a boyfriend?

Cara: That’s how a lot of us feel. In my case, there’s this pool of men I’m attracted to. Then there’s a smaller pool of men who are attracted to trans women. Then there’s an even smaller pool of men who like you for you, and it’s not a chaser or someone seeing you as a fetish. Even in this huge city, there are not many options. But I’ve also gotten more love from my friends. I feel fulfilled in all the ways a romantic relationship would make me feel. Then, I can go date and have fun and feel fulfilled there. Find love in your friendships and family and the right person will come along.

Kai: I want to touch on what you mentioned about being biracial. I'm also biracial - half Japanese and half white - and that's complicated things throughout my journey of figuring out who I am and which community do I belong to?

How has that side of your identity informed your transness?

Not having boobs, a BBL, or not taking hormones doesn’t make you any less trans.

Cara: Since I was little, especially growing up in a predominantly white city, I felt like I had to like hide my blackness. I wouldn't wear certain clothes, or I didn't want my hair a certain way. As kids, we just want to fit in. It took me a long time, but I finally embraced that side of myself. But I never felt Black enough for Black people or white enough for white people.

It’s the same with transness. I'm not female enough for straight men or even cis women. But then at the same time, I'm not one of the gay boys. I'm right in the middle.

It’s nice to find a community in that in-between. That brings people together. We are all a mixing pot of everything and embracing all the different parts of yourself is really cool.

My mom still jokes about how she tried to put me in FUBU and Timberlands, and I wasn’t having it. It took being myself and seeing true diversity - not just on TV. Walking down the street and seeing people that are a different type of person all around you.

It's okay not to be in one group specifically. Be you. Be a mixture of everything and embrace all sides of it.

Cara Cooper for The Girls Book Issue 01 (photography by Texas Isaiah)

Kai: It makes sense that a lot of us feel at home in the trans community because it’s not black or white. It’s a mixing pot of different identities, walks of life, versions of transness, race, gender, and sexualities.

Daphne especially is a person in LA creating that kind of community for the dolls.

Cara: Daphne means so much to me because she opened up this whole world. I had already transitioned and done my whole thing, but I didn't really have trans friends. As I met more trans girls, oh my God. It was everything I've always wanted but didn't know. Just those little things that we all deal with that no one else does. You don't have to explain yourself, and the connections are on such a deeper level.

I thank Daphne all the time. I'm sure she's sick of it, but she changed so many of the girls' lives here.

Kai: She's like the mother of LA for real. I don’t want to age her but in that sense of being a caretaker.

Cara: I always try to remind her of that too.

Kai: And Jolene, To be in that environment with the girls felt affirming in many different ways. My brain was firing in so many different places.

Cara: It's such a safe space. Gay bars in LA are that; they're gay bars. And they're gay central, but to have a space where we can just be the dolls, it's celebrated. A true safe space for trans girls and pretty much everyone nonbinary.

Kai: By and for the dolls. What have been some tips and tricks that you picked up on the way in terms of transitioning?

Cara: Advice I've given to a couple of girls recently, is to just take your time. When you come to the realization of being trans, there are all the possibilities in front of you that you can get done. If I had done everything that I’ve had done now when I was 20, I would've chosen way different results. I would’ve wanted to go with huge boobs and that would’ve changed who I am now. So many amazing things will happen that will alter your life that it doesn’t have to happen all today.

Not having boobs, a BBL, or not taking hormones doesn’t make you any less trans.

Of course, if you want boobs, there are those chicken cutlets. I would stack two or three, put 'em in a bra, and push my skin together. That saved my life for years.

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