Chelsea has come a long way since escaping her religious cult and saying goodbye to her parents. She had to choose herself, and the price she paid was cutting ties with her family. Since leaving her small hometown in Central California, Chelsea's blossomed. The performer is part of the Babiedollz which travels all around Southern California to serve gags. Her wish? To have a reality TV show for pole dancing. Get to Chelsea in our conversation about God, when to disclose your transness, and the power of affirmations.
Kai: Tell me who you are, your name, how you identify, whether that's pronouns, a profession, or another identity. Who is Chelsea?
Chelsea: My full name is Chelsea Mendez. I'm from Central California. My pronouns are she/her.
Kai: You are a part of the Jolene crew, right?
Chelsea: Yeah. I performed with Jolene once. Probably going to work with them a little bit more, but mainly I came into the scene with the baby dolls, and it's been a little bit more than a year now.
Honestly, I've met so many great people from it. I'm so thankful that I got the opportunity to come out here.
Kai: And dancing and burlesque, is that something you've always been doing?
Chelsea: I've been dancing ever since I was in high school. I never thought that I would land a profession in it. And yet, here I am. It is pole dancing. We do burlesque as well, and we perform at clubs, stretching from Long Beach to downtown LA and Whittier. The girls even go up north to North Hollywood to perform at Cobras. We also do Heavenly Bodies at Chapel in West Hollywood.
We're pretty much all over the place.
Kai: It seems like there's a big community of the girls here who are in that world.
Chelsea: LA is special, I have to say. I've lived all over California, and there isn't as strong a sisterhood as we have here in SoCal. It's remarkable, really. A lot of the girls come from a place like mine where there wasn't a lot of representation of trans women.
It wasn't until we got out here that we were stunned to see that there are a lot of people that share the same journey.
Kai: We all made it to LA. How did you get into dancing?
Chelsea: I started back in high school. That was a turning point in my life where I had so much energy I needed to do something.
I naturally gravitated toward dance because I love music. I was self-taught. I had a job as a choreographer a long time ago making choreography for weddings and stuff like that back in the Central Valley.
Kai: That's amazing. I also used to be a dancer many lifetimes ago so I can relate to the power of communicating with your body. It’s such a powerful thing.
Were you out as trans in high school?
Chelsea: No. Back then I didn't even know what I was. My world back then was about, “how do I cover this up today?”, and me liking boys. I didn't have the time to look deep inside and ask why.
I grew up in a cult. Every day was about, “how can I keep this a secret?” Back then, I regarded myself as a gay person. There wasn’t much trans representation from the small little town where I was from. I didn’t know what trans was like until I was 20, to be honest.
Kai: There's almost like the gay to non-binary/queer to trans pipeline where we all start off, and we think we’re femme boys.
When you were coming into your transness, did you have any specific people that you saw as role models?
Chelsea: It wasn’t until season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race that I saw Carmen Carerra. Iconic. I read up on her and found out that she had surgery. I didn’t realize you could do that. My world was shattered.
I had to take a deeper inspection into it. I loved to wear women’s clothing, and it felt so right.
Kai: When discussing with yourself, did you think about trying drag, or was it straight to “I'm trans.”
Chelsea: There was a little drag here and there because of what I used to do. My debut was when I picked out a whole outfit, bought hella makeup, and got a wig, shoes, and everything ready. I told all my friends I was gonna dress up and go to the club. It was a whole thing.
But I didn’t stop there. I didn’t consider drag after that because I wanted to go and have from. Soon enough, it was every day that I was wearing those clothes and putting on makeup and hair.
You just can’t go back to wearing God-awful men’s jeans.
Kai: Oh my God. I haven’t worn jeans in forever. So you grew up in Central California, and then moved to LA for school? Or was there another reason you came out here?
Chelsea: I came out here for work. I was working with a marketing company. We were managing a couple of Facebook pages with lots of likes, and we also had our own website called God Fruits, and that's where I had a job as an editor.
I would write between 10 to 20 articles a day. I was making it happen.
What were you writing about? Yeah, I was. Girl, it was all like, Godly shit.
Thousands of people read those articles, and all these Christian never knew that a trans girl was writing them.
Kai: What were you writing about?
Chelsea: Girl, it was all like, Godly shit.
Kai: What do you mean godly? Like religious?
Chelsea: Yes. It was a religious-ass website where only good news was shared–viral good news. Since I had an extensive background in religion because I grew up Christian - which I consider a cult. I did great in that department, and at one point I was writing 15-plus articles a day.
Thousands of people read those articles, and all these Christian never knew that a trans girl was writing them.
Kai: That is a gag.
Chelsea: Oh yeah. That was pretty funny.
Kai: And so it was basically because of your upbringing, you were able to have the expertise for this job. You mentioned that you grew up in a cult. What was that mean?
Chelsea: I was born into this cult called Jehovah's Witnesses. They're so bad. Both my parents were extremely religious. My very first memory was of me eating makeup. Next thing I know, my mom beats the shit out of me, right? I had to have been like four years old, but it happened. Ever since then I was like, all right, that's a real no. I will never do that again. And in the religion, I didn't want to be found out
At 17 years old my brother outed me to everybody in the religion. He was a little older than me and had it out for me. Next thing I know, I’m being brought in before a council with my mom and dad.
So here I am, and this council of elders was reading very homophobic Bible texts. They started talking about Sodom and Gomorrah. And said now that I came out of the closet, it’s much easier for God to smite me down.
I was very taken aback because I’d known these people all my life. It’s a very small community in a very small town. And I had a pretty prestigious place within the religion - I was one of their librarians. I was gagged. And that’s where I snapped.
I looked at my parents and the council and said, “I’m out of here. You will never see me in here again.” And I didn’t look back.
That was the start of my struggle with homelessness.
Once you leave or get kicked out of the religion, anyone that knows you is supposed to shun you until you come back and get re-established. But until then, they cut all ties with you.
It sucks because that's how they keep people tied. You leave everything, everyone you know, and when it comes to family, it's even harder.
Now, how that all relates to my transness. My thinking never got that deep because it was so deep and truthful. That’s how the cult impeded my personal growth. I wouldn’t even allow myself to go there.
Kai: Wow. Thank you for sharing all of that. It's so crazy how these religious groups will take such extreme measures to keep their members. Now we’re seeing kids who believe that it’s no big deal to be trans in high school or middle school.
Chelsea: You know what? That makes me feel so good. Had I waited longer, the less of the light I would've shown. In retrospect, yeah, I felt like a clown at first, but other people looked and saw that it was alright. “Look at her, she did it.” That’s all it takes for some people.
The very fact that all of us are out here dancing. We’ve done our part for the younger generation.
It's due to all the hard work of all the girls out here working their asses off, looking for the new gag, making their new outfits, and serving up the new gag every week, every month.
Kai: That part is big. There are so many different versions of transness and how people define that for themselves. And to have more stories out there where even one more person can relate to someone else's story, I think could save them and make them realize that they’re not alone.
Switching topics, do you have any tips, tricks, or advice that you want to pass off to the girls?
Chelsea: I have one really good piece of advice. I understand that this may be a hot take, but it needs to be said because this is what I used to do back in the day,
Please for your own safety and the mental health of your hookup or partner, tell them what’s up before it gets too crazy. Back in the day, I wanted to be passable so badly. I wouldn’t tell the boys that I was trans and on hormones. Shit, that was how I found my first boyfriend. It was crazy.
You don’t know how the boy is going to cope with it. Sure, you’ll make them bust a nut, but what happens when they go home? When they ponder what the fuck did they just do?
Not only for the safety of the girls, because that’s a given. The news and tabloids have told us many stories of what happens when it backfires on some girls, right? But also for the mental health of the boys.
Kai: I never thought about it that way. I always thought you disclose for the safety of yourself, to protect yourself. Also, the discourse in the trans community is most hookups are just chasers. And why would I ever think about the mental well-being of a chaser?
Chelsea: Yeah. It would be somebody that wouldn't know. Some girls don't even disclose the fact that they're trans until the men are there.
Kai: I guess if we go a little deeper on that topic, it's also the work that men have to put in themselves to figure out their own gender identity. Straight guys are the ones who do the least amount of work in terms of navigating their gender identity and unpacking that for themselves. So I could see how that's a crazy reckoning for them.
Chelsea: That's more of what I was going for.
Kai: What are you most excited about in terms of our community?
Chelsea: I love how mainstream it's going. Don't you feel it? I love the direction it's been taking, and you know what? It's due to all the hard work of all the girls out here working their asses off, looking for the new gag, making their new outfits, and serving up the new gag every week, every month.
We're out here, we're working, and we're making it okay to be trans every fucking day.
Kai: Period. What are you most excited about for yourself?
Chelsea: I'm just glad I'm here for the whole show. I love being here and watching it all unfold before my eyes and being a part of it as well.
I wrote an affirmation that the BabieDollz is going to go mainstream. I did one in December 2020 to move to LA and get boobs by the summer. Come August 3rd, boobs.
Kai: That's right. Write down your goals,
Chelsea: Hopefully we get noticed even more and who knows where it'll go. People are making reality TV shows out of anything. How is there not one for pole dancing? Let’s call Netflix.