While society may seem like a more inclusive place than ever before, there are still huge hurdles for transgender people to have their authentic selves be accepted.
That’s why for Transgender Day of Visibility, we are championing their voices.
The annual event on March 31 is dedicated to transgender people worldwide, raising awareness of the discrimination they face as well as being a celebration of their contributions to society.
To mark this day, we caught up with Alyss Pelaia, a non-binary trans actor, who fought to live their truth after being forced to endure conversion therapy – the practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual or gender identity using psychological or spiritual interventions.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Alyss told us about their journey to self-acceptance and how he came back from the brink of suicide to bring diversity and inclusivity into mainstream media.
Alsyss said: “My first visceral memory of body dysmorphia was at four-years-old, I’m certain some came before but I just have a hard time placing them.
“I grew up as the third child in a family of what everyone thought was five girls and one boy. Throughout my childhood, before my little brother was born ten years after me, my parents were always, ‘trying for a boy’. This was always a conversation in our family.
“I remember standing in front of my parents in my cut-off jean shorts, aged four, trying to find a way to communicate that they had a boy standing in front of them.”
However, despite recognising their queerness from a young age, Alyss did not begin articulating or defining being transgender until the age of 19.
Alyss explained: “I was going to a school in California and was going through two and a half years of torturous conversion therapy there. I experienced exorcisms, spiritual, verbal, and sexual abuse.”
Sadly, Alyss attempted to take their own life. It was only after surviving that a switch flipped inside and he knew he could no longer stand living as someone else other than who he truly was.
Once Alyss had this realisation, he began expressing more and more of their queerness until he finally left the school in 2020 as the world went into quarantine.
After releasing himself from the shackles of conversion therapy, Alyss realised he did not hate his transness but that he had blamed himself for the hatred he had experienced from those at school.
Now, Alyss credits embracing being trans as the very thing that saved their life.
He said: “After my failed suicide attempt, I realised I had given myself a second chance to live my life as myself. Luckily, being myself proudly has changed my life for the better.”
Alyss has even found love with a new partner and says Angelica has really changed how they see life and how they “want to show up for it”.
He said: “I had never thought that as a trans person I could find love, but she has brought so much of it into my life in so many ways. I am grateful and excited for every new day now.”
When asked how he would like to see education change around transgender issues moving forward, Alyss believes that people should take the initiative to learn and not always rely on asking trans people as it puts the burden on them and can provoke traumatic feelings.
Alyss said: “I’d always say check your question with Google first, just like you do everything else. After that, if you do choose to ask a trans person a question about trans topics, remember that this isn’t some logical exercise or fun debate for them to have.
“You are speaking to them about their life and how the world relates to them. Have a lot of empathy because this conversation comes with their personal triggers, trauma, or even simply not feeling safe to talk to you about it. Remember that this person owes you no explanation.
“Be prepared for them to not want to answer you or to recommend you go check the internet.”
Alyss continued: “Although I am often okay with conversations, there are some days when I am too exhausted to explain to someone why they should care about the dangers trans people face.
“Education is always better than ignorance, just remember you are talking to a real person about the hard things they have to face every single day.”
Alyss now hopes to use the power of performance to help other young trans people feel represented, especially having grown up with no role models.
He added: “I, as a transmasc person and an actor, had never seen another person like me on-screen until Chella Man and more recently Elliot Page.”
Elliot likely needs no introduction, having starred in huge blockbusters Inception, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Juno.
Meanwhile, Chella is a rising YouTube star, actor, and LGBTQ+ activist who found fame as mute superhero Jericho in the second season of the DC Universe series Titans. He is also known for sharing his experiences as a transgender, deaf, and Jewish person of colour.
Now, Alyss strives to be a voice for future generations as they kickstart their journey in LA.
He is already making waves for Lady Gaga’s beauty brand Haus Laboratories, having been one of two men cast in a new brow pencil campaign by the company.
Alyss added: “We have seen so many cis actors, writers, and directors getting the chance to create these breakout trans stories, while there are so many trans people just waiting for their opening.”
The aspiring star also hopes to see more stories in entertainment that centre around being transgender, not just about the trauma of it.
He concluded: “I want trans kids and those who are in transition now to have a plethora of stories and characters that they can relate to and feel inspired by; and that cis people can watch and finally see the beauty of being trans.”
We look forward to seeing more of Alyss’ name in lights soon.