MJ Rodriguez: From Ballroom To Community Leader
As a kid, I starved for media that represented my community and values. Today, our people are still hungry, but with more mentors emerging, I’m proud to recognize we are making our way. Entrepreneur and actress MJ Rodriguez has widened the understanding of passionate non-binary creatives among the Latinx and Black communities. She is bold in her compassion for others, and her inner power inspires those around her. Her journey from child performer to the lead in FX’s Pose shows her truly transformational leadership.
MJ started performing in her early youth, which led to her acting in musicals. At 14, she chose her Ballroom house and began performing in the scene. In an interview with the New York Times, MJ remarks on the confidence she strengthened at that time:
“The ballroom community did contribute to … me being more comfortable in my body, moving and not being afraid to be judged. It helped me with my confidence … living in a world where … a lot of people weren’t as understanding or as accepting of people in the ballroom community … If I hadn’t had that scene, I would never have been the person I am today.”
Had she not had that experience, I wonder whether she would have gone on to play her award-winning rendition of Angel Dumott Schunard in Rent. The role itself holds such a special place in the hearts of LX and Black Millenials. I would belt out Angel’s songs in the mirror while pretending to murder a rich man’s dog. Like Angel, MJ is not afraid of being unabashedly herself and finding joy in every moment.
Following her Rent performance, MJ took a hiatus to undergo her transition away from the public eye. Upon her reemergence, she found success on the stage, which led to her casting as the lead in Ryan Murphy’s Pose. The FX show has the largest cast of non-binary actors as series regulars in a scripted program. MJ assumed the role of Blanca Evangelista, an Afro-Puerto Rican trans woman, during the start of the AIDS epidemic. Her honest and heartfelt portrayal has endeared her to our community and continues to bring her success.
MJ Rodriguez is the newest ambassador of Olay Body as well as the first trans Afro-LatinX to be featured by the beauty giant. She is using her influence to speak with people of all ages across the US. In her most recent engagement, MJ gave the keynote address at The George Washington University’s diversity summit. She had a frank discussion with the audience on gender identity, discrimination, and living life on her terms.
The LatinX community needs to continue sowing the seeds of love and acceptance for all people. We need representation in media as well as in roles that are traditionally controlled by gatekeepers who have kept us out. MJ Rodriguez is serving us by being a visible mentor to children and adults alike. We should all take a page out of her book by having the confidence to live boldly and experience our journey.