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Thalia Bonas

Actress, model, dancer, and activist Leyna Bloom joined Sydney Taub, ‘22, for Brown Fashion Week this Saturday, March 12. 

Leyna Bloom started her talk by describing her experience as a teenager when we are all simply “trying to figure out what is going on with our body”. Bloom desired to “understand her body” at a time when it was being “policed and made fun of”. This yearning to understand herself, both physically and emotionally, is what drew her to dance: “to defend myself I had to learn how to see every ligament in a particular way as it was going to be my armor in life”. 

As an avid dancer, Bloom felt she was “constantly in spaces where she stood out fast”.  Bloom was given a full scholarship to the Chicago Academy of the Arts and studied there for two years. She explained that though “dance gave [her] an outlet for creativity and self-expression”, “who [she] auditioned as wasn’t the person [she] wanted to be, it was the person [she] was supposed to be for the opportunity”.  This discomfort took a toll on her academics, so she decided to “go somewhere where [she could] start over”, moving to New York alone at the age of 17.

In New York, Bloom faced a period of homelessness and incredibly trying times, however, she continued to commit herself to dance and discovered the ballroom scene. There, she was “introduced to an underground community of colorful, flamboyant, rich people who were also being marginalized and wanted to express themselves through their fluidity”. Bloom described this scene as one of “infectious freedom” that she was honored to be a part of. Furthermore, it “gave [her] wings”, “a runway to grow from”.  She argued that “fashion and culture and music and dance are all intersected in ballroom and it's been like that for years”. 

Bloom mentioned that those who practiced ballroom with her became her chosen family: “we adopt each other and help each other”. Being a part of the ballroom scene helped Bloom build a language of “confidence and expression, full of love and freedom” where each individual was “a queen, king, empress or goddess”. She explained the comradery that was fostered by this desire to survive “in a life that a lot of people don’t understand”. 

With incredible gumption and courage, Bloom has acted as a trailblazer for transgender African Americans, as she “wanted to attach herself to things that had never been done before”.  At a young age, she decided: “I wasn’t going to rely on the education system to define me or the fashion system to define me, I was going to change it”. “I wanted to put myself in a situation where I can do something that will be the first of its kind, and hopefully I can open that door to let people come in with me or beside me”. 

Bloom proceeded to live as such, breaking boundaries and reforming the world of modeling and acting. For example, starring  in Port Authority at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, she was the first trans woman of color to be the lead in a feature film. In this role, she hoped to emphasize the “beauty and rawness and effortlessness of love”, seeking to “pay homage to those who didn’t get to celebrate their love”. 

Bloom did not simply break boundaries in the film industry, but also in the fashion world. She explained that “fashion is a space that gets people's attention, if it has the right energy it can change a lot of people quickly”. Though “a lot of people in fashion are afraid to go against tradition”, Bloom has played a substantial role in creating this change, as the first openly trans woman of color to appear in Vogue India. Bloom explains that currently, “there is a darkness to fashion”.  With strength and conviction, she posed: “if I am on this earth I want to change it and leave it better than how I found it”. 

It was a privilege and an honor to listen to Bloom discuss her incredible journey. She concluded her talk by explaining that in order to invoke change, and include more minority voices in the film and fashion industry, you “have to have the will to want to include people”. She encouraged all those watching to “challenge yourself to get out there and have those conversations”. 

“If you are rooted in love, community and family, take that energy and go out into the world and change it”. I think I speak for all those who attended when I say that I was deeply moved and inspired by Bloom’s words. Her incredible story empowers us all to “use [our] power right and bring people from all walks of life with” us. It is undoubtable that Bloom’s actions have already had a massive positive impact on the fashion and film industry and I watch with bated breath to see what incredible things she does next.

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