Exactly one week ago, Leyna Bloom became the first transgender woman to cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue–but that doesn’t make her a newbie. The 27-year-old Taurus has walked in Paris Fashion Week (for Zendaya and Tommy Hilfiger, no less) and modeled alongside Gigi Hadid for Moschino’s H&M campaign. She’s even appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, thanks to her star turn in the indie hit movie Port Authority.
Still, Leyna Bloom knows starring on the cover of SI Swim is different. “This is a huge opportunity, really on another level,” she says. “Because I know it’s not just for me. It’s for all my communities—the Black girls, the Asian girls, the LGBTQ+ community—this is my moment, and I’m so proud of myself for that. But it’s also our moment, and we’re going to take it and keep stepping into our power.”
Here’s what Bloom said just moments before her first-ever red-carpet appearance as a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover star.
Your SI Swim cover has been featured everywhere, from CNN to US Weekly. How has your life changed in the past week?
"Honestly, it's everything that I imagined it to be. I think I'm just kind of taking it all in because I don't want my life to change in some senses. I still want to have balance and normality in my life! But at the same time, this was something that I wanted to do. And I did it. It’s a huge opportunity and I’m so grateful for it. But you know, I have so many more boundaries to break. So I have to just constantly put my sweatpants on and say, 'I am grateful and proud of what I did today. Now, what am I going to do tomorrow?' "
Do you remember the first SI Swim issue you ever saw?
"Absolutely. My dad had like 100 of them! And there were not that many women of color on any of them. So the one that stuck out to me has to be the one and only 1997 polka dot bikini, Miss Tyra Banks. Miss Banks, if you nasty!"
What did you and Tyra talk about after your shoot?
"I told her, 'This [cover] is about to happen, and it would not be possible if it wasn't for you. So I want you to know that I love you and I see you and thank you for, you know, getting the bruises. Getting the scratches. Holding the door open for us.' In some ways, of course, I am also getting the bruises! But she lit that torch for women of color, and so I see it as part of my job to keep that torch burning. We have to keep representing each other. We have to remind ourselves that the people that paved the way for us aren’t all legends and historical figures. Some of those trailblazers, like Tyra, are still here! And we have to respect what they offered us!"
You have nearly half a million Instagram followers now. What goes down in your DMs?
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"I don't know! I can't look at my phone; my team won’t let me. We have literally set up my social media so they handle everything."
"Well, normally my comments are off, but we turned them back on for this week on that condition... Honestly, because I’ve never been signed to a big [modeling] agency and had my photo on a traditional “model board,” my Instagram has always been like a portfolio for me. And I don't need people to comment on my portfolio just because it’s on social media. I don't need people's opinions, whether they're good or bad. I just need to know that they know that I exist!" [Laughing]
How do you talk to people who want to follow in your footsteps?
"Oh my god, I'm talking to them in person! I'm showing up to the nonprofits. I'm showing up to the organizations that are set up for [trans] women seeking refuge. That's how I'm getting out there. I'm going into the Ballroom community where I grew up. I'm going to the Balls; I'm talking to the people that are my colleagues. And when I go onto a photo shoot like SI or a TV set like Pose, I’m speaking with not just the entire cast, but the background actors, the crew, the producers. We’re all from this rich culture and we should be able to share with each other! That is how I get back to my community. And any time, any chance I get to find a way to artistically convey how important our experiences are? That is how I do it."
How can we help you empower more women and include trans women in our activism?
"I'm not asking for a financial contribution. I'm not asking for a social media follow. I'm asking for a way that you can just start a conversation. Everything can be healed with one conversation. I've seen it. I've been on so many panels where women talking to each other, that’s the way we heal a lot of pain... I was raised on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. I was raised on some of the most radical freedom fighters, and they didn't need social media follows. They didn't have TikTok! They just needed you to listen and to speak out for other women, for other people. And that's all I need."
How did you celebrate your SI shoot?
"I went to Prada!"
"I’ve been saving my money for forever. My manager knew I was having a bad day and he was like, 'I know exactly what you need. You need to wear something beautiful.' And to be honest, I was a little freaked out because I love Prada so, so much that I was almost scared it wouldn’t be as beautiful [in person] as it was in my head, you know what I mean? But it was perfect. It was stunning... And it was so symbolic to me, that a Black and Asian woman from the ballroom community could show up in head-to-toe Prada, and be a force for change and be a force for glamour… I’m from the fashion world, so I wasn’t going to go halfway. Look, it’s the swimsuit issue, right? So even my swimsuit is Prada!"
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