Michaela Jaé Rodriguez says being vulnerable is like 'peeling an onion': 'You gain a bit of strength every single time'

'Pose' alum Michaela Jaé Rodriguez says being unafraid to be vulnerable has been her saving grace in pretty much everything in life. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Pose alum Michaela Jaé Rodriguez says being unafraid to be vulnerable has been her saving grace in pretty much every aspect of life. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez is a force to be reckoned with — especially since her groundbreaking role as Blanca Evangelista in the FX drama Pose made her the first trans actress in history to be nominated for lead actress in a drama series.

Now that she has a string of critically acclaimed works under her belt — including tick, tick… BOOM! and the Apple TV series Loot — Rodriguez, 31, who for years went by "MJ" before switching to her full name, admits that being one of the most visible trans Latinas on television is a huge responsibility.

“I can now say: yes,” she says of whether or not she feels the pressure that comes with her platform. “I remember at the beginning [when I was first doing press interviews], I would say no, because I was so new at all this. I didn't have a chance to really dial down and actually center myself.

“But now,” she continues, “knowing what [being a role model] comes with, it actually makes me stronger. It keeps me kind of on my toes.”

Staying grounded, she adds, is a daily intention at this stage in her life. She maps out her self-care routine with 20-minutes of meditation every day to try and “decompress” from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, where she recently moved.

Though it’s taken time to find a mindfulness practice she can commit to, she confesses to always having had “a strong sense of self” and purpose for her life, which she credits to her Puerto Rican upbringing. Being Afro-Latina and a transgender woman, she explains, are strengths and gifts she cherishes wholeheartedly.

“I like the presence I take up in spaces where people have never seen me before,” she says. “They ask me these questions and I get to tell them about the intersectionalities. That’s my joy, that's my heritage. It’s uplifting for myself when I can speak about my culture and give a full explanation of where I've come from, and how I've grown in that culture. That's how I show love to myself. Because that's how I spend awareness.”

Identity has always been important to Rodrigeuz, and is a major focus in the projects she chooses — including her latest partnership with Citi’s chosen name feature, allowing credit card and debit customers to update their banking cards with their chosen first name without a legal name change.

“When it comes to anyone's name, it is so personal to them,” she says. “I think for [queer] youth, when they have something allotted to them like this, it will give them that courage to just be like, 'I can keep going forward. I can live my life.'”

As she gets older, the actress is also finding strength in wearing her heart on her sleeve.

In September, she experienced what she calls the “ultimate test in vulnerability” when she posed in her underwear for Calvin Klein’s newest campaign. Though it was a daunting experience, it wound up being a strengthening one, too.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be on camera [in my underwear], but I let it happen,” she explains of the shoot. “It happened. I looked at it and I realized, this is beautiful. I'm beautiful. And I should always see myself this way when I'm looking at myself, if it's a reflection, on a screen, or if I'm looking at myself in the mirror. So that was one of the biggest moments for me, regarding vulnerability. I think I've made a huge step … It was great.”

On the practice of vulnerability, Rodriguez says “it’s like peeling an onion.”

“I've had a lot of layers,” she says, “and sometimes when those layers get pulled back, you gain a bit of strength, every single time. I think that's how I was able to step into my confidence and be more communicative about how I feel.”

It’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of Rodriguez, who is embracing her success with gratitude and a clear mind.

“My philosophy on life is we only get one — so live it,” she says.

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