Selenis Leyva opens up to People CHICA about and being an ally to the LGBTQ community and life lessons she learned from her sister Marizol.

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In their memoir My Sister: How One Sibling's Transition Changed Us Both, actress Selenis Leyva and her sister Marizol Leyva open up about how Marizol's experience as a transgender woman transformed their family. "I wanted this book to not only be about her transition but how it transitioned all of us," Selenis tells People CHICA. "How it transitioned my life, how it transitioned my parent's lives and what we all had to do. We all had to work together to make sure that Marizol in the end was not alone, which is unfortunately the story that we normally hear when it comes to the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community, especially in black and brown homes."

Her sister has faced many challenges, and feeling loved and accepted by her loved ones made all the difference. "Marizol has had a hard journey, you know, being a trans woman of color isn't easy. Being  trans period isn't easy, then you add the element of color, race, our community. We were raised in the Bronx where there was a lot of machismo. Roles, male and female roles were very specific and designed," Selenis recalls. "We grew up in a culture, in a Cuban and Dominican home where everybody had a so called 'a place.'  It was very specific. If you were a girl you did this, if you were a boy you did this."

Selenis Leyva
Credit: courtesy Beowulf Sheehan

Getting to truly know her sister took time. "I could see in her at a very early age, a struggle.  And at the time I thought, 'OK…this little baby is gay.' And then slowly I saw that it was more. It was in her essence. It was in the way she moved, in the way that she talked," Selenis recalls. "When everyone says: 'When did you know?' Early on. I just did not have the vocabulary to say my little brother at the time -born a brother- was going to transition to a female. I had no idea because that wasn't part of my vocabulary. But it was easy for me to see that this little baby was different than my brothers. Was more like my sister. Was more like my little sister and was more like me."

Selenis Leyva
Credit: Chris Loupos

Supporting Marizol as she embraced a new life as a transgender woman was an emotional journey for Selenis, her parents and other siblings. "Marizol was going through her process and the family was going through a process as well. It was really important to share that because every time we hear stories about trans people we never hear about the family unit and what that means," Selenis says. "Or, was there someone around? Was there someone to help you? Was there someone to confide in? Here we bring that to the audience and hopefully in these different voices we get to maybe tap into a bigger audience. Not only if you transitioning or if you are a part of the LGBTQ community, but if you are a loved one or a friend."

Marizol Leyva
Credit: Chris Loupos

The star of Orange Is The New Black wanted to share her platform with the LGBTQ community and help to create awareness. "Let's give resources of the right pronouns. Let's educate people. Let's make sure in that telling our story and sharing what we all went through, we are helping others see themselves in us perhaps, or maybe somewhere down the line someone is going to go: 'Oh my goodness someone is going through this. I have a book for you,'" Selenis says. "This was a labor of love. Not only for my sister, but it was a labor of love for transgender people in general."