Actress Selenis Leyva opens up about the life lessons she has learned from her sister Marizol.

By Lena Hansen
October 15, 2019

Selenis Leyva will make her debut as an author next year with the memoir My Sister: How One Sibling's Transition Changed Us Both, co-written with her transgender sister, Marizol. The Cuban actress of Dominican descent, 47, talked to People CHICA about the many ways Marizol has inspired her. “My sister is very special. Marizol is very joyful, she loves music. She is a fan of Romeo Santos. She is beautiful, she loves makeup, doing her hair,” she says about Marizol, 29. “She is also a great cook and the plan for the future is for her to do a cooking segment on a TV show or publish her own book of recipes. She has an awesome sazón. I'm going to get in trouble for saying this, but it's better than my mom's!” the Orange Is the New Black actress jokes about Marizol's magic touch in the kitchen.

Leyva, who also stars in the upcoming series Diary of a Female President, says she and Marizol decided to write this book to shed some real light on what it means to be trans. “I found that if you don't fit a certain mold, this type of look that has been presented in the mainstream because of some of the trans people in the limelight, then does that mean that you're not accepted if you don't fit that?” she reflects. “I felt that there has to be a way for me to tell the story about my sister that people can relate to.”

In the book, coming out in March 2020, Leyva admits she still worries about Marizol's safety today. “She is still my baby sister. She is still someone who needs guidance and lots of love, and every day is a struggle for her,” she reveals. “As much as we have all started talking about this and there is so much advocacy for trans people, there is also a very high death rate and violence against trans people, especially women of color. It's still a daily struggle. I can't say that I don't have fear for her safety or her life. Unfortunately I still have fear, I don't like her going out of the house late at night. The world is still not as accepting as it should be.”

The actress feels blessed to have Marizol as a sister. “There were many times where I feared for her life. There is a certain event that took place that I realized, ‘I'm going to lose her, I know that one day I'll get that phone call.' That's very real,” she says. “A lot of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters take their lives because it becomes overwhelming. Can you imagine if you have all this weight on you and you have no one to turn to? No one to say ‘I love you,' no one to hug you or to say, ‘I'm here for you?'”

Selenis was always an ally for Marizol, guiding the rest of the family to also accept and love her unconditionally. “This is not a choice — nobody chooses to live a difficult life. People don't say, ‘I want to be gay because I want difficulty in my life. I want people to stare at me in the streets, I want to have difficulty getting a job, for my family to shun me.' These are not choices — people are born this way,” she emphasizes.

The Cuban Dominican star admires Marizol's strength. “Marizol is a survivor. She is so strong. She is so brave because she is really putting herself out there in this book and being so honest, and I just hope that people are not going to judge her as much as they are going to empathize with her,” she says. “I hope this book makes people realize that's its OK to be honest, to show your flaws, to say, ‘I don't understand' or ‘I disagree.' What is not OK is to disrespect, to shame and to be harmful for people who are outside of what is considered to be the norm.”

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