Photo by Luke Gilford

Beyond the Tyga Sex Scandal: The Real Life of Trans Porn Star Mia Isabella

When news of her alleged relationships with two high-profile men leaked in 2015, Mia Isabella dominated tabloids. Celebrity gossip outlets quickly scandalized the story, shaming Mia and her alleged former lovers.

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Feb 22 2016, 4:25pm

Photo by Luke Gilford

It was midwinter in Las Vegas, and Mia Isabella looked happy. Thousands had come to the city of sin for the Adult Video Network (AVN) Awards, where performers are annually decorated for pornographic excellence. AVN would be held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in two days, but on this night, Mia was in audience to a porn-star-cum-comedian stand up comedy show in the back of a downtown bar. She was seated beside a cut, hard-jawed man who kissed her repeatedly. Gel flaked from the hair of overweight men in the audience beside chain-smoking women in Lycra; a cluster of cerulean lights cast shadows on them.

Since Mia's highly publicized "scandal" with Kylie Jenner's current boyfriend, the rapper Tyga, she has peppered national news. Mia appeared in numerous tabloids in the summer of 2015 after sexts released by an unknown source appeared to depict her (alleged) former sexual relationship with the rapper. Celebrity gossip monger B. Scott exposed the story on July 6 after receiving an email from an anonymous source that included text message screenshots that are allegedly between Mia and Tyga. On July 7, Tyga tweeted, "The devil's working hard today" and HipHopWired.com said that Mia was "conjuring evil." On August 26, the Tyga scandal snowballed when self-appointed sports media king Terez Owens unearthed another of Mia's high profile relationships: this one with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Watch More: Dressing the Part: Meet the Consultant Teaching Trans Women How to Be 'Feminine'

The anonymous source that contacted Owens stated, in part, "With all this publicity about Tyga and Trans hooker Mia Isabella, what's been hiding below the radar is a real relationship between Mia and SF 49er's QB Colin Kaepernick. This is a long and serious relationship."

Shortly after the text messages were leaked, Tyga's lawyer released a statement detailing their belief that either Tyga, or someone he sent the images to, had been hacked, and that they'd involved the FBI. Kaepernick has not addressed the claims. (Representatives for Tyga and Kaepernick did not respond to Broadly's request for comment.)

Mia has used social media to speak out during the past year, sometimes sharing the emotional anguish this ordeal has caused and other times vehemently insisting that there really is no scandal. "It's very sad that the idea of a man loving a trans person has to be considered a scandal when all people are equal," she told VH1. "If a celebrated man loves a transgender woman or possibly did, that's news? It shouldn't be news. It should be normal for anyone and everyone to be allowed to love who they choose."

I didn't want to see them be shamed and publicly humiliated just because I'm different.

When this story broke last year, my first memory of Mia resurfaced. It was an image of her nude body that I'd stumbled upon many years ago. I remember Mia's breasts were swollen in the photo above an upwardly angled phallus. Black sheets of straight hair fell over tan and ageless skin. She looked like she'd been pulled from Greek mythology. I was on the cusp of my own transition from male to female, and her image had a profound effect on me. It was this photo of Mia that made me realize that it's possible to change your sex.

The next day, Mia emerged from a car outside her publicist's hotel. She was dressed in black. The Hard Rock was across the street behind her, and her recent lover, the muscular boy from the previous night, followed on her heels as she approached the lobby's tinted doors. She was forty minutes late, which she blamed on the boy, and she felt that the makeup artist she hired that morning had failed to make her look her best. "You call this a cat eye?" she asked no one in particular. But she looked beautiful.

We entered the hotel grounds through a door at the back of the lobby. A path led from the main hotel building. We passed an empty pool gated with chipped rods, stucco structures, and patches of dry green grass. Once in the room, Mia removed her heels, put them away in a bag, and slid her small feet into flats. We ashed cigarettes in a plastic cup of water placed on the carpet between us.

Photo by Luke Gilford

Mia describes her transition as "very fluid." "I knew very early that I was trans," she said. Her family had no idea what to think when their kid came out, but they never rejected her. "As a child," she said, "you speak what you feel." During her childhood, though, it was very difficult to find information about non-binary gender identities. "There was nothing. Back then, when we were growing up, there wasn't anything for people to understand about us."

"[My parents] took me to a specialist and he told them, 'Your child is transgender.' My father was really, really protective of me. He wanted to ensure that I wouldn't live a life that I wasn't supposed to live."

As a teenager, Mia says she was an ambitious student. "Oh god, I was a little academic," she laughed, adding that she's always loved being in a leadership position. "I was forced to perform and excel," she said. "My family expected a lot of me, especially being trans. My grandmother put it in my head early that because I am different I have to be extraordinary."

Read More: The Straight Men Who Have Sex With Trans Women

Mia told me that from ages eight to eighteen she played the violin at least two hours a day. When the orchestra program was first introduced in her school, she says she was the first to sign up. "I told my mom, 'They're having an orchestra, and I'm going to play the violin!' She paid me no attention." According to Mia, her mother didn't take her seriously, so she signed the form herself and brought it to school the next day. That choice proved to be characteristic of her personality.

"It was so great to get lost in the music," she said. There was a pause as Mia looked longingly into the space between us. Then her talons flicked gray cigarette ash into the plastic cup. Eventually, she told me, she gave up the violin. "I got involved with being a grown up. I had to let it go."

Mia says that she graduated high school at 16 years old. "I finished school early because I was going to be a doctor," she said. "I wanted to go to nursing school first, because I knew that career could give me good financial backing so that I could afford to go to medical school." But that ambition soon shifted, and she attended the Art Institute of Chicago, where she pursued a career in fashion. "I wanted to do so many things," she said, "I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be an archeologist, I wanted to do fashion."

Though she'd been living as her true gender since childhood, Mia says that it wasn't until her late teens that she passed through the veil into womanhood. "I didn't really dress the part all the way until high school. I got bolder, and I was in the North. It was different than in the South, with the Bible Belt." She says she's never felt the need to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT). That isn't uncommon for trans porn stars—the male consumers of trans porn tend to highly value a girl who is "fully functional," meaning that she can get erect and cum, both of which can be hindered by hormones. "I didn't do any hormone therapy until I was 18, just to have enough breast tissue to have my first breast implants."

My father was really, really protective of me. He wanted to ensure that I wouldn't live a life that I wasn't supposed to live.

Despite rampant transphobia in the United States, Mia says she's never been ashamed of who she is—though there was a period of time in her youth when she was upset by her body. "Initially, I had shame about having a penis," she said. But that feeling didn't last. The porn industry was a catalyst to self-acceptance.

"I was so praised for that aspect of me. Before, I would have had the surgery immediately," she said, snapping her fingers as if breaking an invisible dick in two between them.

Because the porn world celebrated the fact Mia is a woman with a penis, she was able to accept that part of herself. But she doesn't view life in absolutes or waste her time wondering how things might have turned out if she'd made another choice. If she'd had gender reassignment surgery, it would have been okay. "I wouldn't have regretted having it. It just would have been a different journey."

Performing in porn excited Mia because it felt rebellious. "I had the idea that I would do porn just to shock my family," she said, certainly not the first to have acted out on that impulse as a teenager. The day she turned 19 years old, she shot her first filmed sex scene, but it wasn't something she had seriously planned. "I thought I was doing a photo shoot, and I got all the way to LA and they asked me to star in the movie," she said.

"I was in this big mansion in the valley, and my best friend was with me," she recalled. "There was this big crew and makeup artists. I'd never seen anything like this in my life." Mia didn't think she'd be able to go through with it, but then: "They cut me this check. It was when porn paid really good. I got $3,000 a scene." Something changed in her then. She became Mia Isabella for the first time. "I turned from my normal self into that character I created."

That character is Mia's embodiment of power. "I have major social anxiety," she told me. The porn goddess she summoned that day in the mansion became an ally that she called upon more and more in the years that followed. "She's bold, she's sexual. She's all the things I'm really not. I'm a shy person in real life, who really prefers to be reclusive and be by myself."

This point was obvious to me after we decided to leave the hotel and relocate to Mia's home. She and I squeezed into her sports car, her young hunk behind the wheel. He drove us to the deserted perimeter of Las Vegas, where rock planes meet mountains. Mia lives in a private community of clone houses that are painted in strict adherence to the homeowner association's code of cream-tone exteriors. We pulled into her driveway and she disappeared indoors.

Photo by Luke Gilford

Because Mia was raised in such a supportive environment, and because she found both professional and personal acceptance from a young age, she feels like she was isolated from the discrimination that trans people commonly experience in the US. Reading the hateful comments that people posted online at the height of the Tyga scandal forced her to confront that reality for the first time. "It hurt me because I realized I had never truly experienced what other trans people go through," she said.

Mia told me that six months ago, amidst paparazzi and media attacks, she left her Hollywood home and moved permanently to Las Vegas. In part, she hoped to remove herself from those closest to her. "I didn't want to see them be shamed and publicly humiliated just because I'm different. Well, doesn't that hurt to know that this is just all about who you are?"

After reflecting on the discrimination she experienced in the midst of the Tyga scandal, Mia decided she had a responsibility to use her platform as a public figure in order to fight back against transphobia; she was dismayed that the idea of a man being attracted to a trans woman even counted as a "scandal." "In order for me to come out eventually, to speak and be a role model, I needed to absorb every bit of that hate so that I could truly speak for people like us and understand," she said.

Whatever I needed to do to submit and show that I was willing to give power, I did. I did to the detriment of myself.

The massive scrutiny that Mia experienced last year felt strange, in part because she's had several happy, or at least conventional, relationships with men throughout her life. She says she was married for the first time at 20 years old to a man three decades older than her. According to Mia, her family supported the relationship and encouraged the marriage, and her husband, who was very wealthy, ensured she was well cared for. Mia had her own luxury designer boutique in Chicago and attended the Paris Fashion Institute in France. Even though that was nearly a decade ago, her teacher there still remembers her, telling Broadly that she remembers Mia as a "wonderful person" and a phenomenal "straight-A student" that she'll never forget.

At twenty-two years old, halfway through Mia's four-year relationship with her former husband, she knew she needed to get out of it. But it would take her two more years to leave. "I had many houses, cars, and millions in jewels," she said. "My family was happy because I was taken care of, but they didn't realize that I wasn't happy. I had to make a decision and I realized that money didn't matter to me. I left everything behind in the middle of winter. I just got in my car and drove to Vegas."

In her mid-twenties, Mia says she met another man who nearly became her second husband. He was a few years younger than her. "When I met him he had literally nothing, a duffle bag with dirty clothes," she said. "No education, no job, nothing. Just a broken heart and broken dreams and I felt I could love him back to life." They got engaged; however, despite their intense love for each other, the young man struggled. Dating a powerful woman made him feel insecure about his role in the relationship and his identity as a man. "I became his drug and his addiction," Mia said.

Photo by Luke Gilford

"Some guys can't handle their women having fame or their partners being lusted after and [becoming] sex symbols. It becomes a fight for position of ego, even if you're willing to concede it." And she was willing to concede it. In an effort to make her fiancé happy, Mia willfully suppressed her potential, missing career and financial opportunities so that her success would not trigger her partner's feelings of inadequacy. "Whatever I needed to do to submit and show that I was willing to give power, I did. I did to the detriment of myself."

But it didn't matter what she did for him, Mia says, because his insecurity never waned. "It's almost like you can't do enough when you're the breadwinner in a relationship as a woman, or the powerful person in a relationship, as a woman. Sometimes it's difficult for a man to accept it," she noted. "Even if you give until there's nothing left to give. They're intimidated and it becomes this struggle for power."

"For the better of myself, I had to, even if it hurt, step away from that relationship. I didn't want to, but at some point, you have to choose yourself. I'd given up so much of myself that at some point I'd forgotten who I was."

"When I feel that life is becoming too overwhelming or that I am losing myself, I have a really good ability to pull myself from a situation," she said, adding that she's had to press the reset button a few times in her life, including with the Tyga scandal. She almost forgot who she was all over again in 2015.

It's not a bad thing for a man to be afraid of being judged. All human beings are afraid of being judged.

"When you read a thousand [hateful] comments a day, every day, for six months, it starts to make you believe it a little bit," she said. "No matter how strong you are as a person. Not even the most experienced, high profile people are trained to deal with that kind of public scrutiny."

Mia retired from porn in January of 2014. She hasn't made any new films since then, but she still makes money off of her website. "Porn was my business. It was my brand," she said. "I got so many amazing opportunities. I had the world's first transsexual toy line sold globally. I ended up doing Grand Theft Auto. I did a television show, Sons of Anarchy. I kept getting these amazing opportunities and I dated some famous people here and there throughout my life. I got to have some really cool experiences."

In the aftermath of her alleged relationship with Tyga becoming public, according to Mia, she and her publicist received requests from major TV networks and magazines offering to pay for her story. "If I were any less of a woman, I would have went at it for self gain and wouldn't have cared about his heart," she said. Both Mia and her publicist claim they were getting offers "from every avenue." But Mia says she chose not to take the bait, despite the fact that powerful public platforms were available to her. She foresaw their true intention: "[They wanted me to] perpetuate that sense of shame against a trans-attracted person. I wasn't going to do that."

Mia told me that she's spent thousands of dollars in legal fees in an attempt to protect the men who were being targeted by salacious articles last year. "I was paying for attorneys and hiring people to protect other people's images," she said. "I was behind the scenes having my attorney email every writer and blog to take down their stories, to do whatever I could to protect him. I didn't want to enable the public shaming of a trans-attracted man in any way." But she was also accused by gossip bloggers of perpetuating these dramas, like when she shared an article about her alleged relationship with Kaepernick on Instagram with the caption: "I've witnessed many things. Gossip, haters, impersonators & liars but so what if it were true?"

For this, she was described as "sinking her teeth" into Kaepernick by the Rhymes with Snitch blog. But Mia defended her actions, as she has consistently, responding to that article with another Instagram statement that read, in part: "The one person I sacrificed EVERYTHING to protect and walked away from STILL bloggers like U & Terez Owens had to kill my efforts? Stop shaming men because I happen to be trans, stop teaching trans people they aren't worthy of more than being tabloid fodder."

Photo by Luke Gilford

Two weeks after Mia and I met in Vegas, she released a few more statements about her former relationships. In an interview with the International Business Times, she stated that she and Kaepernick were in love: "I loved him very much and he cared for me greatly, but in order to protect his brand I made him walk away from me," Mia said.

That statement helped to clarify some of the more ambiguous comments that Mia had made to me when we spoke in Vegas. When I asked her why she invested so much in legal fees when it wasn't to her benefit, she had responded, "I wanted to show the man that I loved that I wasn't going to make it okay to shame a trans-attracted person."

Mia assured me that there are many celebrity men who are privately dating trans people and that she's been in relationships with men of higher profile than either Tyga or Kaepernick. "They're not ashamed of their partners," she said, despite the fact these relationships are not public. Mia's empathy for men runs so deep that she's come to identify with their motives for secrecy. While she condemns the stigma surrounding trans women and the men who love them, she believes that such private relationships aren't the product of male shame, but rather they're the unfortunate consequence of a society that is hostile to trans women and their partners. She believes they can be mutually beneficial to both parties. "I understand that more than ever," she told me, reflecting on the aftermath of last year. "I don't think it's an 'I'm ashamed of you' situation. It's that 'I know what the world will do to you.'"

When you live in your truth, people cannot use your truth to hurt you.

"It's not a bad thing for a man to be afraid of being judged," she said. "All human beings are afraid of being judged. I have a lot of empathy for what is expected of men by the world. It's a lot of pressure for men." However, Mia told me that her tendency to empathize with male suffering has sometimes put her in difficult situations—such as with her last fiancé, who she fruitlessly sacrificed her own success for. "I always end up with guys like that," she said. "I want to love them back to life for some reason. It's a bad habit."

The night before my interview with Mia, Tyga, who had previously only commented of the "allegations" regarding their relationship via his lawyer, publicly denied it on the radio. "I'm like, 'Damn, who's making this shit up?'" he said on Atlanta's Streetz 94.5 when asked about a relationship with Mia. "Somebody really got something against me up top somewhere."

When I asked Mia about Tyga, she told me she didn't want to talk about him. "I shouldn't, only because something's happening right now," she explained. Without giving details, she said she'd been working with her lawyer for months and that she was getting ready to make a move. Two weeks later—on Monday, February 8—she posted screenshots of text messages between herself and an individual she claims is Tyga. Her accompanying statement says that Tyga and his team have been targeting her for months and she's reached her limit.

"Very simple, I didn't release anything and I NEVER threatened to release a sex-tape but you decided to let the world make me a villain and you the victim and you weren't." Mia's latest statement also made reference to that immense pressure she told me men are under. "Truth is I didn't accept offers of money for silence or career opportunities I did it because you made reference of suicide and I cared too much about you to have that weight on my hands."

The pressure involved in high-profile affairs is heightened by the persistent threat of media frenzy. As Mia Isabella tells it, her story is about the concessions you make when you care deeply for someone whose success depends on your suppression and yet, contradictorily, you're too smart to stay silent when you've been cheated.

"I love bold men that don't give a fuck," she said. "When you live in your truth, people cannot use your truth to hurt you. Maybe it's not shame, maybe you just haven't come into your own sense of power." She looked at me and smiled, reminding me that it took time for her, and for me, to find our inner sources of strength. "It takes time," she said. "Men are not generally equipped for that. They're not generally equipped for being judged based on their sexuality."

Though straight men who desire trans women are often labeled as gay by the mainstream, Mia sees it differently. "We're built specifically to appeal to a man's sexual senses," she said, looking down toward her body with sparkling blue eyes. "If you are not attracted to a trans woman, who is built specifically to arouse your sexual interest in women, then you're gay." Obviously, transgender identity is far more complex than that: Trans people typically identify as a gender other than that they were assigned at birth, and transgender women are not simply products for male consumption, but there's an intelligence to Mia's read on this situation, even if her phrasing is oddly heteronormative.

The stigmas that exist around being trans or loving trans women make no sense to Mia. She hopes that one day a bold man will finally stop giving a fuck, and break the silence about loving transgender women. Today, as always, self-preservation is the key to her survival. "You have to ultimately choose you," she said. "My job is to take care of this girl. Me. And only I am going to be able to take care of her the way she needs."