Modeling while trans
An extended interview with me about being a trans model
Image via Bianca Barone.
After a year of freelance modelling, I signed with Miracle Management and have been working professionally for about two months. I absolutely love it and am grateful to have so many opportunities to be expressive and creative.
That's not to say that modelling doesn't have its challenges, which can be quite a lot when you're like me: a queer, trans person of colour. Luckily, we're starting to get some much-needed recognition as the industry slowly shifts to cater to a market that wants to see more diversity.
Aside from engaging with our content online, a great way to support and encourage diversity in the fashion industry is to give models of marginalized backgrounds room to talk about their experiences and to listen to the suggestions they have for improvement. So when writer Al Donato approached me while working on this article about transgender models in Canada for FLARE Magazine, I was excited to share my insights.
It was a great interview and I appreciate the directness and relevance of the questions. As with all stories, not everything we discussed made it into the final piece so, with the author's permission, I am publishing the full interview here on my blog.
Please go and read the story too, since it features five other models with a vast array of important experiences.
1. When and why did you start modelling?
This is a photo from my very first show, a competition between makeup and henna artists. Image via Models in Motion by JT.
I started modelling just over a year ago. I started because I never used to like having my picture taken and I wanted to make up for all the years when I hadn’t allowed a lot of photos. I was at a point with my confidence that I wanted high quality pictures of myself. I also wanted to explore modelling as an art form and a new avenue for self-expression.
2. Describe your aesthetic/gender presentation.
I put a lot of effort into my aesthetic. I have two broad looks: a formal genderqueer dandy style and an emo space nerd style. The dandy-inspired stuff started when I was a kid and watched a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh!. The villains always wore the most flamboyant outfits and I loved it. I developed that aesthetic further after I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde when I was 15. I really loved that novel and reading more about Oscar Wilde’s life and philosophy of art inspired me to dress however the hell I liked without regard for anyone else’s opinion. So that’s what I did. When I’m dressed like that, strangers have a hard time gendering me on sight and that’s good because I don’t want anyone to perceive anything related to gender based on how I dress.
Yu-Gi-Oh! villains helped shape my tastes early in life. Via tumblr.
The emo space nerd style is a lot more casual and it’s mostly just black skinny jeans, space-print designs, assorted other black clothes and Star Wars t-shirts that I may or may not wear with a binder.
I like to co-ordinate my colours and velvet is my favourite fabric, so there’s a lot of that in my wardrobe.
For me, there’s very little relationship between my aesthetic and my "gender presentation" because I’m not trying to present as any gender or lack thereof. I don’t want my aesthetic to be indicative of anything other than the fact that I have impeccable taste.
3. What brings you joy about your work?
I love myself and I think everyone else should, too.
4. Why is it important for trans individuals to be represented by the Canadian fashion industry?
Representation matters less to me than inclusion and overall presence. If I’m doing a show as a trans individual, I’m not "representing" anyone other than myself and the designer I’m walking for. I don’t want to become some kind of spokesperson or be turned into the new expectation for what a trans person in the fashion industry looks like. There should be more of us there because the proportion of trans people on the planet is far more than the proportion is trans people in the fashion industry, especially trans people of colour. I also think that we bring perspectives and experience to our artistry that you won’t get from straight cis white people. We are something different, and why wouldn’t a Canadian fashion house want to create something unique with people who have so much to share? We are essential to creativity.
5. Have you faced challenges as a model because of your gender identity and/or presentation?
Sometimes, I have just the thing in my own wardrobe. Image via Philip Sutherland.
I have faced challenges as a trans model because the industry is based heavily on a binary gender system. When I do shows and shoots, I’m almost always automatically considered to be female. I am as happy to wear dresses as I am with suits, I have no problem with the attire. I just don’t like that there’s no room at all for self-identification. I am happy to walk and shoot with the women, I would just prefer it if someone else would use my correct pronouns and not put undue emphasis on gender.
There was a shoot that I did where I was chosen because of my androgynous look and the director wanted to do a Victor/Victoria concept with me. I sent her my measurements and I had a few ideas that I thought would have worked, but I got there on the day of and they didn’t have stuff that fit me properly. I think that if we had communicated a bit more about the specifics of the concept, I could have brought some of my own wardrobe that would have helped a lot and that would have actually fit. It’s hard in situations like that because part of my job as a model is to wear whatever I am told to wear and to be easy to work with. Usually the model doesn’t get to have creative input and that’s totally fine by me, that’s the industry. But I think that my experience in this area would have strengthened this project because to them it’s a concept, but to me it’s my life and I live it everyday. I think it’s a detriment to the project to overlook the knowledge that your team brings and not utilize it to make it the best it can be.
Even when people actually know what it means to be gender nonconforming, it doesn’t always mean that they know what to do with that information. I did a show where I told the organizers that I didn’t fall within the two gender categories that they established and they said that was fine. But then they sent out two different dress codes for the pre-show photoshoot—one for men and one for women. So I emailed them and said that I was unsure of which category to follow, and they said that I could choose whichever I felt comfortable with. Which is not the worst response, but I don’t think there needed to be a gendered dress code in the first place. In the end, I went with the male dress code and I stood with the men for the photos. I still felt uncomfortable because the whole time I was worried that someone might ask things like "Shouldn’t you be over there with the women?" or "Why are you with the men?"
6. Have there been any particular gender-affirmative or trans-positive moments you've had in your modelling career so far?
Yes! I was able to walk a show with my binder visible, which was great. I was modelling streetwear and I talked to the designer specifically and asked him if that was chill and he said it was. I was very happy to be able to do that.
7. What's something that surprised you about being a model?
I don’t like to be surprised; I prefer to be prepared. I do as much research as I can and I take every opportunity I have to learn something new.
Having said that, I was surprised by how much I love modelling. I didn’t intend for it to become a career when I started, I just wanted to make art and be art. But then people started asking what my rates were and I realized that I might be able to do it as a profession. I love working with other creative people and I’m constantly amazed that I have a job I enjoy so much.
8. In terms of community support, have you noticed any from trans fans, friends or fellow trans fashion industry colleagues?
One of my first jobs was for StarkissCreations, original art products by queer and trans creator Markus Harwood-Jones in December 2016. Image via StarkissCreations.
I have had a lot of encouragement from my queer and trans friends. I have only had a couple of chances to work with other trans people in the industry and each time has been great. I would love to collaborate with more queer and trans people in this line of work, so if you’re a queer and/or trans person reading this and would like to work with me, please get in touch because I definitely want to work with you.
9. What advice do you have for the Canadian fashion industry in terms of making work more accessible for trans models?
I have a laundry list of advice:
Don’t divide your models by gender when you work with them. There’s more useful and more creative ways to categorize them.
Please try not to gender people on sight.
Always ask which pronouns to use. I would really like it if more people asked that.
Dividing clothes into "men’s" and "women’s" is unhelpful. Not everyone is a man or a woman and clothes themselves don’t have a gender. Also, sizing by measurements and not by arbitrary numbers would be great. I don’t care if the pants I’m wearing are a size double zero or a size ten, I just want to be wearing pants that fit.
Accessibility itself is key in fashion shows and this goes for cis and trans models. I personally don’t have mobility impairments or any physical disabilities but there are models who do and I’ve seen that shows often don’t accommodate them as much as they should. Talking to each model and asking how you can best help them to do their job is honestly the best thing you can do, both for the model and for your own work.
10. What's next for your modelling? Are there any dream goals or exciting plans coming up?
I just signed to an agency and I recently shot my first commercial, which was amazing. I’m feeling really good about the opportunities that I have now and I just want to work as much as possible. I also have a few personal projects I want to work on.
11. Is there anything else that you'd like Flare readers to know about your experiences modelling or what it's like being a trans model in the Canadian fashion industry?
It’s hard work, but if I can do it, so can you.