Friday, December 07, 2012

The Long Stylish Line Of Trans Models

Right now trans models are getting more attention and media exposure.   From my homegirl Isis King to Dutch model Valentijn de Hingh to the Brazilian trio of Lea T, Felipa Tavares and Carol Marra, our transisters are not only doing it for themselves and getting their turns in the spotlight, so are gender blenders such as Serbian born Australian model Andrej Pejic and Israel's Stav Strashko.

But the history of trans models sashaying down the world's catwalks actually goes back to the 60's starting with Great Britain's April Ashley.

Ashley not long after her SRS in Casablanca on May 12,1960 and her subsequent return to England became a successful fashion model.  She appeared in Vogue magazine and also garnered a small role in the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movie The Road To Hong Kong.

But unfortunately the transition protocols of the time period advised transwomen to never let anyone know  their trans status, and that left them being vulnerable to being outed.  In 1961 Ashley was outed by a so-called friend who sold her story to a British tabloid.   In the resulting media storm that followed her film credit in that movie was dropped and her modeling career was affected.

That pattern would plague the early pioneering trans models and serve as a major incentive for them to maintain stealth status in order to avoid Ashley's fate.

France's Amanda Lear was another model of the time who has vehemently denied she was trans. 

In 1965 Lear was studying art and was spotted by Catherine Harlé, the head of a modelling agency and offered a contract. 

Seeing this as a way to finance her art studies Lear accepted it and her first modelling assignment was walking for rising star Paco Rabanne.  Harlé had predicted Lear's looks would be in demand and she was on target with her prescient assessment. 

Soon after her debut walking Rabanne's show Lear was photographed by Helmut Newton, Charles Paul Wilp and Antoine Giacomoni for magazines like Elle, Marie France and Vogue. She modelled for fashion designers including Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel in Paris and Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Antony Price in London.

Lear eventually dropped out of art school to model full-time and become a fixture London's swinging sixties nightlife, hanging out with her fellow model Twiggy, the Beatles, and Spanish painter Salvador Dali.     

But the rumors soon started flying about Lear being a transwoman, and her status as a girl like us was alleged by none other than April Ashley.   Ashley claimed that she worked with Lear at the famed Le Carousel trans cabaret in Paris, which Lear denies.  The conflicting stories about where Lear was born and her year of birth have led people to conclude Ashley is correct. 

It would take us until the 70's before the next trans model appeared and once again she was from Great Britain.  

Caroline Cossey burst into international consciousness under her stage name Tula.  Her modeling career included appearances in Australian Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, extensive glamor modeling work, an appearance as a Page Three Girl in the British tabloid The Sun, and  a 1981 one in Playboy.

In 1978 she received a scare after winning a place on the British game show 3-2-1.  A tabloid journalist contacted Cossey and informed her he'd discovered she was trans and intended to write about it.  Other British journalists attempted to interview her family members.  She dropped out of the television show and for a period tried to keep a lower public profile by accepting smaller modeling assignments. 

Not long after her apperance as a extra in the 1981 James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, the tabloid story she feared would out her dropped in the News of the World.   She responded to it by continuing her modeling career, appearing in The Power Station's "Some Like It Hot" video, Playboy again in September 1991, print ads, writing two autobiographical books and engaging in activism on behalf of the trans community and herself.

Ballroom legend Tracy Africa Norman was also quietly beginning her modeling career about the time that Cossey was taking the world by storm. 

Norman resembled the hot African-American model of the time period in Beverly Johnson, and from the 70's through the 80's she not only walked the runways of New York and Paris, she was represented by the third largest modeling agency in New York. 

Norman had major commercial contracts with Clairol, Ultra Sheen and Avon Cosmetics in addition to doing five ESSENCE magazine shoots

She was working on her sixth ESSENCE magazine cover, a booking for the magazine's holiday issue when a shady character from her old neighborhood who happened to be on that set recognized her and outed her to ESSENCE magazine editor Susan L. Taylor 

In the wake of that outing Norman moved to Paris and did runway work there until moving back to New York and becoming an iconic fixture in the New York balloom community.  

In the 80's we have several to talk about including the first open trans model.

South African born model Lauren Foster was born on December 4, 1957.  She grew up in Durban and realizing her gender issues at age 9, transitioned as a teen and adopted the name Lauren Shipton in 1974.

After having SRS she left Durban and began working as a model in Johannesburg and Paris.  

Her big break came when she was hired by Vogue magazine in 1980 to do a six page fashion editorial and her career took off after that.  

It was temporarily derailed by a model she'd worked with in Paris who sold her her story to the tabloid SCOPE after she was disqualified from competing in the Miss South Africa pageant..  

As was the infuriating pattern during those days,  she was hounded by the press and her career suffered until another trans model came on the New York fashion horizon in Teri Toye.  Foster's career was revived and lasted until 1988.

Lauren is currently working on her autobiography Danse Sauvage and you can see her on this season's episodes of the reality TV show The Real Housewives of Miami

Teri Toye, who I mentioned while discussing Lauren Foster, was the first open trans model.     

Teri originally traveled to New York City from Iowa to become a fashion designer and was enrolled as a student at the famed Parsons School of Design in 1984.   She transitioned while there and became a fixture of New York's eclectic nightlife scene. 

After a chance meeting with designer Stephen Sprouse, Teri opened his runway show and became an instant modeling sensation in New York and Paris.

Toye eventually walked the runways for Jean Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, and Chanel, and posed on the pages of German Vogue. She worked with supermodel Janice Dickinson, was represented by the major modeling agencies Click Models in New York and City in Paris,
was considered as a muse by photographers Steven Meisel and Nan Goldin and designer David Armstrong.  Her good looks also kept her consistently in demand.

But as quickly as Teri's modeling star rose, she disappeared from the fashion world and returned to Des Moines, IA   

Meanwhile as Teri Toye was getting attention, Roberta Close was breaking barriers in Brazil.  
She began her modeling and film career at age 17  She appeared in a popular Brazilian soap opera and print ads, was the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Brazilian Playboy (while preoperative), and hosted a late night talk show in her homeland. 

She eventually had SRS in Britain in 1989, appeared in a post-operative photo spread in the Brazilian mens magazine Sexy and was voted the 'Most Beautiful Woman In Brazil'. 

There's also the interesting story of Barbara Diop.  She is a Senegalese model who was working in Italy and South Africa, appeared in Italian Vogue and who was unfortunately outed during the 2003 Cricket World Cup tournament that was hosted in South Africa.

Diop has a look that reminds me of supermodel Alek Wek and du
ring the Olympic style parade of nations they used during the opening ceremony for it in Cape Town to kick off the multi week competition,  Diop was the only African model hired to hold the national placards as the team from Zimbabwe marched into the stadium behind her

Six days into the competition the rumors started flying that Diop was trans. .She initially denied it, but the international media sharks began to circle and kept investigating to the point where Diop eventually admitted her trans status. It trigged outrage from homobigot Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe who threatened to yank his team out of the competition.  Zimbabwe's sorry performance in it took care of that for him before he could follow through on his bombastic rhetoric.

But unfortunately we haven't heard much about Barbara Diop's life post Cricket World Cup.   She is alleged to have undergone SRS in the wake of that event and is presumed to still have a modeling career, but that has been unconfirmed for now.   My inquiring mind would sure like to know what happened to her.  


Harisu in South Korea garnered international attention at the dawn of the 21st century.  She was born in Seoul on February 17, 1975, transitioned as a teen, had SRS, studied and lived in Japan for several years before returning to South Korea in 2000   


After being featured in a 2001 commercial for DoDo cosmetics Harisu quickly became a media sensation as the first open transsexual media personality in Korea.   She branched out into other entertainment areas such as music and acting in addition to her modeling career.

She also became in 2002 the second transperson in Korea to legally change her gender on her identity documents and eventually got married to her longtime boyfriend Micky Jung in 2007.
  
So for those transgirls who are dreaming of walking the international fashion runways and the current crop of trans models working towards achieving supermodel status and other goals, note that you have a proud history to look up to.

Note these people who walked in your pumps and broke down the barriers so you would have a less stressful time in doing so and you can just focus on being the best model you can be.

Know that you are part of a long stylish line of #girlslikeus who happen to excel at sashaying down those fashion catwalks and use it as a way to get their foot in the doors of other careers.  

In many cases, as they advanced their careers, those trans models also helped advance the human rights, visibility and humanity of transpeople around the world.

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