12 Transgender Artists to Keep Your Eye On

In honor of Trans Awareness Week (November 14-20), I present to you a handful of my personal favorite up-and-coming transgender actors/models/fitness experts/reality TV stars that you need to know about. Obviously you know about big name transgender stars like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox (because doesn’t everyone?), but here are twelve lesser-known artists that demand your attention. They’re going to be huge.

Hari Nef:

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Actress and model Hari Nef made history in 2015 when she became the first transgender model signed by a major modeling agency. Nef is repped by IMG Worldwide, the same agency that reps Julianne Moore, the Hadid sisters, Gemma Ward, Gisele Bündchen, and Kate-fucking-Moss. Nef graduated in the spring of 2015 from Columbia’s theatre program and signed with IMG shortly after. Her writing has appeared in Dazed, Vice, BLACKBOOK, and more. She also has a regular sex advice column in Adult Mag. Nef most recently landed a role in season 2 of the Amazon series Transparent (which, if you haven’t watched, I highly recommend. Everyone in it is flawless). Nef is outspoken and hilarious (seriously, follow her Twitter). She’s also smart as hell. Says Nef in Out Magazine’s Out100: “Triumphs for trans women have been directly proportional to an increase in violence against less-privileged trans women, particularly black trans women. It’s not all up to us, though — there needs to be more focus on the cisgender men who are killing us, and their prejudice.”

Trace Lysette:

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Trace Lysette is a New York-based actress best known for her role in Transparent. Lysette plays Shea, Maura’s (Tambor) yoga-instructor and friend (she’s amazing in the role). Prior to her role in Transparent, Lysette never disclosed that she was trans. In an interview with Advocate, she says, “I never disclosed I was trans to anyone in the casting process for fear of being discriminated against. I wasn’t living out loud yet,” she reflects. “I hadn’t seen another trans woman in a nontrans role on TV before. … It was uncharted territory for me and I remember being a nervous wreck on-set, hoping that no one would ‘clock’ me [as trans].” In 2013, though, that changed, and Lysette says she became “free” after seeing Laverne Cox’s OITNB character Sophia Burset as well as being friends with the inspiring Cox herself. In an interview with GLAAD, Lysette says that since coming out, she has been able to play roles that “allow me to access parts of myself that I had kept censored for years.” Lysette also has recurring roles in the Starz comedy Blunt Talk and NBC’s The Curse of the Fuentes Women.

Laith Ashley De La Cruz

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Laith Ashley De La Cruz is a model and LGBTQ advocate who landed a starring role in Barneys New York’s landmark advertising campaign, Brother, Sisters, Sons & Daughters in the spring 2014. Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters was shot by Bruce Webber and featured the stories of 17 transgender models. Says De La Cruz, “It’s been an eye-opening experience for me to work with Bruce Weber. I’ve met so many wonderful trans people, good people, all of them. I’ve talked to them a lot. They have helped me understand that I am finding my identity.” De La Cruz’s mass following on Instagram led to his casting. He graduated from Fairfield University with a degree in Psychology and currently works with the LGBTQ community at New York’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a health facility for LGBTQ people living with HIV/AIDS.

Mya Taylor:

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Mya Taylor is the breakout star of director Sean Baker’s Tangerine (if you haven’t yet, watch it) alongside longtime friend Kiki Rodriguez. In Tangerine, Taylor plays Alexandra, a transgender prostitute in Los Angeles. Tangerine was shot on an iPhone 5S and has received a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. In an interview with Vogue, Taylor accredits her survival to her sense of humor: “When you’re going through life, and you come out to your family as gay, and they say, “You’re going to hell.” And this and that. They say all this shit behind your back. And then you leave because you know they don’t want you around, and you’re out in the streets and you’re homeless, you don’t have nothing to eat, and you have to go eat at the youth center. You know, all that stuff. Even for the people that do sex work because they can’t get a job, you know, do all this crazy stuff, all you can do is laugh to try to keep yourself floating. Otherwise, you’ll commit suicide.”

Kiki Rodriguez 

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Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez stars alongside Mya Taylor in 2015’s Tangerine. Playing the role of a transgender prostitute in L.A., Rodriguez’s performance in the film landed her on the Out100 list (with co-star Mya Taylor). When asked about the state of the trans community at present, Rodriquez responded, “We have to remember to stay together as one, as supporters, as lovers, as sisterhood and brotherhood. It’s going and nobody can stop reality. This is what is making waves in the industry. For me, it’s tidal waves.” Rodriguez is also a trans advocate and a health educator at an HIV/AIDS research center.

Aydian Dowling

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Aydian Dowling is a 28-year-old from Eugene, Oregon who became one of the 10 semifinalists in 2015’s Ultimate Men’s Health Guy Search (he’s currently #1). He won the readers’ voting portion of the contest, and says of the contest, “Having a trans person on the cover would tell people that no matter who you are, you can be the man you want to be. It’s fully possible if you put the time and effort and balance it takes to find the man in you.” Dowling is also the creator of the YouTube Beefheads Fitness channel, telling Men’s Health, “There was no one on YouTube making fitness videos for trans people. Most females train to build a female body, and most men train to get a more masculine body. So when you’re a biological female trying to gain a masculine physique, you’re going to train a little differently. I wanted to provide a space where we can encourage each other at the gym, even if we might not know what we’re doing.

Andreja Pejić

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Andreja Pejić  is the first transgender model to appear in Vogue. Pejić is 24-years-old and a Bosnian refugee who grew up in Australia. She made her first appearance in the modeling world in the early 2000s as an androgynous model, capturing the attention of Jean Paul Gaultier. She went public with her transition in 2014. In the Out100 list, Pejić says, “As a woman who was born trans, I know what it’s like to be different, to be an outcast and to be defined only by ‘that thing’ which makes you a little different. However, I care more about inclusion and equality than feeling special. The future is fluid, and nothing adds more to progress than humanity united.” You can also find her in a major beauty campaign, Make Up Forever’s “Be You,” as well as Kenneth Cole campaigns.

Michelle Hendley 

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Michelle Hendley is the star of the critically-acclaimed film, Boy Meets Girl (if you haven’t seen it, PLEASE do so ASAP. It’s available on Netflix). In the film, Hendley plays a transgender girl named Ricky, who lives in a rural, southern town. The movie, which explores the nuances of gender and sexuality, is adorable, insightful, and impactful. It features an especially poignant full-frontal nude scene that Hendley describes as, “me showing the world what a trans body is.” The role feels familiar for her, as she grew up in a small town in Missouri. Thankfully she had the full support of her family. Hendley says when she came out to her family as gay, her mother asked, “Are you sure you’re not just a girl?” Besides Boy Meets Girl, Hendley also has a vlog, which landed her the role in Boy Meets Girl. You can view it here.

Dezjorn Gauthier

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Dezjorn Gauthier is a model for Trans Models New York, as well as the CEO and founder of I am here, I am he LLC (forthcoming). Says Gauthier in an article in the opinions pages of the New York Times, Since elementary I knew, but I did not have the correct term. In the early 2000’s things became more clear as I matured. In 2009, I confirmed the term ‘transgender’ described me the best. As college approached fear gathered around me, but I did not let that stop me and I started to physically transition.” Transition has not been easy for Gauthier, but it has been worth it: “I have lost family and friends, struggled with health insurance, jobs and societal norms. I continue to try to strive as a transman of color. Not just in modeling but in giving back to the community, advocating, and in education.” Gauthier was founded on Instagram in 2013 by JV8 Inc. and was subsequently cast in the Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters campaign alongside Laith Ashley De La Cruz.

Jazz Jennings

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Jazz Jennings is a 15-year-old superstar. She is a YouTube personality, a spokesperson, and an LGBTQ activist. Jennings first began making TV appearances at age six. She received national attention at the age of 7 when she appeared in an interview with Barbara Walters in 2007. Jennings is a co-founder of TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, along with her parents. They founded the foundation, which aims to assist transgender youth in all facets of life, in 2007. Jennings is also the star of the 2011 documentary I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition. She also fought a two-and-a-half year battle with the United States Soccer Federation to allow her to play on a girls’ team (she won). She has co-written a book, appeared on Time’s The 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014,” been a Clean & Clear spokesmodel, and starred in her own TLC docu-series, I am Jazz. Says Jennings in an interview with Metro Weekly, “I don’t know if I would consider myself a role model. But really, in sharing my story for many years, I’ve seen a lot of positive feedback and people who I’ve impacted, it’s just so encouraging. And it really motivates me to continue sharing my story. I’m proud to be a representation of transgender kids for people to see, but I feel that I’m just doing my part in trying to achieve equality for all.”

Jamie Clayton

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If you’re a serial Netflix binger and you haven’t seen Sense8 yet, what are you even doing? Jamie Clayton plays Nomi Marks, a transgender, San Francisco-based blogger and hacker, in the Netflix original series. The show does an amazing job at depicting eight different and intricate characters, and Nomi is one of the most complex. Says Clayton in an interview with The Wrap, “I love Nomi, I love the character. She really represents something we’ve never seen before. It’s empathy. People come together to help each other. It doesn’t matter that they don’t speak the same language, it doesn’t matter their genders, their sexuality.” Just like Phelan, Clayton is able to create such an honest depiction of a transgender woman became she herself is transgender. “There has never been a trans character in a movie or on a show before whose story didn’t revolve around the transition,” says Clayton. “Nomi is the first. She’s living her life, she has a job, she’s in love. No one cares, because at the end of the day, we shouldn’t care that she’s trans. She’s a human being.”

Tom Phelan

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Tom Phelan stars in ABC Family’s (soon to be FreeformThe Fosters as Cole, a teenage, transitioning young man. This is a huge accomplishment in itself, as The Fosters actually casted a trans actor to play the part. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Phelan says of the role, “A lot of kids who are 14 or 15 have been telling me their stories and telling me that it’s been great to see someone like them on television. I feel really lucky to be that and share that with them. When I was 14 or 15 I didn’t know this thing existed. Characters like Cole and characters like [Laverne Cox’s] Sophia on Orange Is the New Black are really important, especially for trans kids who are coming into their own and just realizing that this is something that they might be.” He also feels that the role is authentic and individual. Says Phelan, “There’s really no way of knowing if this depiction is accurate because everyone is going to have a different experience. And I think that Cole is one of thousands and thousands of ways to depict a transgender person.”


Hannah Gordon

Blog Editor, What the F Magazine

 

 

 

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From One White Girl to Another: Sit Down, Shut Up, and Listen

This blog post is in response to a Total Sorority Move article entitled, “I Am A White, Non-Racist, Non-Violent Mizzou Student And I Actively Oppose #ConcernedStudent1950.” (Full disclosure: if you read the above article, be prepared to roll  your eyes A LOT.)

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Hey, “Lucky Jo” from Total Sorority Move. My name is Clarissa, I, too, am a white female college student at a big state school. I’m writing to you today because, although, of course, you have a right to express your opinion, I find your article to be generally concerning, insensitive, and problematic, as well as out of touch with some basic facts. I’m spending my time responding to your article because you begin by labeling yourself a “white, non-racist, non-violent Mizzou student,” which to me essentially equates to you calling yourself an ally. You don’t identify as someone who thinks racism isn’t real, or anything like that, you seem to want to be a productive member of the movement, which I why I think it’s important you hear what I’m about to say. Take this seriously.

Let’s begin. First, I think you’ve misunderstood and unnecessarily siloed Butler and #ConcernedStudent1950’s goals of ending racism on your campus and getting Tim Wolfe to resign. The two are interconnected and not for the rather dismissive reason you give (that Butler “blamed [Wolfe] for the actions of a few racist individuals”). Your university president gave nothing but empty rhetoric when brave student activists literally spelled out for him the daily discrimination students of color experience on your campus. Butler and #ConcernedStudent1950 didn’t blame Wolfe for there being racist students at Mizzou, they blamed him for not doing anything about it when it is his fucking job to do something about it. It was Wolfe’s responsibility to make your campus a place where all students are able to exist and access their education without feeling afraid and threatened. You say that you don’t know what they expected him to do, because for some people racism is just the way they think and you can’t change people’s beliefs, but I’m going to challenge you on that. The entire point of college as an institution is to educate people, to teach people how to think, and to help people come to their own beliefs. There are loads of programs that help students un-learn racist/sexist/homophobic/etc. beliefs and learn more pro-social ways of interacting. As a university president, it was Wolfe’s job to know how (or at least to try and learn how) to fix these issues and create a livable (at the least) campus for students of color.  

Further, you say that by bringing up racism on campus #ConcernedStudent1950 has only increased racial division at your school. This is an argument that white people use a lot to argue why we shouldn’t talk about racism. And I say that only white people use this line of argument because it really only applies to white people. People of color have to think about race all the time. White people almost never have to think about race. POC already feel like they exist in hostile, racially divided spaces. White people don’t feel this way because they have the power in the social relationship and have been fed lies that racism is over and we can move on. Only when people of color bring up racism do white people think about race, and that makes them uncomfortable because then they’re forced to reckon with the fact that our society is racially divided, and there is a fuck-ton of racism everywhere that they had been blind to before.

You say that Butler and #ConcernedStudent1950 “politicized [the] campus.” This makes your unacknowledged and unchecked privilege all the more clear to me. Your campus was political before. The only difference now is that it’s been politicized in a way that doesn’t align with the status quo. Racism is political, but it’s so ingrained as an everyday part of our culture that we, white people, don’t see it as so. What people see as political is people of color taking up space, intellectual and physical, and saying that the status quo must fall.  Let me show you how ingrained this thought process is through your own speech: you say, “It breaks my heart to see what those involved have done to my school.” You say “my” school; you do not say “our” school. It upsets you that people of color have dared to occupy a space that you think is not theirs, though it absolutely is.

Another issue I have with your argument is the way that you bring up “free speech.” People love talking about free speech, their rights, and the first amendment, but I find that a lot of the time people misunderstand what those things actually mean. The first amendment, everyone’s right to free speech, means that the government cannot make a law or otherwise censor what private citizens say or what’s printed in the press. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean that racist white people can threaten to murder all of the black people they see without any responses or repercussions from other people. You say that no one can tell you or anyone what to say, you have absolute freedom to say and think whatever you want, people should realize that verbal threats are just verbal threats, and that freedom of speech is more important than anyone’s feelings and over-sensitive people should just “get over it.” This is a logic that really irks me because it’s completely hypocritical and contradictory. If you say something offensive, no one can tell you not to say it because you have an absolute right to freedom. If Jonathan Butler or any other POC says that they feel unsafe on campus because they are being harassed and threatened by white supremacists, they need to shut up and deal with it because white people’s freedom of speech is more important than POC’s right to both freedom of speech as well as to exist in a public space. This simplistic line of argument ignores the fact that while laws and policies support some people, they have to restrict others. In order for POC to be able to go to school, the KKK and other white supremacists can’t walk around telling people to murder black students because that is hate speech. Verbal threats are real threats, and it is an incredibly privileged and thus oppressive stance to say that they don’t count.

Finally you ask, “Why is it that Butler gets to choose the importance of discrimination? Why does he get to prioritize intolerance? Why are his problems more important than mine, or yours, or any other of the 35,441 students currently enrolled in this university?” and the answer is because he and the other black students on your campus (and mine) are actually experiencing discrimination. It’s not ranking oppression to fight against racism, it’s responding to real social conditions. You’re a woman, so I guarantee you’re experiencing institutional, structural, cultural, and interpersonal sexism at your school—I know I am—so start a movement for that also. If you feel that you’re being discriminated against, students have the power to do something about it. This movement has shown us just that. But in order to fight your fight, you cannot diminish others oppression, otherwise you just re-produce the same fucked up system that brought us here.

This is a good place to end, because it brings us back to where I started: you sound like you want to be a good ally, but this article, explaining to an oppressed group why what they’re doing is wrong and why they’ve fucked everything up for their oppressors, is a shitty way to go about being an ally. It perpetuates racism within social justice movements and that’s completely unacceptable. Your first paragraph begins with an admission that if someone had told you a little while ago that racism and racial tension at your school would soon be the topic of national media coverage, you “would’ve asked them what drugs they were on and advise that they seek immediate medical attention.” I think this is the crux of why an article like yours isn’t very productive. You’re out of touch with both the notion that racism exists on your campus and by extension the lived experiences of racism at Mizzou. If you want to be part of the solution and not the problem, you need to take a step back and you need to ask the people leading the movement—the people whose fight this is, the people who experience racism—what you can do and how you can help. You do not and should not explain to them why what they’re doing is wrong and why you, as a holder of the identity which caused these issues, can explain what to do better. They know what they’re doing. They’ve lived it, they’re living it. It’s great that you want to participate, but ally’s are only useful if they’re not perpetuating systemic hierarchies. So, in a nutshell, sit down, shut up, and listen.

*Also two side notes: I find your description of Wolfe’s “hard work” and “soiled reputation” alarming. This rhetoric is similar to that used by people who are ‘concerned’ about the reputations of men after survivors accuse them of sexual assault. There is no place for victim-blaming in any movement, and that includes this one. If Wolfe didn’t want a reputation as someone who doesn’t do anything when black students are getting death threats from Klan members, well then he should’ve done something. There is no one to blame for his “soiled reputation” except himself.

The second one: you say, “The #ConcernedStudent1950 movement was driven by anger and drama, but those involved did little to channel their passion into a constructive approach. They failed to make informed arguments,” which is factually incorrect. Here is a list of what their issues are and how they want them solved.


Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven