There are a handful of very famous transgender women in the industry who have slowly begun to open up doors for transgender folks everywhere, and countless women behind the scenes, eking out a living while helping their communities. Through their talent and activism, there are some women out there that are beginning to become household names. Folks like Laverne Cox put in the work, while Republican trans women of privilege like Caitlyn Jenner do not. However polarizing Jenner has been, her very public transition has begun to push away the fog of the unknown, private struggle of these women and has been important for that reason.
Laverne Cox has been an advocate for years. As well as being a brilliant actress, she has contributed to the trans community, as a voice of trans inmates, homicide rates of trans women (particularly women of color), the unfair targeting of trans women by police under the suspicion of prostitution, and mental health issues like suicidality. Cox was the first transgender woman on the cover of Time magazine, as well as the first openly transgender actress to model nude for Allure magazine. BONUS: if you’ve got an hour, watch bell hooks and Laverne Cox here and speaking with Janet Mock here)
Lea T – This Brazilian-born, Italian-raised bisexual, transgender beauty has been the face of the Redken haircare line. Lea T started making a name for herself as the fit model/personal assistant of Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci (which the “T” stands for). She continues to model and fight for trans and LGBTQ rights.
Peche Di – Peche, a fashion powerhouse from Thailand, won Miss Asia in 2010. An aspiring actress, Peche moved to NYC from Thailand and began attending film school at NYU and acting classes at ACT OUT. She has opened the first transgender-exclusive modeling agency, Transmodels.com, where she centers models of color. “I think it’s very important to have them represent the true, unique beauty of trans models…I want to project them to be gorgeous human beings that people shouldn’t look down on or treat like they’re not normal,” she says. “There are trans women who have landed beauty campaigns, but most of them aren’t transgender women of color.”
Isis King – Like many women on this list, Isis King came from humble beginnings. She moved to NYC to transition but found herself homeless in the process. After finding her footing, she began runway modeling and had been doing so for seven years before King was the first transgender woman to be featured in America’s Next Top Model during their seventeenth cycle. This made her one of the most famous trans women on this list, gracing America’s television screen all season, broadening beauty ideals one episode at a time. She currently has her own fashion line.
Juliana Huxtable is a creative genius and all-around goddess who is currently signed to Transmodels. Born intersexed and assigned male at birth, she is the literal embodiment of intersectionality. Drawing from The Cosby Show, she chose her surname as the representation of the normal, happy African American existence that she sought throughout so much of her life. Juliana is a brilliant poet, artist, DJ, and model. Juliana grew up as part of a Southern Baptist family in Texas, which was sadly oppressive and abusive. Upon graduation, she left the south to attend Bard College in New York. Juliana Huxtable creates incredible art, some of which has been featured at the New Museum. Her likeness, a 3-D printed sculpture in the style of the Roman sculpture Sleeping Hermaphroditus, was the key piece in the Triennial show, straddling both classical and modern beauty. This statue may be the first modern figure of an intersexed person to be shown in a major museum. Her modeling career includes DKNY, Chromat, Eckhaus Latta, and BCALLA.
Tiq Milan is not known as a model first and foremost, but mostly as a transgender and Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist. His activism work has been featured in or on Ebony, BET, PolicyMic, New York Times, and serves as national spokesperson for GLAAD. Tiq has helped train folks like Geena Rocero and CeCe McDonald so that they may be able to speak about their experiences with grace and impact. As a spokesperson, Tiq has also been on MTV, MSNBC, and often appears on Huffington Post Live. To top this all off, Tiq Milan happens to be incredibly attractive and recently signed to Transmodel.
Carmen Carrera – Carmen got her first shot at fame with RuPaul’s Drag Race’s third season, originally presenting as male. After the show, she came out as transgender and made her full transition. Carerra made a splash when her fans petitioned Victoria’s Secret to choose her as a runway model, making her the first VS transgender model. Unfortunately, it has yet to be successful. Carerra continues her mission to increase the visibility of transgender women and issues.
Ines-Loan Rau – The Parisian-North African beauty, Ines-Loan Rau transitioned at the young age of 16. She was inspired to live her life as trans by reading the biography of transgender actress/model/Bond Girl Caroline “Tula” Cossey, who was famously outed by the press. Ines has modeled for many magazines, including the art issue of Playboy. She is known in Paris as “the Cinderella of our time” because of her humble beginning turned supermodel.
Rhyan Hamilton originally competed on America’s Next Top Model as a male model, eventually caving in from the pressure to “behave masculinely.” They quietly retreated during their transition to becoming the amazing Rhyan that everyone knows now. Fearing that they would never model again, Rhyan stepped back from the profession until they heard about the Transmodel agency.
Arisce Wanzer was in the news for calling one of the Jenner girls out, but it certainly has not hurt Arisce or Kendall. A fan of “live and let live,” Wanzer supports all transgender people and is the first to come to the defense of late-transitioned trans women who have been ridiculed for ‘not passing’. Virginia born and raised, Wanzer moved to Miami after high school, where she transitioned without hormones. She has been featured in magazines like Vogue, Candy, and Purple. She is also a spokesperson for Chrysalis lingerie, modeling their products that are specifically for trans women and cis-gendered women who have had mastectomies.
Jenna Talackova changed the pageant world when she fought for the right to participate in Miss Universe Canada. Being of half Babine tribe Native Canadian and half Czech heritage, she has lived straddling two cultures as well as her trans identity. She is a reality tv star in E! Canada’s “Brave New Girls,” which was filmed in 2013 when she moved to Toronto to work as a model. She is currently a student of nutrition, as well as a vegan and animal rights activist with PETA.
Laith Ashley De La Cruz is another incredible transgender model from the Transmodel agency. Born and raised in Harlem, De La Cruz has been involved with Barneys New York and featured in i-D magazine, while still remaining employed at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. Armed with degree in psychology and an understanding of the troubles that LGBTQ youth face, he helps them navigate the process of health coverage, all while giving back to the center that supported him through his transition process.
Jasmine Infiniti hails from the Bronx but is now a bi-coastal (Bay area) based artist, DJ, and model at the helm of New World Dysorder art collective. She has participated in the #Dropthetowel campaign for Wear Your Voice and is a brilliant, unsigned model. An outspoken, warm voice of transgender activism, she uses her multimedia art to communicate and provide a safe space for queers, transfolk, and allies in all forms.
Alyha Love Another Bay-based transgender model and originally from SoCal, Love moved to the Bay area to explore creative opportunities alongside the other beauties of New World Dysorder. Young and fresh to the modeling scene, Alyha has yet to be signed. I expect to see big things for this woman.
Dezjorn Gauthier has been a model since he was an infant. When he realized that he was transgender and wanted to model as his true self, he was told by industry professionals that he’d never be booked because he was only 5’7’’ and “not a real man.” Since then, he has been published in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and is featured in a Barneys New York campaign, among many other credits. Dezjorn is currently in the process of creating his own business, the “I Am Here, I Am He” trans surgery fund and legal source.
These amazing folks are all at various points in their careers, but are helping increase visibility with every word spoken about their struggle, every smile as they live authentically, and every photo snapped.