Today marks T-7 days until the world premiere of Strut, a new Oxygen-owned reality series that follows signees of Slay Model Management, one of the first exclusively transgender modeling agencies. Like everyone else in the industry, Ren Spriggs, Isis King, Arisce Wanzer, Laith De La Cruz and Dominique Jackson are currently flitting around New York City. However, they’re on a promotional tour, not taking in the spring collections. (They didn’t even get to see the show’s 60-year-old co-producer, Whoopi Goldberg, make her modeling debut on Sunday at Opening Ceremony’s politically charged presentation, sigh.) Happily, their nights look pretty similar to those of their fashionable peers. Read: Elaborate fêtes at hot spots like Marquee. We caught up with the group before their premiere party at the posh Chelsea nightclub to talk diversity in the industry and what they hope viewers will take away from the show, besides some serious laughs. Here’s what we learned.
1. Visibility is here.
In the October issue of Cosmopolitan, cover girl Laverne Cox told the glossy that the trans revolution didn’t just start — it’s been around for a long time — but now it’s picking up speed. At the Chanel Fine Jewelry dinner in June, transgender model and actress Hari Nef told Vanity Fair, “People have told me that my visibility kept them alive . . . in the context that there are very few trans and gender non-conforming people who are visible in the world. You know, we’re all very different folks. And it’s difficult to see yourself when the culture hasn’t always reflected that.” At last night’s Strut premiere party, cast member Arisce Wanzer echoed her peers’ sentiments: “Visibility is really here. People actually want to see us which is really interesting.” Before Strut, Wanzer took for granted how educational her own life experiences could be: “When I think of my life, I think, ‘My life is boring!’ But when I look back on my experiences on the show I realize how crazy and dramatic they must seem to someone on the outside looking in. When it’s your own life it doesn’t seem that serious. Being trans, I’m so bored of…modeling, I’m so bored of… I’ve been doing both for so long. But when you watch your day-to-day played back, you’re like, ‘Oh right, that is not what happens to everyone everyday! Noted.'”
2. New York Fashion Week is making serious gains on all diversity fronts (or so it seems).
It’s shaping up to be a banner year for diversity at New York Fashion Week. This year, raver-chic brand Chromat continued its tradition of using a gloriously diverse cast of models, including three beautiful trans women, Carmen Carrera, Leyna Bloo and Maya Monès. Cast member Dominique Jackson says she’s noticed definite progress, both in terms of diversity on the runway and what’s deemed fashionable: “I’ve been working Fashion Week for about five or six years now and I’ve seen it change for the better. I see more people like myself on the runway and fashion itself has changed and evolved a lot. Wearing clothes has gotten a lot more fun.” This year, Jackson found time to walk in Adrian Alisaya, Asher Levine and more in between press events for Strut.
3. Arisce Wanzer is a perfect candidate for The All Woman Project.
Arisce, like Charli Howard and Clementine Desseaux, envisions a world in which campaigns are cast based on whether a model can sell a product and not by his or her size, shape, sexual identity or race. When asked if she thought the fashion industry has become more diverse in recent years, Wanzer responded, “I don’t know if the industry’s changed at all. They’re still tokenizing us. They’re still not using us for regular jobs, they’re still not giving us the campaigns we deserve.” That said, she noted that progress has been made: “Things are getting a little better. We’ve got Tracey Africa doing Clairol again. I need to see more of that. More big campaigns. More visibility. Transgender models doing commercial work for brands like Target and Macy’s. Just being girls or guys. Selling pants. We’re not curing cancer. We’re wearing clothes, selling clothes. If it looks good on you, you’re qualified. Why should any model be put in a box or marginalized based on another person’s concept of gender?”
4. This show isn’t just about helping cis people understand transgender people, it’s a message to the transgender community itself.
In the past, we’ve heard Whoopi stress the fact that the show is about breaking down stereotypes and helping outsiders relate to the transgender community. “This show is important right now because for all of the positive advances the community has made and continues to make, transgender is still a hot-button word that gets people hysterical,” Goldberg told Variety back in May. “People tend to focus on the stereotype instead of the person, and this series will give viewers a unique opportunity to spend time with real people who are struggling with the same challenges we all face as we make our way through the world. You may even be surprised to discover that you have been seeing and interacting with transgender men and women in ways you didn’t even realize!”
Last night, Whoopi shared her hope that people struggling with gender identity issues would benefit from the show in the same manner. “These are people who want the same things everybody else wants and their lives are made harder by the fact that they’re transgender,” she said of the cast of Strut. “We know that most transgender individuals don’t live to see forty. We want to make sure that all transgender people realize that there is more out there for them. Hold on. Don’t go. Watch these folks. We want you to know that everyone’s going through the same issues with parents, wives, friends — all of their relationships. All the same stuff everyone goes through.”