Make Room On the Runway For These Transgender Models


When you look at the photos from Barneys New York’s recent ad campaign, Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, the models are typical: natural beauty complimented by long legs or buff torsos. What distinguishes this campaign from others: All the women and men are transgender models. Similarly, Swedish jeans label Crocker features a new ad campaign with photos of the androgynous Erika Linder (“I have too much imagination to just be one gender”) in which she poses, with a few changes to her hair and makeup, as both a man and a woman.

Barneys’ models also shared their life stories—from discrimination to accomplishment—in interviews with Patricia Bosworth, contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Arin Andrews explained how his transition changed him:

You have this new love for life. You want to make something of yourself because you struggled hard to survive. The experiences I went through made me into the guy I am today. I think that’s the best thing about this: I am the man I want to be.

Watch the entire interview in the video below:

David Freeman, who led the Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters campaign, explained his reasoning behind it:

I was exquisitely aware that, in the last decade, the LGB communities have made extraordinary advances, and the transgender community has not shared in that progress.

In its ads, Barney’s hit the right tone of respect for the transgender community, most likely because the company partnered with the National Center for Transgender Equality and the LGBT Community Center.  As transgender advocate and writer Parker Marie Molloy explains,

The trans women weren’t portrayed as over-the-top caricatures of femininity, as they are so often shown on TV and in movies. The trans men weren’t made out to be hulking lumberjacks. In each picture, in each pose, we saw the same treatment cisgender [nontrans] models would have been put through.

Model Ryley Pogensky explained how difficult it is being gender queer and black in a modeling agency:

The modeling industry has always said that I wasn’t something. I would have people go through my book and say, ‘We love you, but how will we use you?’

Pogensky added that the Barneys shoot broke down racial as well as gender barriers. One reason the company may have embraced diversity is because last year it was chided for racial profiling in its stores and for falsely accusing black customers of shoplifting. Said Molloy,

… I have to wonder if this is just Barneys trying to create an image of diversity as a response to allegations of racism they’ve faced in recent years. Either way, it’s great to see trans people being represented in a positive light, though it should not be treated as something that forgives the luxury retailer’s racial insensitivity.
Another fashion campaign that has been gaining headlines, Crocker Jeans, wanted their Erika Linder shoot to “break new boundaries within the fashion industry.” Their video, below, illustrates Linder’s transformation from a grunge bad boy to a lipsticked fashionista witha long ponytail. The campaign could have used some sensitivity training about its tagline, though: “Come as you are/ Whatever you are” implies that a trans or androgynous person is a “what” rather than a who.

These campaigns are in contrast to American Apparel’s open call  for “transexy” models, which drew criticism for using the word “transgendered,” let alone giving the sense that, once again, American Apparel will be sexually exploitative. A frustrated Molloy said about the campaign,
‘Transexy?’ Ugh. And ‘transgendered’ isn’t a word.
Lindsey O’Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. Shelly Tracy says:

    Beautiful, dramatic…

  2. Well I LOVED that! They were so cute! And very attractive too 😉
    But I really liked hearing their story, and I think that’s great to see transgender teens featured in an ad!

  3. Christian says:

    They’re both really beautiful, if I hand’t known they were transgender, I’d have thought they were both handsome, normal men and women, respectively

    • “Normal men and women”? Dang, maybe rethink your wording. As a transwoman, I find the idea that I’m less normal than a cisgender person pretty offensive 🙁

      • Oh for fucks sake, seriously? You are a member of a very, very small minority, of which often undergo rapid and dramatic changes in appearance and persona. You are unusual, you are abnormal. I’m a white guy, in Canada, I’m pretty ‘normal’. In most parts of Asia, I’d be so ‘abnormal’ people would stare at me as if my head had sprouted secondary pairs of eyeballs.

        You’re not normal, own it. Don’t get over it, own it. The most unusual, obscured, uncouth, and diverse parts of us are close to what we fundamentally are. The people who take that shit and exploit it are the ones who make the most out of their lives, and since you only get the one, that’s pretty good advise. Best I ever got.

        I’m a white, cisgendered, son of a christian middle class guy. I don’t have much that makes me special, but I have a love of politics, extremely high concept stories, and animation. If I don’t exploit that shit, own it, instead of hiding it and keeping that shit to myself, where the hell will I go with my life? Nowhere.

        I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, I’m trying to say that there’s a better way of approaching this shit. If you’re hurt and discouraged by a single comment that implies you’re abnormal, you’re going to feel miserable your whole life, if you don’t already. Not a good way to live.

        • Samantha says:

          Phildog that was amazing! Perfectly worded, I couldn’t agree more with you.

        • Hey look, no offence but being apart this small minority group wasn’t by choice. All I’m saying we are born this way and have no other choice but to transition. Just to find some peace of mind. My life has been hell and I just keep soldiering on. At times its hard just to keep going with all the hate and bigotry pointed our way. No wonder why so many of us decide to take our own lives.

        • Clarissa says:

          Oh for heaven’s sakes. It’s not like Crystal is shooting for the moon in asking not to be referred to as abnormal. Phildog, it’s great that you’re privileged and average and everything, but you need to realize that your opinion and your experiences don’t really apply to this. Crystal didn’t make a big deal about anything, she simply asked to be referred to in a more respectful way. Your overblown defense including two and a half paragraphs about how ‘normal’ you are and how she should ‘own being abnormal’ are insulting, unnecessary, and most of all inappropriate from a cisgender white man who prides himself on not being part of any minority groups. As a side note, don’t call people abnormal. Just don’t. It’s rude.

  4. I really loved this article, thank you to share those informations about transgenders. I think that we don’t speak enough about this.
    The story is so touching, it make me think about my transgender friend that i’m trying to support the best I can…
    Love you forever Alex <3

  5. ‘we saw the same treatment cisgender [nontrans] models would have been put through.’
    Um. Going to celebrate, but only to a point. It’s amazing how much the fashion world can do to break down barriers, work with artists, visionaries, the best photographers in the world… and still produce a narrow, boring definition. However the model identifies.

  6. It’s good that they’re doing this. It’s not exactly that unusual though. Portraying transitioned people as ultra feminized or masculine archetypes, who are either super skinny, or a little skinny but fit. Of the trans people I know and consider friends, few actually look like that.

    Many are often fat, many mostly pass but retain undesirable physical traits of their previous sex. The fact is that the only messages they receive from the media at large are either accusing them of being deviant monstrosity or holding up absurd levels of femininity or masculinity. Transitioning isn’t easy, it takes a lot of time, money, and mental energy, plus when trans people start taking hormones their bodies will often have less energy and start to retain fat. Combining all these factors together, they form a message to all trans people that if you’ve tried transitioning and you haven’t reached this level of gender conformity you’ve failed and have instead transformed yourself into a he-she freak of nature. That’s fucked up.

    We are seeing a lot of campaigns (though admittedly not enough) popping up telling women that it’s okay to not be ‘perfect’. You’re still a wonderful, complete human being, and deserving of love and respect no matter what you look like. Trans people aren’t getting that message, especially when the media continues to portray them using actors and models that are actually cisgendered themselves. We need real media campaigns showing that just because you’re a trans woman without an hourglass figure, or a trans man without a penis, that you’re still a wonderful, complete human being, and deserving of love and respect no matter what you look like.

  7. Vincent Linder says:

    I find this to be great. I find that I don’t see enough out of the transgender community. I also find it funny that I share my last name with one of the models. To my knowledge, we are not related.

  8. They make a beautiful couple. We do only get this one life and everyone deserves happiness.

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