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.