Back in January 2017, National Geographic took a bold step by featuring a young transgender girl on its front cover. The edition itself was dedicated to tackling cultural, social, personal and biological problems, and giving a voice to transgender, intersex, nonbinary, gender fluid and androgynous people among others.
It is not the first of its kind, but it surely plays an important role in our society which is moving towards a different, a more open-minded future in regards to gender. More and more people are stepping into the spotlight and changing our rooted perceptions of what is and isn't the "norm."
One of such people is LGBTQ activist and trans model Shane Henise.
Henise is a 25-year-old female-to-male transgender person who was featured on Laverne Cox's "The T Word" documentary on MTV, as well as signed by Trans Models NYC – New York City's first ever transgender modeling agency.
The agency was created by Pêche Di, a trans model herself, and a former Thai beauty queen. Trans Models NYC started in March 2015 and featured 19 models, 10 of which were transgender men and 9 transgender women.
Each model was of different race and body type, and have previously participated in campaigns for big companies like Budweiser and Smirnoff. Henise was one of these people who worked with Di in order to change the face of the fashion industry.
"I wanted to use my position to show that trans people deserve love and respect, just like anyone else.
When I heard about Trans Models NYC, I wanted to use the skills I had gained to be an example for people who may not know much about the trans experience,"
– Shane Henise.
Pêche Di shares a similar view on the matter. She created the agency in response to the increasing visibility of trans people in the media. During an interview with Forbes, Di said:
"I wanted to create work for myself and for other trans people that struggle within the fashion industry because it is not as inclusive as it could be. I felt there was an opportunity, a moment of ripeness, to inject something new into the industry."
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) noted in November 2016 that American TV shows had a record number of LGBTQ characters – sixteen of these characters were transgender. In the modeling world, transgender models are also helping bump up the representation of transgender people in mainstream media.
People like Valentijn De Hingh and Hari Nef – H&M's first ever transgender models to star in an ad campaign – have been working towards increasing representation.
"Working with Trans Models has given me a platform in a whole new way. I consider it as part of my advocacy to involve more trans people in media work.
I also wanted to give more representation to trans men, who are often left out of media portrayals,"
– Shane Henise.
As for the future, Henise wants to pursue media work after graduating from Columbia University, audition for transgender roles, and continue using his platform to inspire and bring about positive changes for trans people. He tells Konbini:
"Trans people have so much talent and wisdom to bring to our community and we aren't able to do so without opportunity. If we can craft a more inclusive space for trans people, it would not only save lives, but benefit everyone in the process."
Cover image via Omit Magazine