Some transgender victories are clearer than others…
Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black, Netflix
From The New Yorker:
The so-called transgender moment has been full of firsts, although some victories are clearer than others. In 2014, the actress Laverne Cox, from “Orange Is the New Black,” became the first transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy and to appear on the cover of Time. Last year, Caitlyn Jenner was the first internationally known celebrity to come out as transgender. Politically, Jenner sends a mixed message: while she invited activists like Janet Mock to appear on her reality show, “I Am Cait,” she endorsed Ted Cruz for President. Hollywood has piled on with serious movies like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Danish Girl” (about Lili Elbe, one of the first transgender women to undergo sex-reassignment surgery), but both starred cisgender—meaning non-trans—men.
There have been transgender fashion models over the decades, but most kept their identities secret (and many still do). The model April Ashley appeared in British Vogue in 1960, but her career ended abruptly when she was outed by the tabloids. Caroline (Tula) Cossey posed for Playboy in 1981, while promoting her role in “For Your Eyes Only,” but then News of the World ran the salacious headline “James Bond’s Girl Was a Boy.” The openly transgender model Teri Toye had a short career in the mid-eighties, before returning to Iowa to be a historic preservationist. Connie Fleming modelled for Thierry Mugler in 1992, under the moniker Connie Girl, but the decade was kinder to drag queens, like RuPaul, who achieved crossover success with the hit single “Supermodel (You Better Work).”
These days, the fashion world seems ready to capitalize on the new trans visibility. Barneys featured trans models in its spring 2014 campaign. Andreja Pejić, who grew up in a Serbian refugee camp, was discovered while working at a McDonald’s in Melbourne and became successful as a male runway model, before revealing that her fine-boned androgyny was the result of a synthetic hormone and relaunching her career as a female model. Then, there are the murkier efforts: in January, Jaden Smith, the precocious son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, modelled women’s wear for Louis Vuitton, leading advocates to wonder whether gender fluidity was simply the latest iteration of flat chests and bare midriffs. I asked Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, if she thought the fashion industry was using trans people to some extent. “Sure,” she said. “But that’s fine—we’ll use the fashion industry.”
The trans pop-culture preoccupation has been only loosely connected to advances in social policy, sometimes dishearteningly so.