Skin Deep: On Set With A Trans Fashion Model
Arisce Wanzer is a fashion model living and working in New York City — and she's also a trans woman. A behind-the-scenes look at a day on the job.
"The vibe on set that day was a lot of fun because the energy was good, and the music was good. The photographer had his iPod going. Great stuff. Some good club-banging music. The photographer gave me direction to be very commercial, very Macy's department store, fun girl. That kind of thing. And what's funny is that I'm usually high fashion or really sexy; I never get to be commercial. So being 'fun' was kind of difficult. I'm used to getting direction about being fierce and strong, strong, strong!"
"Half of my work is by referrals, really. I'm a 'word-of-mouth' girl. I got this job because I did a photo shoot recently and one of the designers sent me a Facebook request afterwards with a message that was like, 'Hey, I just got the photos back from the shoot and I loved you in my dress. My friend wanted to know if you'd model for her fall/winter collection this Friday.' And my Friday was open. It's been said that I'm a lot of fun to work with because I'm always laughing, always dancing. This is what I've wanted to do since I was in the seventh grade, so I never take it for granted."
"Racism in the fashion industry is crazy. All the time I have to deal with not looking 'black enough' or 'too black' for a modeling gig. Also, though, about four or five times now, I've actually been turned down at castings because I didn't look 'trans enough' or 'androgynous enough.' They'll say, 'Well, the look we're going for is a little more androgynous than you can do.' In my head, I was like, What? I'm a freakin' tranny. How androgynous can you get? Whatever. So I leave and call my mom and say, 'Guess what. They didn't think I was androgynous enough. Get the fuck out of here.'"
"My parents were really supportive when I was growing up. They didn't try to keep me in a box so much as I kept it in the house, I think. It wasn't really said, but I remember one year I wanted to go as Belle from Beauty and the Beast for Halloween. My mom was like, 'I didn't know if that's a good idea. Pick something else. Come up with a plan B.' I ended up going as a pirate because I could still wear a skirt."
"I'm from Woodbridge, Virginia. When I was 17, I moved to Miami for college. And when I moved there, I didn't know what a transgender person was; I didn't know the difference between being transsexual or transgender. I didn't know about androgynous. I didn't even know that word."
"But when I started going to gay clubs, everyone I met kept asking when I was going through 'the change.' And I'd be like, 'What change?'"
"I've always had long hair, been skinny, and worn girl clothes. I just thought I was super feminine. I didn't know what a tranny was. I'd never seen that before. Like, 'I'm so gay I might be a girl one day.' That's how I saw myself. But then I started noticing my gay friends, they didn't have those feelings. They didn't grow up the way I did."
"I started reading some books [about being trans]. And I was like, 'Oh my god. I think I might be a freakin' tranny.' It was like reading into my own life. I felt like a liar. It felt like I had to come out of the closet all over again."
"I did gender therapy for several months. I just wanted to make sure before I went through the trouble of coming out all over again to everyone I knew."
"When I was 19, my mom picked me up from the airport and in the car I told her that I am transgender. She asked, 'What is transgender?' so I told her. I explained everything to her about being trans and why I'd been going to therapy."
"After I was done my mom said, 'OK. Well, that makes sense. Are you happy?' And I was. Water under the fucking bridge. And then I asked her to do me the favor of telling everybody because I didn't feel like it. It's no one's business what I'm doing 'downstairs.'"
"And that's when I started living as the girl I felt I was."
"I did drag for three or four years as a outlet, a way to get comfortable in my skin. I was part of a traveling party that circulated among the gay clubs in Miami. I'm a showboat. I love to perform. Eventually I got back into modeling as a woman. I walked in a lot of Miami Fashion Weeks before moving to New York."
"The most amazing moment I've had as a model is when I was shooting for Patrick Demarchelier for Love magazine. They didn't use my page, but I have the photos and know everyone who was there. One month prior, I had moved to New York with no money. All I had to run on was hope and the faith that my mother had in me. There was so much that could've gone wrong."
"And one month almost to the day after moving to the city, I'm shooting for Demarchelier naked! I was like 'Get the fuck out of here!' I did it. I fucking did it. He picked me even though there were two other models there who were much more famous than me. That shoot… It made me somebody — to me. No matter what anyone said from that point on. 'You're not black enough… you're not trans enough.' Whatever. I'm Demarchelier enough!"