It’s no secret that transgender people are often censored and excluded from mainstream media. Trans* men and women are profoundly underrepresented, and when they are placed in ads or television or film, they’re either highly sexualized, sensationalized or the butt of a joke. This is not okay and it needs to change. That’s why I was so optimistic when I saw American Apparel was looking for trans* models.
On their Instagram account, AA posted the above photo along with this caption:
NYC, we’re hosting an open call for transgendered/transsexual models! Stop by our Chelsea store today from 4pm – 6pm! 181 8th Ave. New York, NY 10011 #AAmodels #LGBTQpride
Awesome, right? Well, sort of. While it’s awesome that a major company — albeit an historically “meh” one — wants to find amateur models who are transgender, it is frustrating that it used the word “transgendered.” According to a 2010 article by transgender advocate and author Joanna Herman, the word is less descriptive, more derogatory.
Readers of my age and older will remember a sad time when this country labeled African-Americans as “colored people.” One problem with this label was that it implied something happened to make the person “of color,” which denied the person’s dignity of being born that way. Today, we are somewhat more enlightened and say “people of color” instead.
Most transgender people I know have felt a gender incongruity for as long as they remember, and evolving science says we were probably born feeling like this. The only thing that changed along the way has been our awareness that there are others like us. We didn’t “decide” to be transgender.
Again, I see that American Apparel’s efforts — while more likely driven by the desire to maintain a certain level of controversy than noble intentions — are not awful by any means. I was stoked when AA first used a transgender model a while back! I just wish the company had been sure to do its research before sending out this casting call, as this just depletes the positivity in its efforts.
Instead, it comes across more as an accessorizing deal than an actual desire to promote divergence from the typical cisgender, light-skinned, tall, thin, etc. models. Plus, as HuffPo commenters pointed out, the desire to have “no visible makeup” on applicants could be viewed as insensitive to those who utilize beauty products to enhance their gender identity’s projection to the world.
That said, I am still excited that such a large company is doing more to diversify the models who represent its brand. The thought of living in a world where all the transgender individuals I know are able to regularly see people in the media who better represent them is so, so wonderful. Hopefully, more companies will follow AA’s lead (but better) and see transgender people as…well, people.
What do you think of its casting call?