Tory Burch, Gucci, Haider Ackermann, Carolina Herrera, Dior, Maison Margiela, Dries Van Noten

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Last September during New York Fashion Week, I came out publicly as transgender: first in an online interview with CNN Style, then on Instagram, since that’s what you do now when you have a life-changing announcement. If it came as a surprise to people, it’s because I’d already been working as a female model for the past few years.

I actually started taking hormones when I was 17. I grew up in Boston and knew early on that I was very much female, despite my anatomy. I would sneak into my mom’s closet and play dress-up. Unbeknownst to my parents, I would change into girls’ clothing and put on makeup once I got to school. I understood at a young age that fashion is about identity and self-expression, and that we convey gender through clothing. People would say, “Take that dress off; you are a boy!” But I’ve always been rebellious. I thought, Fine, you don’t want me to wear a skirt? I’m gonna wear one every day. I was viciously bullied for it. When I would defend myself, I’d be the one in trouble. Every time in the principal’s office, it was the same spiel: “If you don’t want people to bully you anymore, then conform.”

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At home, things were a bit better. Although my parents were both very conservative, they nurtured my creative side. For a long time, they thought I might be gay, but it wasn’t that. One night, I told my mom that I wanted to live as a female. She was like, “Okay, if you’re going to transition, you have to really do it—take the hormones on schedule, and be responsible about it.” She was very vigilant about finding the right doctors. She didn’t want me to have a challenging life and was concerned for my safety. My dad didn’t get it at first. But he made the effort, especially after I started presenting as female and he saw that I could live in the world safely and comfortably.

They let me switch schools, to Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a boarding school in Massachusetts. Still, when we visited, my mom was like, “Please just present as a boy; look normal.” I did because I wanted her to be comfortable—and I also really wanted to go to Walnut Hill. Everybody there had been ostracized for one reason or another. As soon as I started classes there, I felt a really strong sense of community. I could wear high heels every day, and for the first time, I got to decide my pronoun. I had this incredible art teacher who asked me, “Do you want me to call you she or he?” That was revolutionary. I chose “she,” and from then on, it stuck.

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My dad had always discouraged me from coming out as transgender publicly, since there are a lot of people who want to hurt trans people simply for existing. When I started modeling after high school, I chose to conceal my truth. Because I was so passable as female, I was closed off to the idea of telling anyone. I had a very normal life.

I can’t stay silent while a reality TV president actively fights to prevent people like me from living a normal life.

But transitioning isn’t just a matter of growing out your hair, wearing heels, and piercing your ears. Taking hormones affects your mood; it’s like being born again. It changes not only the way you look but the way you see the world. While my career was taking off—I was signed when I was 22—I was going through a lot emotionally. All of a sudden, I was acting like a prepubescent girl. And since I was concealing my identity, no one understood. So about a year ago, I decided to come out to my bookers, Michael and Pedja. They had no clue. Telling them opened their eyes and helped them better understand my situation. I realized I was ready to tell the world.

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There’s a stereotype of transgender people based on what’s shown on Maury Povich or Jerry Springer. It’s that there’s something mentally wrong with them, that they are incapable of serving in the military or existing in the workplace normally. But that’s not true at all. I am proof—a successful model who happens to be transgender. And I think fashion, in terms of social power, is the most important industry. Advertising has tremendous impact in terms of who and what we find attractive. It’s a hard sphere to penetrate. But I have.

So I can’t stay silent while a reality TV president actively fights to prevent people like me from living a normal life. There is no evidence to support the notion that transgender people are being perverted in the restrooms of their choosing. If legislation is being made on my behalf as an American citizen, then it’s incumbent on me to speak up for the transgender taxpayers who deserve the same dignity and respect that a cisgender person receives. And if I’ve learned anything from Trump’s election, it’s that literally anything is possible in the twenty-first century. Why can’t a transgender person walk in a Versace show or run for office? She already has—and maybe, one day, I will.

This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of ELLE.


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