From Vogue cover to Dior ad campaign, transgender models shine in Asia
- The models on the June 2021 cover of Vogue Thailand are trans women, and Dior has teamed up with Chinese transgender icon Jin Xing for a perfume campaign
- None of this will feel controversial for young people but, for many years, non-binary models were rarely seen on the catwalks or in prestigious publications
Browse the news-stands and the June 2021 edition of Vogue Thailand won’t jump out at you right away.
Yes, it is beautifully shot and, yes, the three women gracing the cover are lovely to look at – but this is Vogue and that should come as no surprise.
It is only when you flip through the magazine that you will discover these models – whose professional names are Moji, Blossom and Sunshine – are, in fact, trans women.
Modelling looks very different now to a few decades ago, when white cisgender women dominated the industry. Some would argue it hasn’t changed enough, but this Vogue cover, and Xing’s partnership with Dior, shows it is moving in the right direction – and that Asia is perhaps at the forefront of that change.
None of this will feel particularly controversial for young people but, for many years, non-binary models were rarely seen on the catwalks or in the pages of prestigious publications. The trans models who did succeed often had to conceal their identities to get work.
As the argument in favour of trans recognition has grown louder, that has started to change – slowly, and not without controversy.
“The approach was never about creating controversy but rather to give trans people the recognition they deserve for their contributions, which is long overdue,” says Kullawit Laosuksri, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Thailand.
“I wanted the June issue to not only represent the community but to truly showcase the talents, faces and personalities in a way that celebrates their respective journeys and humanity beautifully. The time is never right if we do not make things right, and I am so proud of everyone involved.”
This may not have been a controversial decision for Kullawit, but it would be for Vogue editors in many other parts of the world where trans men and women have far fewer rights and often still live in fear.
Acceptance of one another should not even be up for discussion, Kullawit says. He points to trans women being appointed to top jobs in fashion based on merit, and says: “This is an important cause we all need to continuously support.”
“When any approach taken is veered towards acceptance of one another, nothing is ever up for debate. In recent times, we have seen trans women of different journeys helm top positions based solely on the merit of their talents and
The Vogue cover has had widespread support in Thailand, and has been shared thousands of times on social media in a largely positive way. Although China lags behind Thailand when it comes to protecting trans rights, responses to Dior’s move to partner with Xing have also been largely positive.
In the West, meanwhile, the fashion world has yet to catch up to the advances made in film and television. Pop culture in the last 10 years has experienced what has been described as a “trans tipping point”, largely down to two figures: transgender actress Laverne Cox, who starred in Netflix show Orange is the New black, and former athlete and transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner.
In 2016, trans model agency Slay Model Management was opened to redress this. “Our models have appeared in Oprah Magazine, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, Vogue Bride, Vogue Italia, Vogue Germany and National Geographic,” says director Cecilio Asuncion. “We are very proud of the strides our models have made. We have been on the forefront of change for many years now.”
Asuncion argues that, while Asia is featuring trans models in an increasingly prominent way, America is still at the centre of the movement.
“I would think the US is still a larger market in the employment of trans models in particular,” he says. “Legally, the Asian market still has to make a number of updates to the systemic problems that impact the trans community, such as changing gender markers on IDs.”
At this stage, though, it doesn’t really matter which region is driving this shift in attitudes – what matters is that it is happening. More importantly, the fashion industry must ensure that transgender models are not being used to make money from for a few years, but because of a new, inclusive approach to casting.