Monica Roberts

Isis' Trailblazing Burden

Filed By Monica Roberts | September 06, 2008 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: America's Next Top Model, fashion sense, Monica Roberts, trailblazers, transgender issues, tv shows

ts-Isis2.jpgI've never been a big fan of reality TV shows, but over the last month and a half I've had to seriously reconsider my hard line disdain for them in light of two African-American transwomen having prominent turns on two current shows.

First, there's transsistah Laverne Cox, who's not only representing, but still hanging in there on I Want To Work For Diddy. I've even had the pleasure of trading e-mail with her recently since she discovered my blog about the same time I discovered she was going to be on the show

But this post is about Isis and what the entire universe knows by now. She's an open pre-op transwoman competing on the Cycle 11 edition of America's Next Top Model.

Well, the much anticipated debut of Cycle 11 occurred on Wednesday night and as I expected from someone who rocked the ballrooms in the runway category, she's all that and four bags of chips. She's also exposed a not too well kept secret about the modeling industry.

A few of the girls walking the runways are transwomen.

It's been rumored for years that ballroom legend Tracy Africa went from walking the ballroom floors in the 90's to getting paid strutting catwalks in New York and the fashion capitals of Europe.

Top Model judge and noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker said in a recent interview, "One of the things about the fashion industry, is that there have been many transgender models over the years. It's very legitimate in our industry. It's a bit shocking for prime-time TV, but it opens peoples' eyes."

isis_whitney cycle 10 shoot.jpgEven though Isis was discovered when she participated in a photo shoot during Cycle 10 of America's Next Top Model, she honed her modeling sashays walking the femme queen runway category in various balls.

Isis may just be in a competition to realize her dream of becoming a model, but she's also, like Jackie Robinson did when he broke baseball's color line 51 years earlier, carrying the hopes and dreams of the African-American transgender and ballroom communities with her.

Her participation on this show is also exposing for the entire world to see the ignorant ugliness directed at transgender people.

The other thing that's cool about this is that it exposes a side of African-American transgender people we rarely get to see portrayed on television. We are beautiful and intelligent people who have hopes, dreams and aspirations, just like 'errbody' else, and given an opportunity and a fair shot, we can rise to the occasion. And not too unlike Tyra Banks when she broke into the modeling ranks 90's and did some trailblazing things enroute to achieving supermodel status, she's competing to extend the legacy of trailblazing African-American models.

No pressure. She's already a winner in my book by just being there and having the inner strength to fight for what she wants. And Isis, if you're reading this, you're not alone. Your transsistahs love you and have your back

As someone who knows from personal experience what it's like to be a transgender pioneer, I have a clue what shes dealing with. Isis has handled with class, dignity and style the media attention, the transphobic remarks from various quarters and even the cattily snide remarks from her fellow competitors while exhibiting a laser-beam like focus on the task at hand.

It was interesting to note that one of the first competitors to be sent packing was ShaRaun. She was the ringleader of some of the catty sniping during Isis' first photo shoot. She also said, "America's Next Top Model isn't going to be a drag queen."

Well, Miss Thang, it ain't gonna be you either, because as they say in the ballroom community, you've been chopped.

ts-Isis Tsunami.jpgI'm also waiting to see what happens to Clark, who's also hatin' on Isis. She was quoted as saying, "Isis has no place in this competition." Umm, this competition is all about who can model. Possessing ovaries and a vagina doesn't automatically give you a leg up in that department.

Even if Isis doesn't walk away with the ultimate prize, there are legions of African-American transpeople and her supporters who hope she does. But I'd love to see her win this cycle of America's Next Top Model just for the self esteem boost it will give many transgender kids (and adults) struggling with myriad issues.

And yeah, it would be cool to see her doing a Cover Girl commercial and strutting the runways . . .


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Normally, I loathe reality TV, and also question the impossible (and disheartening to millions) standards projected in beauty pageants and the like (the ANTM "plus-size" winning model is a dress size 10?!?), but I am with you on this. It's sort of a "glass ceiling" moment of its own, and she deserves credit for taking the hammer to it, regardless of what happens.

I hope she wins too. I never watch the show, and more than likely won't this season either. It's just the spirit of it all.

Isis is making her mark-period. I love that this show is on local television for young people across the nation, not just the ones with cable. Already she has been the catalyst of much needed discussion around trans youth and access. Particulary as a trans youth of color, Isis is a long overdue example of what is possible. I applaud Tyra, the ANTM producers and especially Isis, for their courage.

Isis is fierce! I think she's got a really good shot this season. And as much as I criticize the fashion industry, I also love it and am addicted to Top Model. So you know I'll be keeping up this season.

Bruce Parker Bruce Parker | September 6, 2008 7:09 PM

There was this really messed up article about this in the LSU student newspaper. Unfortunate that people are responding negatively. I think she is amazing and has great legs.

I've been active on the CW forums, and overall, the replies are pretty positive.

She is being used to raise the shows profile as it is getting a little long in the tooth, but I don't really care.

she's a Sister.

And she earned that spot.

And Isis will as Ali said after he beat Sonny Liston to win his first heavyweight title, 'shock the world'.

BTW, the show repeats tonight at 8 PM EDT for those of us who missed Wednesday's broadcast.