A beauty queen who started taking estrogen at age 16, Di moved to NYC in 2010 and had her big break in 2014 when she starred with Laverne Cox (heard of her?) in Barneys’ spring campaign, shot by Bruce Weber. Now the 26-year-old, who studied filmmaking at New York University and lives in Union Square, spends her days fielding inquiries from aspiring models as far away as Nepal and Sweden—and comments from her 60,000 Instagram followers. “Trans people have high unemployment rates,” she says, “so I want to use fashion as a platform to change the world.”
“Clothing became a way for me to appear the way I wanted to,” says the Indiana native, 23, who’s used her outfits as an expressive outlet for as long as she can remember. “Fashion is really intertwined with our emotions and how we perceive ourselves.” At 15, she asked her parents if she could go to boarding school as a girl. “They said no, but I did it anyway,” she says. “I see people like Caitlyn Jenner, and I don’t understand how they put on that facade for so long.” The FIT grad, who has styling gigs with V Magazine and Vogue Hommes under her belt, has now plunged into the modeling world after signing with Di in July.
Le came to New York with just $200, spending two weeks sleeping in the subway and working at a Korean restaurant. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” she says, “but it worked for me.” In early July, Le, 26, met Di through a mutual friend and signed with Trans Models that month. She now lives in Harlem and will host the agency’s soon-to-launch Spill the T with Vikki Le, a humorous YouTube series that will also address serious political issues. “There have always been trans people; they just didn’t have the outlets and support that we do now,” she says. “Just because we’re more visible now doesn’t mean it’s a trend.”
The 17-year-old Michigan native has yet to finish high school (she studies online so she can go at her own pace), but she’s sure of her identity—in seventh grade, she told her parents that she “didn’t feel right.” Jake started taking testosterone blockers two years ago, and “people wanted me to put a label on who I was. [I was asked] rude, naïve questions,” she says. “But over time, people became more comfortable.” This summer, she spent a week in NYC looking for an agency. After a string of nos, Trans Models said yes. “This awesome sense of confidence comes with modeling, and I thrive on it,” she says. Jake plans to live in New York after her graduation in May.
Coming from Thailand, Singanipar’s first months in the city were lonely—she bartended at a Queens Thai restaurant and struggled to meet friends. That changed when the 32-year-old, who lives in Union Square, got a gig assisting legendary makeup artist Bank Natdanai, and today, her résumé includes shoots for Harper’s Bazaar and Numéro. “Things are getting better,” she says of being trans in the fashion world, “but I’ve definitely dealt with people having a bad attitude and not wanting to work with me.” Next, she’s planning her own beauty brand—“and I know I’m capable of that.”
Modeling isn’t new to GLAAD national spokesperson Milan, but you probably wouldn’t recognize his early work. “I was very feminine,” he says of his teenage years. A former hip-hop journalist, he started transitioning in 2008. “Walking through the world as a masculine-presenting woman wasn’t satisfying. It didn’t feel congruent to the person I knew I was inside.” He also simultaneously delved into LGBTQ advocacy: “We’ve been the silent T in LGBT,” the Parkchester resident says. “Telling our stories humanizes us and challenges these myths that, in some kind of way, our existence is deceiving other people.”
“I want to be on that Calvin Klein billboard on Houston and Lafayette in some jeans and CK underwear, showing off my tats and muscles,” says the model. “That’s the dream.” Growing up with a religious, church-going family in Maryland, he had a “complete rejection of anything female" by age 15. Now, the 27-year-old Bed-Stuy resident models and works as an associate producer for MTV. He found Trans Models via Instagram and reached out because Di “wanted to help trans-identified individuals have an opportunity that isn’t really out there for us.”