Within a few days of being posted last week, a Change.org petition pushing for model Carmen Carrera to be the first transgender Victoria’s Secret Angel had garnered over 34,000 signatures.
“To see a transgender model walk would show that trans women are to be taken seriously and that Angels are selected because of their character and talent. As a brand, Victoria's Secret should feel comfortable marketing towards ALL types of women,” wrote Marco Regalado, the fan who posted the petition.
If the petition succeeds, Carrera would make history at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (It films tomorrow but airs on CBS in December). A transwoman walking the runway alongside Karlie Kloss and Adriana Lima would be a truly revolutionary event for gender benders. But is the world ready?
While countries outside of America have been more open-minded about transgender models on the runways and covers, America is still lagging behind.
Overseas, gender-bending models like Andrej Pejic and Lea T have been pushing boundaries on runways for a while. “I know there was a transgender model on the cover of Playboy in Brazil in the '90s,” says Carrera.
“They are the trailblazers,” she says of Lea T and Andre. “I met Isis [King] from Top Model when I first started and she gave me some advice. She gave me her number said, 'Listen girl, call me whenever you need.' Trans people are so supportive of each other because you have to have a certain level of courage to do this because it's still so taboo and it's still so feared.”
But no transgender models have cracked something as mainstream as Victoria’s Secret—for whom much of the audience is ostensibly straight men.
Carrera’s ascent started a few years ago when she was on Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She was not yet undergoing her transition, and competed as a man.
After Season 4 wrapped, she quietly started transitioning.
Having finished her transition, Carrera reemerged in September like a butterfly coming out of her cocoon. She appeared in Show Girl, a 16-page conceptual fashion spread and short film shot by photographer Steven Meisel that recalls the high glamour of 1950s Las Vegas, with Carrera cavorting Marilyn Monroe-style with many good looking gents in suits, modeling barely there designs by Prada, Proenza Schouler, Agent Provocateur and Louis Vuitton.
After the shoot was released she posted a picture of two Victoria’s Secret models on her Facebook: “I wrote something like, 'I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.'”
It appears that Carrera may have the winds of change at her back: in August, American Apparel posted a casting call for transgender and transsexual models, a year after featuring America’s Next Top Model contestant, Isis King.
And this month’s fashion shoot titled “Tropical Surrealism” French magazine OOB features a totally naked Tyson Beckford cavorting with a naked Parisian transwoman, Ines Rau.
But as much as she’d love to walk that runway, Carrera’s not holding her breath. “I mean, in all honesty, let's keep it real. I know how these things work in the industry. I mean I understand the casting process and I understand that it's difficult to get into a show like this,” she says. “But at the same time, I definitely feel that I meet all the requirements.”
(A request for comment from Victoria’s Secret was not returned).
While many are thrilled with the progress of transwomen making it into the mainstream of the modeling world, some are more skeptical, and many are still extremely transphobic, expressing sentiments like this commenter on Hollywood Life.
“I have nothing against transgender ‘females’ but this is taking it too far, They should not be considered woman no matter how many plastic surgeries they have. Your [sic] either a male or a female.”
Similar issues were raised when, last year, the Miss Universe pageant announced it would allow transgendered contestants after a Canadian woman Jenna Talackova petitioned the board to discard the rule that “natural born” women only be allowed to compete.
After review, the Donald Trump-own organization removed the rule, paving the way for transgendered women to compete in the pageant. One contestant, Sheena Monnin, of Philadelphia, threatened to sue the Miss Universe Organization, in part because of the decision to allow transwomen to compete, and then went on to claim that it was rigged (Trump later successfully sued her for $5 million). She wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post that the contest was “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy.”
But, pageant officials told E! News, Monnin’s initial complaint had to do with the inclusion of transgender women. "In an email to state pageant organizers, she cited the Miss Universe Organization's policy regarding transgendered contestants, implemented two months ago, as the reason for her resignation,” the site reported.
In the pageant and modeling world, transwomen receive criticism because by necessity some parts of their bodies are the result of plastic surgery, with many transwomen undergoing gender reassignment surgery, as well as breast implants. In some cases, in addition to more common surgeries like nose jobs, many transwomen get plastic surgery on their face to soften their bone structure. Victoria’s Secret models—who train for months to get those ripped abs—are already out of reach, appearance-wise for most American women; some wonder, does a transgendered woman push those boundaries even further afield?
“Luckily for me the public have known me before my transition and I've always had the same body type,” says Carrera. “I’m not surgically enhanced at all except for my breast implants which, come on, like, I don't think that's something that's going to make or break my whole body. It just it was a personal choice.” Carrera has also had fat transferred into her cheeks.
And it should be noted that the majority women in show business, whether in the modeling or acting or pageantry world, have had something done. What’s a boob job when Miss Brazil’s had 19 plastic surgeries or when all the Korean contestants look like they went to the same surgeon?
“In all honesty plastic surgery these days goes hand-in-hand with beauty maintenance,” says Carrera. “It's nothing new. Who I am, my body, I was not created from surgery, at all, whatsoever. So that criticism for me doesn't apply, personally. I see the human body as your soul's apartment. I feel that once your spirit leaves, your body stays here. So if you want to renovate your house, you know, where your spirit lives, it shouldn't make a difference.”
For the most part, people are beginning to see trans models as a step in the right direction. One Montreal Gazette reader didn’t have a problem with Carrera being a transgender Victoria’s Secret model—she thought that Carrera shouldn’t been seen as an exception at all—which would be the ultimate sign of progress. Wrote Jillian: “When a person transitions from male status to female status, she becomes one of 4 billion other women on the planet, no more, no less. Therefore, she should be given the same consideration for Victoria’s Secret other women might get. She should not get special treatment because she transitioned.”
As for Carrera, she just sees a wide-open road ahead.
“Once you get to that point of finally realizing who you are and be strong enough to live it, anything is possible. I want to walk the Victoria's Secret show. I want to walk all the shows all over the world I want to be on Maxim’s 100. I want to make People magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People,” she says.
“Those are my goals. Because I feel like trans people need a positive representation and if I have that opportunity now, in my youth, right now, I'm going to take it. I'm going to go for it because who knows who's watching me.”