When cable TV’s Oxygen network recently debuted their new show from producer Whoopi Goldberg, it had all the hallmarks of good reality TV. There was sexy models, trash talk confessionals, and drinks being thrown into well made-up faces. Only one thing made the show stand out from the pack: the cast were all trans.
“Our models come from all walks of life, all different backgrounds and ethnicities. They are struggling with things we can all relate to—trying to make ends meet, fighting to make a name for themselves and navigating the minefields of personal relationships,” said Goldberg. “All of these struggles are amplified by the fact that they are also fighting to break down barriers and taking on the responsibility of representing the transgender community in today’s society. It’s time to separate caricature from real people and that’s what we are doing with Strut.”
The show follows the exploits of a group of models signed to LA-based Slay Model Management, an agency that only represents trans models. For Goldberg, the show represents a chance to portray trans people as just that: people.
“This is your opportunity to step up to the plate as a human being,” said Goldberg to ABC News. “This show gives you that opportunity, because the next time you run into somebody who is transgender, you’ll be more respectful.”
For the show’s models, including rising star Laith Del La Cruz, the show is also an opportunity for trans models to show that they are just as capable, and smoking hot, as any other model is.
“It is all about visibility and diversity,” said De La Cruz. “I wish I saw positive images of people who were like me on TV or in magazines when I was growing up. It all starts with the media, and how marginalized groups are portrayed. There needs to be more positive representation. This is how you change people’s negative perceptions.”
Not all of the faces on Strut are new, however. America’s Next Top Model alum Isis King, the show is an opportunity to bring more attention to the challenges faced by trans people every day. King, who was homeless at one point herself, knows these challenges all to well.
The murder rates of trans people,” said King, “especially trans women of color, is shocking. Homelessness among LGBT, it’s also high. That is something I personally have been through and I partnered with Ali Forney Center to find more support. We need to get these things under control. The job market and more jobs offered, in my own personal observations, could significantly affect both of those issues.”
Arisce Wanzer, who came out to her mom as trans 10 years ago, has made a career for herself despite the racism and transphobia she says she’s faced in the modeling industry.
“The fashion industry is notorious for tokenizing anybody that isn’t a cis white person,” said Wanzer, “so trans people, black people, Asians, and other minorities are all in the same tiny boat in this business. It’s shitty, but I’m grateful to have gotten in and be able to speak on such issues.”
For Wanzer, as with De La Cruz, visibility in the media is still a problem for the queer community.
“The fact that most people would rather see two men shooting each other with guns rather than two men kissing says a lot about how messed up society is,” she said. “The media is America’s religion, so when they don’t show our image regularly, people will continue to see us as irregular. It’s that simple.”
Stut airs on Oxygen on Tuesdays through Oct. 25.