This coming October, “Harper’s Bazaar” will boast of diversity in its special multi-cover issue. Conceptualized by art director Christopher Sollinger, the project is called “The 9 Wonders of the World,” featuring lush photographs of models, including Tyra Banks, Soo Joo Park, and other women of colour whose success in the fashion industry is unparalleled. But this issue is special for another very important reason – it will be the first time that “Harper’s Bazaar” features trans women on its cover – Geena Rocero and Tracey “Africa” Norman.
A first look at the India Issue, released online, show Rocero and Norman on their individual covers, sporting custom-made frames that focuses on just their faces – faces which represent so much for both women of colour, and for trans women in popular media. In 2015, a GLAAD report found trans characters made up only 7% of American streaming media (like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu), and that much of trans representation is defamatory. The deliberate invisibilization of trans people has made it easier to promote fear-campaigns like House Bill 2 in the USA which aims to debar trans people from public washrooms, and has also laid the foundation for sustained (if not increased) violence against trans people the world over. But if media visibility has in any shape or form helped further the cause of respecting trans identities, one cannot stress the importance of shows like Whoopi Goldberg’s “Strut” (which follows members of the all-trans Slay Model Management), or of having Rocero and Norman on one of the world’s foremost fashion magazines.
Tracey Norman’s first gig as a model was back in the ‘70s, with the personal-care brand Clairol. Her photograph on the boxes of Hair Color No. 512 was the first time a trans woman’s image was used that way. Considering this was just a few short years after the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, Norman’s presence as an African-American woman was a pretty big deal, leave alone her presence as a trans model. In fact, the Clairol print was such an inspiration to “Orange Is The New Black” actor Laverne Cox that she recently paid tribute to Norman in a photoshoot for “Cosmopolitan.” Today, at 63, Norman returns to the world of modelling, coming full circle, as it were, by signing with Clairol once more.
Geena Rocero came of age as a model in a much more accepting environment than Norman. While still a teenager, Rocero began competing in beauty pageants in the Philippines, where she began to find her sense of identity. At the age of 17, she moved to the USA and a few years later got her break with NEXT Model Management. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Rocero decided to come out as trans in a moving TED talk:
In the same talk, where she also discusses the importance of challenging boundaries and status quo, Rocero launched Gender Proud, an advocacy group for the trans community worldwide. A year later, she produced the LOGO TV series “Beautiful As I Want To Be,” which focuses on trans youth, and even received special recognition from the GLAAD Media Awards.
Both women have left an indelible mark not just on the world of modelling, but on the entire system of gender itself, a system that is constantly packaged and sold to us in binary format. It’s important that “Harper’s Bazaar” celebrates diversity by including trans models for the first time, because having Rocero and Norman on the cover is a huge win for trans visibility everywhere.