While transgender modeling is a relatively new thing in Brazil, gender ambivalence has been popular since the 1970s. One of the most notable examples is glam rocker David Bowie
Over the last two years, Brazil's macho and homophobic attitudes have changed resulting in a shift in policy such as gays receiving more rights. Brazilians becoming more accepting of gays in general has also resulted in trans-models, such as Felipa Tavares, rising to prominence.
"We are in the 21st century and there is just more tolerance in the air. Here in Brazil, we now have gay mayors, gay lawmakers," Sergio Mattos, director of the Rio-based modeling agency 40 Graus Models, told The Associated Press
. "So why not trans-models?" Mattos continued. "The world has evolved, and now discrimination is, thankfully, becoming a thing of the past."
Mattos is best known for discovering Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen when she was only 14.
In 2008, Isis King became the first transgender model to compete on the long-running reality television series America's Next Top Model
King recently announced
plans to start her own fashion line. She also acted in her first feature film role in, Hello Forever
, a film about four women facing hardships in the Philippines.
The two-time ANTM competitor also became American Apparel's first transgender model for the company's "Legalize Gay!" and "Gay O.K." T-shirt lines. American Apparel partnered with GLAAD for the campaign.
While Isis King has gained popularity as a transgender model, 5 foot 11 model Lea T
, is probably credited most with making transgender modeling such a huge trend.
Lea T was a born Leandro Cerezo to Brazilian soccer-star Toninho Cerezo. She gained fame in 2010 as the "muse" for Paris fashion label Givenchy, The Associated Press
According to an article post in UK's The Guardian
in 2010, Cerezo was not thrilled with his son (now daughter)'s transformation. Embarrassed by Lea's differences, Toninho Cerezo, the father of four, claimed in 2007 to only have three children.
Lea's brother Gustavo, denied these claims, and said everyone in the family was proud of her and completely supported her, but Lea herself said her father was not "overjoyed" by her transformation.
In 2011, Lea T underwent gender reassignment surgery
. She opened up about the experience with talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
She made her first post-operation appearance earlier in 2012, and opened and closed for German designer Phillip Plein on the last day of Milan Fashion Week
Another male model who recently rose to stardom modeling womenswear is Andrej Pejic. Pejic is not a transgender model. He is a just a man who looks good modeling women's clothes.
A 2011 BBC News
article described the Australian-born Pejic as a fashion designer's dream: Tall, platinum blonde hair, "dewy skin," high cheekbones.
Pejic's looks are more fitting for women's clothing. The secret may be out by now, but it was likely difficult for anyone to be able to tell Pejic is indeed a man.
In the world of modeling, designers usually look for women who look for manly looking men to model men's clothing and feminine looking women to model women's clothing, but that seems to be changing.
In December of 2011, Pejic modeled a push-up-bra
for Dutch fashion company Hema.
Is this all just a trend? Gender ambiguity has been huge in the fashion and rock worlds for years. Many designers would kill to get models like Andrej Pejic in their ad campaigns and on their runways for fashion shows.
Sadly, however, many people would also kill someone for being "different" or for deciding that even though they were born a boy, they should live life as a girl or vice-versa. One particular example is Teena Brandon. Born a girl, Teena, decided she felt more like a boy, and decided to become Brandon Teena
instead. Brandon Teena was murdered on December 31,1993.
In remembering transgender victims such as Brandon Teena, it is important to celebrate the success of transgender modeling and other things that show acceptance of the world's transgender community, but some people are taking a while to catch up with the trends.
While transgender modeling has become a huge trend in Brazil, and the country is considered a safe haven for transgendered people in general, 114 people were killed in Brazil this year to date, The Associated Press
"These people were killed in terrible ways, stabbed 40 times, their heads split open with a machete, said Toni Reis, the president of the Brazilian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans Association, the ABGLT
. "They were not victims of the sort of everyday violence we see here in Brazil like armed robberies and such," Reis continued, "but rather the victims of homophobia."
Reis says that within the gay community, "transexuals" are the "most vulnerable."
Nevertheless, the gay community in Brazil refuses to live in fear, and has fought for and won major rights. In 2011, Brazil's Supreme Court ruled in an 10-0 vote, with one abstention, that Brazil must allow civil unions
. The judges ruled gay couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to matters such as alimony, retirement benefits of a partner who dies, and other issues. While the ruling did not legalize gay marriage, it was a major step for the world's largest Catholic country.
School teachers in nearly all Brazil's 26 states are also required to recognize trans students by the names they choose, and not the ones they were born with.
Transgender Brazilians also continue to make a splash in the entertainment world, and it's not stopping on the runways.
According to The Associated Press
, last year, the top rated reality show Big Brother Brazil featured its first trans contestant, and last month, a transgender competed in Brazil's second annual BumBum
contest, a beauty contest where contestants are judged exclusively on their rear-ends.
There is also talk of TV Globo, Brazil's No. 1 broadcaster is planning to introduce a transgender character on one of its prime-time soap operas.
Transgender model Carol Marra is even considering taking acting classes should the opportunity arise. Marra, 25, is signed to Segio Mattos' modeling agency. As is trans model Felipa Tavares, who is 26.
Marra plans to undergo sexual reassignment surgery next month, and has already got breast implants, The AP
reports. Tavares is saving up for the surgery, which costs $15,000.
As far as the popularity of transgender modeling is concerned, Carol Marra is hopeful it's not going to turn out to be a short-lived trend.
"You know fashion is fickle. What's in one day is out the next," she said. "I hope trans models are not just a trend to be dropped like a hot potato next season.